Exploring the Metropolis began in 1982 in response to the upzoning of the Theatre District to allow large commercial buildings to replace the relatively anonymous but integral small buildings that supported theatre and the performing arts. We began and continue to function as a neutral nonprofit. Over the years and decades, we have been able to enlist the involvement and confidence of the performing arts communities and those in the public sector, both administrative and legislative.
In the 1980s, our Theatre District work involved bringing the public and private sectors – City agency administrators, theatre owners, architects, planners, and nonprofit civic groups – together. They evaluated impact, using gaming simulations, workshops, colloquia, surveys, etc. to examine the bulk of proposed buildings and the future of Broadway theatres. Those gatherings and subsequent reports were influential and continue to be cited. Ultimately, the zoning provided for new cultural uses, and the theatres were protected through landmark designation and other mechanisms.
In the 1990s, with a new Administration, our focus broadened. City agencies asked us to study projects relating to cultural facilities:
In Jamaica, Queens, the City’s then-Public Development Corporation asked us to study whether a performing arts center in a former church would unduly compete with existing facilities. We examined existing facilities, their programs and audiences and said no. Jamaica Performing Arts Center now exists, managed by Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.
In Harlem, the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) asked us to study how a culture and tourism center in a former nightclub could draw tourists off buses to visit local cultural venues and leave tourism dollars there. We proposed buses bring tourists to the central location for an orientation, including rotating exhibits of local work, and a gift shop of local artists. They would then proceed to Harlem’s visual and performing arts organizations, such as Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Studio Museum of Harlem.
Again in Harlem, EDC asked us to examine the potential for a music recording facility on West 135th Street, using for-profit Kaufmann-Astoria Studios and non-profit American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens as prototypes for public/private partnerships. We studied the music recording process and facility needs.
We also initiated two land use evaluations: (1) We examined the impact of special protections – historic districts and special planning districts – 20 years after they were established; we recommended closer controls on compliance and a better working relationship with the Buildings Department. (2) We assessed the impact of the 1980s Theatre District Zoning, bringing together earlier participants and looking forward.
Citywide, the Chair of the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) read the 1992 theatre industry study and asked us to inventory performance facilities in the five boroughs. We built a database of 477 spaces, but DCA had no funding to print copies, nor had the Internet arrived. Even though obsolete, DCA and the Mayor’s Film Office used the inventory as their only referral source.
Beginning the New Century, stemming from earlier work, particularly the music recording studio and the performing arts inventory, we chose to develop an on-going program. We focused on issues affecting two communities: (1) musicians needing access to available workspace and (2) cultural facilities with underused space, no marketing budget, and a need for earned income. The vehicle was obvious: a database website free to those listing available space and those seeking it. Thus the NYC Music Places website was born, with enthusiastic support from DCA and the Music Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. Funders asked us to develop a site for the dance community, which went public in 2003; in 2007 the final component, for theatre, went public. We changed the brand from “Places” to “Spaces” and took on the DBA NYC Performing Arts Spaces.
The Music Studies: With a particular interest in music making, we undertook two studies: (1) in 2004 “Report on the Feasibility of an Orchestra-based Rehearsal Center in Manhattan”, which has been realized as the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, owned and operated by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and (2) in early 2008 “Where Can We Work? A Report on Workspace Availability for New York City Musicians”.
In 2008, 09 and 10, we surveyed New York cultural facilities and performing artists to assess economic impact on their activities. This was supported by the Office of City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.
“We Make Do, More Time is Better, But Budget is King,” our 2010 report assessing dance rehearsal space needs and availability, focused on mid-career, single-choreographer-led companies, was commissioned by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation based on implementation of our orchestra rehearsal space study. The report recommended several collaborations to support dance community and facility infrastructure. One recommendation, the CUNY Dance Initiative, is now a reality.
EtM Con Edison Composers’ Residency: We implemented this recommendation in our 2008 Musicians’ Workspace study. In 2009 we developed a pilot to place composers in cultural facilities with underused space. We assembled a Musicians’ Advisory Group to help develop guidelines and applications and a jury for merit-based selection. With support from Con Edison and other funders, the residencies provided three months of free workspace plus a stipend to each of three composers, chosen competitively. Host facility Flushing Town Hall in Queens received a fee for each resident and presented each in a required free public outreach program.
Now in its seventh year, the EtM Con Edison Composers’ Residency began its 2015-16 cycle in spring of 2015. Based on feedback from previous awardees, residency periods were increased from three months to six months. For more information, sign up for our twice-monthly e-newsletter.
Queens Workspace Initiative: this project has been conceived and led by EtM to help ensure that the performing arts offerings in the borough of Queens are the best they can be. For Phase One, EtM assessed workspace needs for performing artists in Queens through interviews with key players, surveys, and focus groups. Our report, Queens Performing Artists & Workspace: “I Want to Do More Than Survive—I Want to Thrive” (PDF) was released in June 2014.
EtM’s Choreographer + Composer Residencies, in partnership with Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, was launched in early summer 2015. This interdisciplinary residency brings choreographers and composers together to develop new work in Jamaica, Queens. This program is EtM’s first implementation stemming from the Queens Workspace Initiative.
Click here for a chronology of our studies and other activities.