By Melissa Weisberg ’20
ARAD was pleased to host its Fall Distinguished Speaker Series on Tuesday, October 16 with ARAD alumna Danielle King (‘11), Director of Programming at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC). King’s talk Making Space, explored the many meanings of space and the ways in which LMCC supports New York artists and engages the public through the use of non-traditional physical spaces. In the spirit of making space, King began by opening the conversation to the audience by asking, “When I make space, I want the space to be…” A list ranging from inclusive, welcoming, safe, and flexible to transformative, super queer, fair, and spontaneous filled the whiteboard. She then compelled the audience to observe the lecture room and amend it in ways that reflected words on the board. King’s point quickly surfaced by the time everyone was settled into the new configuration: space is a vessel that can frame expression and dialogue.
King went on to explain the programs she oversees at LMCC including Workspace, the organization’s longest running residency program, and the River to River Festival, an annual arts festival with events in Lower Manhattan. Both programs challenge the ways in which we experience space: Workspace by providing and occupying existing but nontraditional spaces for their artists to work in and the River to River Festival by activating and transforming public outdoor space. King made it clear that unconventional spaces offer room for experimentation, professional development, and dialogue.
King shared how her background and Columbia’s Arts Administration program has informed her work at LMCC in an interview conducted by first year student, Melissa Weisberg (ARAD ’20):
How has being a native New Orleanian shaped your interest in fostering public engagement with art?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in New Orleans was a very singular experience. New Orleans has a layered history and legacy in the arts, music and jazz, but also through more cultural traditions that are very uniquely New Orleans. What I didn’t realize was even if I wasn’t actively participating in it, being part of a city where art and music was part of the city’s texture made an impression on me. I got to college and quickly realized that sort of unique experience I had during my childhood. Like a lot of people, I got my in to the arts through theater with hopes of becoming a triple threat broadway actor. My background remained in theater, but I started getting into other roles in the arts. I think that as I went through that – starting as a practicing artist, moving through my career and moving through grad school – what especially resonates is such a high level of spectacle ingrained in New Orleans. You can go out any day and it will be a celebration with live music, bands and floats. There are some places in New York where there are few barriers for access as New Orleans, and a lot of my experience with space transformation carries through my work.
What aspect of the ARAD program has helped you most in your professional work?
The ability to be surrounded by classmates with so many different passions and experiences and interests is a huge asset to the program and really shaped how I approached conversations and thinking about things. I think it really set me up for being collaborative in my professional life. We’re all going to make more impact if we’re involving more voices and perspectives. It’s very pivotal to emphasize artists’ voices. On a very practical note, some of the most tedious things we had to learn were the most helpful (for example law in the arts and learning to read a contract). The reason I chose the program in the first place is the fact that this program is not dogmatic in terms of which art form we’re learning how to support and it’s not discipline specific. I wanted to be working with artists of all different disciplines as tools. I believe breaking down discipline barriers in many ways can further that dialogue.
What has been your most rewarding experience working at LMCC?
I think there are a lot of different projects that I’ve worked to realize in River to River that I’m very proud of for different reasons. To be the first to activate a site with a performance or an arts experience is very special. There is a sense of pride for working with and against the systems and structures of certain spaces. For my first River to River Festival in 2012, we embarked on a dance performance called “Le Grand Continental” by a Montreal-based choreographer Sylvain Émard. It was a dance performance to be performed entirely by 200 non-professional dancers – people who have a desire to dance or have a dancing practice in their life but not professionally. We brought all of them together to learn a dance on Pier 16 in the South Street Seaport. It was a huge undertaking because all of these people had to commit to a lot of time rehearsing. It was people of all ages – from elementary age to much older. It was so invigorating to see them so committed and excited, and to watch them make a work together and perform it. That’s an example of something that has made me most proud. Those kind of experiences have been really profound. And the ability to truly transform a site.
What can we expect from the LMCC Arts Center at Governors Island? How has that project evolved and from a programming standpoint, where do you envision taking it?
We’ve been using a portion of the LMCC Arts Center at Governors Island since 2010 as residencies. As it’s become less abstract and more concrete as the renovations are completing, we’ve been able to think much more deeply about the programming. The programming is definitely being influenced by 7 years of operating that space and having conversations with artists about what it’s like to work there, display work there, and what can we change to support that. We’ve really been able to take that feedback and actively craft programs around it. We’ve been thinking a lot about the site specificity of Governor’s Island in the harbor. It’s a gateway and as an island. There’s a rich complicated history to Governors Island including a military base. Artists have really been able to benefit from using that space by investigating the landscape, and we’re just looking to do that better. For the public as well – how can we create experiences that are open, accessible, and impactful to everyone who comes on the ferry?
Thank you Danielle King for taking the time to talk with us! And thank you, Melissa, for interviewing Danielle and welcoming her back to Teachers College.