AOT Project Salon Interview for 10xCommunity: “The Arts are Vital to Individual and Community Empowerment”

ANTE Mag is focusing on ten projects that span creative disciplines and seek to build wider community ties between creative disciplines in our new series of interviews, 10xCommunity. Featuring artistic projects, community-building initiatives and interdisciplinary platforms, ANTE is sharing these interviews on the mag and across social media that spotlight these endeavors through the current social crisis to pivot to sharing positivity and uplifting creative news to our audience. AOT Project Salon is the brainchild of curator and cultural producer Douglas Turner, a Brooklyn-based arts stalwart. We sat down with Turner for a wider perspective on the projects keeping him busy in these trying times.

 

Artist Courtney Alexander in front of her collaborative project sponsored by the Lower East Side Girls Club presentation, Art on Paper 2020 – coordinated by AOT Project Salon
 
ANTE: Thanks Douglas for sitting down with us today to discuss AOT Project Salon! Can you start out by giving us some background on AOT Project Salon and how it got started in 2014?
Douglas Turner: Hello Audra! And thanks so much for featuring AOT Project Salon. From the top, I would like to acknowledge all the people who made AOT possible; this is not something I could have done on my own. AOT is an acronym for the Architecture of Tomorrow and comes from a manifesto I wrote for myself after graduating from the New School back in 2009. From there I decided to focus my sociological writerly intentions on the arts. A retired art critic and I had become friends and he began introducing me to the art world. A few years later, I wanted to put ideas into action. I was sharing a tiny house in Williamsburg with a good friend who totally supported me converting the second floor (which was an open loft bedroom)  for exhibitions. I would hide the bed behind an armoire!
 
ANTE: How has AOT Project Salon evolved since its founding, and what current objectives are part of your mission?
DT: In 2015, I had (curated) something around seven or eight shows, focusing on re-emerging, emerging, and under-represented artists. Did you know that insurance companies google (certain) addresses, and when they find out something is going on in a home besides its intended purpose they get real threatening? This understandably made the landlord uncomfortable, and that’s when I began doing satellite shows in Manhattan, partnering with the Lower East Side Girls Club organization, where I am now on the Art Advisory Board. Partnering with them gave me access to a storefront location on Avenue C. I was able to continue a bi-annual project called Our Elements, a collaborative exhibition of queer and feminist art. During all of this, I had also begun working on arts-in-education projects in Brownsville and Crown Heights. What began as The Equal Education Initiative, I worked with former Senator Jesse Hamilton to bring workshops and summer art programs to children. Currently, the education program is on hiatus while I work in the background on a huge undertaking to fund a mobile art education program (MOart). Imagine a 26-foot box truck, converted into a classroom that can arrive at various locations, like housing projects and other community organizations to provide structured after-school art classes.
AOT Project Salon loft space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
ANTE: Incredible.. and so, how exactly has the current pandemic affected your programming and what are you doing to stay resourceful and create impact during this “pause”?
DT: Honestly, I was already on a pause, so I don’t feel AOT Project Salon has been deeply impacted, however, I’d say that organizations like mine that help to provide resources and opportunities (no matter how large or small) for under-represented artists and curators, and extra-curricular services for underserved communities will be in high demand in the coming years due to the fall out of the pandemic. I think it will take a few “Town Halls,” before I know what precise actionable steps I should take.
ANTE: You actively seek ways to stretch far and wide to engage varied members of the community, from your work championing the Lower East Side Girls Club to your online initiative, Wedge Studio. Talk to us about how these challenges feed one another and keep you inspired.
DT: Ideas are a natural resource, and I don’t seem to be low on those resources. The Girls Club has my heart. It was founded about 25 years ago by Lyn Pentecost and Jenny Dembrow. They now operate out of a new 25,000 sq. ft. facility on 8th and D. Their positive impact on the community is amazing. It’s an academy for Girls and expanding with services for the entire neighborhood. Serving as an art advisor is an amazing privilege, and amplifies my ability to provide resources to artists. My latest project was working on a residency for Courtney Alexander, a painter and sculptor who also created Dust ll Onyx – a melanated tarot deck. Courtney worked with the girls on a tarot project, which was shown at the Girls Club’s Art on Paper booth this year. Wedge Studio is a for-profit business I launched this year. Being able to play a part in providing the opportunity and exposure for Courtney, was simply a matter of doing the right thing.
In conversation at AOT Project Salon, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
ANTE: Arts education is an important subject for you: can you explain why you think it key to connect communities through arts programming?
DT: For me, it comes down to national statistics. When art education is provided in a child’s education there is a direct correlation between academic performance and the likelihood of going on to college. But in a city like New York, the arts have been defunded by 40%, and those impacted the most by these measures are poor and/or members of black and brown communities across the boroughs. The arts are vital to individual and community empowerment. Folks of these communities know this because they see what is missing in their neighborhoods and schools as generational poverty continues. In my experience in Brownsville, I saw not just parents but adults in the community rally behind arts education for children. The arts have the power to rally people, which in turn shows community vibrancy and strength, a great source of pride in where one calls home.
ANTE: What’s one challenge that you see not being addressed or underrated that you want to see more resources diverted to in terms of art and cultural production? And finally, what are your plans to connect the art community once this challenging moment has passed? 
DT: A disparaging amount of resources are being funneled upwards. Would that be late-stage capitalism? Think about the troubling levels of access to space and the dizzying pace of real estate. I think that path is suffocating, or cannibalistic, like a snake eating its own tail. It would appear that the focus is on prestige rather than merit, which lends itself to stagnation.
I want to hit the ground running. I have no desire to rush into things while this pandemic continues, but instead be strategic. Be honest, we have no idea what post-pandemic life will be like. The quarantine will end in the summer, but social practices will be greatly affected through 2021. My main focus will most likely be on digital presentations, focusing on online engagement for the benefit of artists. If there is anything I know I can do for the art community, it is to create platforms.

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