Amanda Gutterman visited PPL’s project space a month or two ago and recently featured our little garage in North Brooklyn in her photo-article Studio Start-Ups. Gutterman frames the projects/spaces she explores as forms of alternative entrepreneurship and as part of a national startup scene. We are flattered by inclusion and proud to be aligned with many of the claims as to what this means as she writes that “These entrepreneurs have made deep commitments to promoting artists of all different backgrounds, and helping them produce astounding work that broadens and challenges what has come before it.”
But (there’s always a ‘but’ with you, what, are you going through Saturn return? [thanks Chloë]) we are a little confused by being called “entrepreneurs.” Considering entrepreneurship, we are keen on the idea that this can mean investment in something other than federal currency, that it can mean a vision for an organization or institution that pulls together resources to benefit a group. It doesn’t have to mean a business. But it seems like the idea is to at least self-sustain, financially, to operate “in the black” like a business.
So is our space a business? Is it a startup? We are unsure/insecure about this. Our anxiety manifests itself as shaky performance of entrepreneurship, i.e. inconsistency in asking people for a donation at the door, varying rental prices and flexible financial agreements with different individuals and groups as dependent on situation, writing-on-envelope-type finance management, and a pretty bad record regarding self-sustainability/making rent.
We make approximately a lil bit from shows (usually $120 or so a night, including donations towards drinks), then we pay the artists as much as the door made, and have quite a bit less after we pay Brooklyn Brewery for their subsidized sponsorship, then the rest goes to mop heads, toilet paper, ice, lightbulbs, washing towels, wall paint, and fixing everything that keeps getting broken. The rent here is $1,450. So when we break even in these other areas, each organizer here usually ends up paying approximately $500 (with utilities, internet) to live and work here. This is pretty good, we hear, for a live-work situation in New York City. We work odd jobs, often as artists, outside of at PPL, and we live in the space. Anything beyond just barely scraping by isn’t an expectation. We have a space because 1.) we inherited it from Spread Art, a community organization now based at Detroit Contemporary 2.) we are working artists and need a place to rehearse and build things, and 3.) most importantly, because we believe so strongly in the work of so many other artists, and we want them to have a place where their practices and ideas are given audience/participation/attention.
Poverty is a real problem across the communities of which we are a part, geographically, socially, and artistically, and we don’t expect free rent, let alone getting paid for curating/ organizing/ cleaning/ setting up/running shows. When somewhat artificially separated from overarching lifestyle of the studio residents however (perhaps another characteristic of “studio startups”) the possibility of our space being quite a bit more self-sustaining hinges on one small change that we’ve resisted, for perhaps childishly ideological reasons: charging for realsies at the door.
Currently, our events are pretty much advertised as free, and most people choose not to pay or really can’t pay. We understand when people can’t pay, because we go to other shows and don’t pay, or we go to far fewer shows than we’d like because the venues charge. It’s super difficult to justify charging $10, or even $5, because this would actually prohibit our neighbors and friends from coming over. We do feel that the work performed here is valuable, and your attention is valuable too, but all we can really do is ask that people who DO have “real jobs,” or some other source of income, contribute when they attend events. Even beyond us trying to pay the rent here, we know how much it really, really helps when small and alternative spaces PAY THEIR ARTISTS, even a tiny bit.
This comes back full circle as we all open our own “startups” (most of which don’t pay artists right now because they’re paying their rent with that money). The point is, we may or may not be entrepreneurs as individuals, but as a community of startups, somewhere, the buck must hit the hat in order for little spaces AND the artists who need them, to survive.
So first, please consider donating when you come to PPL, and thank you to those who have donated in the past. If you can give a little more, make a tax-deductible donation online through our fiscal sponsor. Our projector bulb is burnt out and a new one is $60.
Second, we plan to launch a series of workshops this winter. They will be cheap skillshares, classes, and lessons taught by extremely skilled professional artists in our community. If you would like to teach a workshop, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to hear about them, join our mailing list.
See more images of projects and events this past year at PPL HERE.