Volume 75, Number 33 | January 4 - 10, 2006


HERE to stay: Soho theater now owns its home

“Teatro Slovak” is one of 16 performance pieces presented at HERE Arts Center’s Culturemart 2006, a festival of hybrid performance work, which runs from January 5 to 22.
Richard Caliban

By Rachel Fershleiser

For eleven years, HERE Arts Center has provided the rarest of commodities in the downtown arts scene: a longstanding rehearsal and performance space for writers, dancers, actors, designers, and puppeteers. The interdisciplinary, often unusual work presented at HERE has included everything from Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” to Basil Twist’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” and has garnered ten OBIE awards, an OBIE grant for artistic achievement, and even a Pulitzer nomination. Still, in a rapidly gentrifying city, no art space, however well established, is a sure thing.

All that changed last year for HERE when it purchased its longtime home on Sixth Avenue just below Spring Street. “We’re thrilled to secure a permanent alternative arts space when we’ve seen so much of Soho taken away from the arts in favor of developing commercial business,” says HERE Executive Director/ Co-Founder, Kristin Marting.

Marting and her colleagues sprang into action when they learned their landlord was only offering to rent them the space for a few more years.

After two years of negotiations, the deal was finalized in the summer of 2005, and HERE is now the proud owner of two theatres, a café/gallery, and several administrative offices.

With that milestone behind them, HERE’s staff and supporters are continuing the ambitious “Secure HERE’s Future” campaign to achieve better financial stability and provide renovations and improvements to their new home.

Additionally, they are aiming to pay off the space entirely in the next five years.

“By raising the money in five years, instead of taking out a 30-year mortgage, we can save $1.5 million in interest,” Marting explains. “That’s money we can use to pay artists so they can continue to create innovative programming.”

2006 will be HERE’s first full year as a permanent arts space, and true to Marting’s words, there is a ton of original experimental entertainment on the bill.

The year kicks off on January 5 with Culturemart 2006, the eleventh annual festival of hybrid performance work by HERE Arts Center’s resident artists, often as a culmination of their residencies. Designed to “create a sense of voice, purpose and understanding,” the sixteen new pieces presented during Culturemart blend dance, theatre, music, new media, puppetry and visual art.

“For me, it reflects something particular to my generation,” says Alyse Rothman, a HERE Resident Artist and two-time Culturemart participant. “It’s the way we fit in a larger landscape. Bringing in video or digital animation serves to bring in everything I’m connected to — my reflections of what I see around me.”

If the multimedia approach sounds unconventional, the inspirations, allusions and stories these artists use are even more so. In Richard Caliban’s “Teatro Slovak,” a troupe of Slovakian actors combine dance, text and music into a downtown cabaret. Drama of Works reinvents the story of Sleepy Hollow with large-scale shadow puppets and live music designed to evoke the silent horror films of the past. Kathleen Supove and Corey Dargel perform a song cycle about lost love and voluntary amputation (yes, that’s voluntary amputation), while other pieces explore Grimm’s Fairy Tales, African-American slavery, blind patriotism, comic book art, and a Korean-American performer’s worst artistic nightmare.

“It’s a really exciting range of artists this year,” says Marting. “Some of this work has been in development for years, so it’s especially well-thought-out, in addition to innovative and dynamic.”

With such diverse work ahead, HERE’s permanence as a downtown arts space is good news for audiences, as well as for artists like Rothman, one of the many who will benefit from itits new found ownership.

“HERE has given me something the American theatre doesn’t generally give its artists: longevity,” says Rothman. “I feel like I’ve really used these years —Culturemart gives artists a place to explore.”

Culturemart 2006 runs January 5-22 at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, between Spring and Broome. Visit www.here.org for more info.

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