Volume 17 • Issue 7 / July 9 - 15, 2004

Artist Carlos Motta

New home for W.T.C. art studios

By David H. Ellis

The wall of Melanie Baker’s work studio might give someone the impression that she has a strange obsession with members of the Bush administration.

With dozens of creased newspaper photographs of White House officials affixed to the wall, Baker taps the pictures with her blackened fingers and explains that she uses the photos as a reference point for her sinister charcoal drawings hanging behind her.

“They’re about power,” says Baker, explaining her sketch of a shadowed microphone above the Presidential seal. “For me it’s the fear of power and that’s why I use charcoal because the black of the charcoal represents the unknown.”

Yet Baker is lucky enough to have ample studio space to create pieces without restriction — a common dilemma that many New York artists face. In fact, she is one of 12 individuals who were fortunate enough to have earned a 250-square-foot space on the eighth floor of the Equitable Building at 120 Broadway — a building which was recently christened the new home for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s artist-in-residency program.

From 1997 until 2001, artists worked on the 91st and 92nd floors of Tower One of the World Trade Center, capturing the city’s landscape from the highest vantage point in the Manhattan. One artist in the program died on Sept. 11, 2001.

After 9/11, L.M.C.C. hopscotched from the World Financial Center, to Brooklyn and spent last year Downtown in the Woolworth Building, before artists and members of L.M.C.C. learned that Silverstein Properties had donated the artists’ current space on Broadway between Pine and Cedar Sts.

The organization is hoping that its new Downtown location will become a permanent space for the program.

“It’s core to our mission to bring artists to work Downtown and I’m thrilled Silverstein has given us space,” Tom Healy, L.M.C.C. president, said about Larry Silverstein, who is also redeveloping the W.T.C.

“One of the interesting parts is to bring artists into a commercial work environment,” said Healy. “We like to think of this as the urban equivalent of an artists’ colony.”

Located in the historic 40-story building that led to the city’s imposition of setback requirements on future skyscrapers, the L.M.C.C.’s 10,000 square foot raw space stands in contrast to the highly polished marble floors of the building’s lobby with its coarse concrete floors and exposed electrical wiring hanging from above.

In one of the 12 artists’ spaces is Carlos Motta, sitting quietly in front of his laptop, still contemplating how to approach his project. With five months remaining in the six-month program, the 26-year-old from Bogota, Colombia says he plans to focus on socio-political issues and will implement both the photographic and electronic media. He remains confident about his project however, considering the L.M.C.C. program has not only freed up space in his apartment on the Lower East Side, but also provides him with a new type of work setting.

“It’s totally different from being in an apartment building,” said Motta, gesturing to the surrounding office buildings outside his window. “I don’t think there’s many places in the world that offer you a chance to work in this kind of an environment.”

For Healy, the potential growth for the residency project lies in those same relationships.

“We really view this as a seed program for artistic ideas in the city and as an opportunity for artists to work together in a new way,” says Healy, hopeful that painters and filmmakers might cross-pollinate their ideas.

Healy believes that the true potential of the seven-year-old project has yet to be realized. One of his goals as the new president of L.M.C.C. is to convince other real estate moguls and building owners to follow Silverstein’s lead and allow artists to utilize those commercial and residential spaces that remain vacant for months at a time.

“We hope we can take this model and take it to temporary sites throughout Downtown,” he said. “There are not that many government incentives to create art space at discounted rates. What we can do in the short term is at least provide that in a less permanent way and that seems like an immediate solution.”

The six-month program will culminate in a two-day opening, which will be accessible to the public on the weekend of October 30-31.

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