Mar 23, 2009

Empty storefronts for art

James Wagner recently wrote in his blog about putting art in the vacant storefronts in New York:
We absolutely should be doing this already. We have experienced people in place in several institutions now who could act as administrators and curators. We're going to have a lot of vacant stores for a while; artists never have enough spaces to show work; and most people never see enough art. It might have been a bit of a hard sell twenty-five or thirty years ago but today real estate owners and developers should jump on the idea. Art is now taken more seriously, and capitalism, well, it's not. I worked as a liability underwriter when I moved here, and it was clear to me that the biggest obstacle for these installations would always be the difficulty and expense of getting insurance to cover property owners who might otherwise be supportive. It still is. By the way, one of my company's biggest competitors, AIG, was always the most aggressive underwriter for this kind of odd risk arrangement. But New York City self-insures; there's no reason why it's not in the interest of the whole regional economy to absorb the risk for these minimal exposures. The idea is to turn the visual and performing arts, already integral to both the soul and the pocketbook of all New Yorkers, into an even more vital, attractive and economically-valuable part of New York (maybe the most successful part economically), at least until the rest of the economy can be reconstructed.

Why turn to curators already at New York institutions? They have a platform for expressing their curatorial agenda. Far more healthy would be to turn to the thousands of independent, emerging curators, as well as emerging artists who want to self-curate but don't have an opportunity to do so. If vacant shopfronts are used for art, they should be in ways that challenge the existing power structures in the art world, rather than strengthen them

Regarding administration, I wonder if the New York BIDs can assist with this. What would be ideal is:

  • an adminstrative agent such as a BID that acts as the broker connecting curators (or artist-curators) with landlords
  • a blueprint set of documents outlining a short term (six weeks?) lease structure that makes sense both to the artist/curator and the landlord.
  • a tax abatement program for landlords who join the scheme.

I once went to a talk by Derek Denckla from The Propeller Group ( who said that tax abatements would be important to get the landlords on board. There are already tax abatements for landlords who work with non-profits. My understanding is that they are complex and would need to be streamlined and simplified to make the suitable for short-term rentals.

On liability insurance, I think this one will end up falling on the folks who rent the spaces. Fractured Atlas lists several liability insurance options for artists.

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