NYSAI Artist's Market
Welcome back Deep Tanks Studios with a chance to buy work from your favorite Staten Island artists, benefitting NYSAI, Staten Island's literary magazine.
Who: Artists include Danielle Barone, Julie Bentsen, Sharon Kuntz-Betancourth, Femme Fox, Jack Freedman, Matt Gaffney, Vincent Ma, Nicie Mok, Marcus Romano, Justin Scheidel, Julia Simoniello, Lea Simoniello, Jenna Snyder, and Rachel Therres.
When: Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m.
Where: Deep Tanks Studios is located on 150 Bay St., St. George.
Cost: $5 donation goes toward NYSAI.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Deep Tanks is coming back with a little help from its friends.
The off-the-wall artists' space and photography studio in St. George, which closed suddenly last year, is diving back into the borough's creative scene with a new plan to keep the space viable.
The plan involves offering memberships, a crew of producers who will put on shows for the public, and charging for those shows -- a mindset not typically warmly embraced on the island, but one that's ultimately unhealthy, said Florence Poulain, a dancer and artist who runs the space with her photographer husband, Kristopher Johnson.
"There was this culture of Deep Tanks being open to everyone for free," Poulain said. "But we need to change that mentality; that in the arts we can't have quality work for free."
THE NEED FOR CHANGE
The couple organized all the programs and shows at Deep Tanks for its first two and a half years of existence, all while Poulain battled breast cancer and the couple mourned a death in the family.
Often they only asked for a small donation, which went toward paying the rent for the space. It left them feeling burnt out, Poulain said.
Now, after a year of recharging their batteries and coming up with a new plan, they say they're ready to once again bring generations of creative minds to Staten Island. That starts this weekend with a Second Saturday artist's market for NYSAI Press (see info box for details).
They'll have film screenings, art shows, theatre, poetry, music performances, performance art and more at the studio on 150 Bay St. in St. George.
"We want to change the notion of Deep Tanks being Florence and I, to it being a venue and a catalyst for other people to do things," Johnson said.
Poulain and Johnson hope to have a team of 20 "producers" who regularly put on programming in the space. They have 10 so far -- either artists they've worked with before or those whose work they admire. One of them, for example, is David DiLillo, whose Aquehonga pop-up cinema group will have a home for regular film screenings.
With events like these in the works, Deep Tanks should have some kind of programming happening every weekend, Poulain said.
That's where members come in.
Deep Tanks will be providing a membership program, similar to museum memberships. For $10 a month or $100 a year, members get half-off admission to events at Deep Tanks, plus the opportunity to use it as a venue themselves for, say, a cocktail party or art show. It also includes a portrait by Johnson -- you can get an idea for his style here.
THE AUDIENCE DILEMMA
Poulain and Johnson know that it will still be a challenge to bring in paying audience members for shows. They're hoping that the friend network of each "producer" will bring in enough paying visitors to pay the rent. But, that's something they still haven't quite figured out, Johnson said.
"Younger people on Staten Island, they tend to come out for the shows their friends are in," he said. "They're not terribly open to other things."
"What we want to know is, are you curious enough to go see half an hour of a show?" Poulain added. "To spend $8 on something you've never experienced?"
The answer, in their experience, has typically been no. When they hosted world-famous musician Vernon Reid, less than 10 people came. On the other hand, Poulain's Butoh dance performances regularly attract dozens of audience members.
But with more money from charging admission and memberships, Johnson and Poulain plan to invest more in marketing, sound systems and the overall experience, they said.
THE VALUE OF A VENUE
In a broader sense, charging for shows will also reinforce that what they and their team of artists are creating is as valuable if not more so than art experiences in Manhattan or Brooklyn, Johnson said.
"Even if it's creative and entertaining, it's still a huge amount of time and energy and materials," Johnson said. "The bottom line is, go find me a show in Brooklyn or Manhattan under $20 -- good luck. It's easily more. But $20 is the high-end of what we will charge, so it's still accessible here."
The two hope that by giving a working space to some of the island's most creative minds, they'll foster the ever-growing art culture on Staten Island.
"There is that mentality that if you want quality work, you have to go outside Staten Island, which is not the case," Poulain said.