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BY SAM SPOKONY | It’s tough to write and direct a play that explores modern technology, nuclear disasters and the prospect of some future world war — and it’s even tougher when you have a couple of screaming kids running around.
“It’s basically impossible for me to get any work done at home,” said Aya Ogawa, 39, the mother of two who’s currently drafting said play, “Ludic Proxy,” on a commission from Off-Broadway powerhouse The Play Company.
“And it’s just not fun to be working in a café all the time,” she added.
Workspace Residency gives artists new focus in FiDi spaces
But Ogawa got a reprieve from the dreaded, crowded café in September, when she joined 30 other artists in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace studio residency program.
The selective, nine-month program provides each winning artist with an individual space in which they can truly devote themselves to new work. The residency began in 2006, and for the second straight year it’s taking place on the temporarily vacant 12th floor of One Liberty Plaza — in the heart of the Financial District, and steps away from the World Trade Center — on property donated by banking giant Goldman Sachs.
“To have that dedicated space in which to write and think is such a precious commodity,” said Ogawa, who added that she also utilizes a dance floor in the program’s common area to test out and rehearse her forthcoming play’s themes and choreography.
The Workspace residency has granted a different kind of freedom to Hector Arce-Espasas, a painter and sculptor who was having trouble with the landlord at his Bushwick studio while preparing for an important gallery showing in Torino, Italy next March.
“Right now I’m not worried about paying rent, or any of those other issues, so it’s a fresh new start in which I can focus solely on the work with a clear mind,” said Arce-Espasas, 31, who is attempting to expand the multi-dimensional medium of clay, by not only sculpting but also painting with it. “Honestly,” he added, “I couldn’t imagine being able to produce this upcoming show while having to deal with my landlord back in Brooklyn.”
Arce-Espasas explained he was initially concerned about being limited by a small, isolated room at the residency. But those worries were gone once he settled in at the building and realized that he had more than enough room to set up his canvases and freely move around the space.
“Now, I think I like it more than my old studio,” he said, with a laugh.
Another major element of the program, Arce-Espasas noted, is the exposure he and other artists receive when they’re periodically visited by curators — in his case, from places like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art — or other leading industry professionals.
“These are people I never would have expected to meet on my own, so it’s a huge opportunity just to have them see my work,” he said.
And besides the purely individual benefits, there’s a special kind of growth and communication that develops when a group of talented artists are working side-by-side for nine months. LMCC has tapped into that aspect of the residency by including weekly salon gatherings for the artists, at which they can share ideas, ask for feedback or just mingle.
“It’s a great sense of community,” said Desirée Alvarez, who entered the residency this year as a poet but also works as a visual artist. “[LMCC] has really maximized the potential for what the program can be, because the whole environment really fosters getting to know one another — we even had a Thanksgiving dinner a few days before the holiday.”
Alvarez, 50, didn’t have to come very far to get to One Liberty Plaza, since she’s lived for two decades on the west end of Canal Street. But like many of her fellow artists-in-residence, she’s finding that the change of setting is having a powerful impact on a new project — in her case, a series of poems exploring the origins and nature of violence, while using the 16th-century Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire to unpack feelings about her own mix of Spanish and Mexican heritage.
“I don’t think I’d be halfway through the manuscript right now if it weren’t for this program,” she said.
This year’s Workspace residency also provides writers like Alvarez with a chance to get portions of their work out into the public sphere before the program ends next June. She’ll be participating in an LMCC-sponsored reading at Poets House — also located Downtown, at 10 River Terrace — on Feb. 24.
In addition, those who want to fully immerse themselves in the work of the artists-in-residence can attend the culminating Workspace Open Studios event.
Until then, it’s back to business for the visual artists, performing artists and writers of the program. And as Lower Manhattan takes shape once again — as those artists look out their windows and see 4 World Trade Center finally open, with the flagship Tower 1 on the way — there seems to be no limit to what can be accomplished when the framework of an idea is given the focus it truly deserves.
“It’s like a hive here,” said Alvarez of the residency spaces. “It’s a buzz of activity among all the artists, and it’s contagious, and it’s wonderful.”
Artists interested in applying for LMCC’s 2014-2015 Workspace program can attend an informational session on January 15. The deadline for applications is January 30. For more details on the program, the informational session or how to apply, visit www.lmcc.net/residencies/workspace.