Assembly Room Interview for 10xCommunity: “This is a Crucial Moment; We Need to Adapt”

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. Assembly Room is a safe space for professional women curators to mount exhibitions and attend programming on the Lower East Side in New York City. We caught up with founders Yulia Topchiy, Paola Gallio and Natasha Becker to learn more about what types of initiative they’ve begun in the wake of CoVid-19.

(Header image credit to Julia Colavita)

ANTE mag. Thank you for chatting with us about your community. What thoughts were in your minds when the pandemic began to affect social movement?
Assembly Room. As Toni Morrison famously said: “What can I do where I am?” So we looked no further than the community we forged over the past year and a half and focused on the importance of connection and empathy. We are aware and most interested in what’s happening in our community in terms of coming together and elevating financial burdens by joining the coalition on freezing commercial rents, raising money for artists through sales and donations, and supporting artists that question the social and economic inequality and push for change with their actions and work.
Works by Rusudan Khizanishvili on view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy)

ANTE mag. As a space and a platform, Assembly Room has grown to play a critical role in supporting women’s cultural producers in NYC and beyond. How did you envision continuing that role during this crisis, and what specifically have you done to keep the work you’ve been so dedicated to since your beginning?

AR. We asked ourselves, how do we stay connected? How do we use our platform and resources to support our curators, promote our artists, and invite new voices and ideas? We shaped our programming based on their feedback. For instance, we moved our monthly networking and professional development meetings to bi-weekly via Zoom; we launched an Insta TV Channel “Curating in the time of Covid-19” and asked curators to create a short video about their experiences, projects, challenges. We are presenting and promoting women artists on our website, social media, and through the sale of their artwork on our Artsy platform. Our network expanded and we had curators join us from the east coast to the west coast, from western to central Europe, and to Canada. 
Because we went online, our voices reached even further as we joined others in advocating for equality and worker rights, sharing ideas on how to make the art system more sustainable and democratic, and underscoring the relevance of nurturing culture and art.
ANTE mag. What have the three of you been doing to increase access to resources during this time, and/or what would you like to do or see more of in the art community in the present moment?
AR. The crisis has allowed us to move deeper into community engagement, collaboration, and partnership, as well as reap the benefits of our network and community building over the past two years. We established a simple resource guide and circulated it within our group, inviting them to collaborate, reach out, exchange ideas, and share creative outlets with one another. We have an exciting partnership with curator Kelly Schroer at Artfare to launch a joint platform, “Unrealized Projects,” specifically for curators whose shows closed early or were canceled due to the pandemic. We invited Sarah Murkett, a professional recruiter from the art industry, to guide us through a discussion of the job market and how to turn the current situation into an opportunity to adapt, set new goals, network, and improve skills. Within the art community, we would like to continue the conversation and to keep asking questions. We would like the community to be as generous as possible and offer help and expertise when needed. This is a crucial moment; we need to adapt to the fast-changing online technologies but also invent practices and tools that will allow us to remain active, relevant, and collaborative in the future. 
Works by Nora Riggs on view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy )
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how Assembly Room sees their mission continuing once social life begins to return “to normal”? 
AR. We will continue to fulfill our mission through our core programs, professional development of women in the arts, lively public programs, and an array of exhibitions but with a new urgency. Women make up the majority of art workers, and they will be disproportionately affected by the crisis. Advocating for better representation and addressing gender imbalance is going to be even more critical in the future. It’s our job to be alert, to look out for each other, and to achieve a “new normal” based on greater equality. We are optimistic because we have a wonderful community of curators, artists, gallerists, nonprofits, and we are excited to continue working on this together. 
ANTE mag. How have you each personally been mitigating the effects of this crisis on your individual careers and personal lives? 
AR. As you know, Assembly Room is a self-organized and self-funded platform for women to achieve success through the community. We personally contribute to the funding, time, and energy for all the operations, programs, and exhibition space. Our incomes took a dive due to the shutdown, and we are asking ourselves hard questions and making tough decisions. Like everyone else, we lost a lot on a personal and professional level, but in different ways, we are focusing on what is most essential in our lives. We are fortunate to have each other because we are good friends and business partners. We make each other laugh when things get too dangerous, and now is also the best time to practice compassion! 
Like everyone, we went through the whole arc of stay at home emotions and activities! We cooked more, we empathize and grieved for lost family and friends, we contributed as much as we could to our friends in the restaurant community, we were up and we were down, we tried new things, we binge watched tv shows, we danced and dreamed, but mostly we showed up.  
Installation view for Assembly Room – Female Artists (Online Exclusive exhibition and available on our website and on Artsy) image credit to Julia Colavita
ANTE mag. How have you engaged with other platforms and creators to expand the dialogue around this moment of crisis?
AR. As we mentioned, we have an exciting partnership with Artfare to create an online presentation of “Unrealized” curatorial projects. We are promoting exclusive Artsy shows of female artists we have worked within the past, and we are constantly updating our fantastic works on paper or Flat Files, both available online via Artsy. We participated in the NADA initiative for the NADA community to support artists by listing the works on Artnet. We also led webinars with fellow curators and arts professionals hosted by ArtTable and POWarts, respectively, sharing our experiences, challenges, resources, and expanding the conversation. 
ANTE mag. What actions are you taking in the near future to engage with the broader art community, and how can ANTE readers get involved and support?
AR. Professional development and networking are key for us. In addition to the arts, we are thinking of how curators can be useful in fields outside the art world. How can one bring curatorial experience to other industries and sectors where artists are deeply appreciated, but curators are not necessarily approached? Artists are at the heart of our practice, and we are passionate about establishing connections with organizations willing to support curatorial initiatives and contemporary artists question inequality, express outrage, and empathize with the suffering of others. Whether bearing witness to tragic events, presenting alternative histories, or engaging in activism, such artists use visual art as a means to provoke personal and social transformations, which are much needed at this time. We want to support these artists with the help of organizations who have resources to bring conversations to a wider audience both in physical and digital spaces. ANTE readers can support us by connecting with us on our social networks, repost and sharing our content, purchasing the fantastic, affordable artworks available by emerging, unrepresented, living artists on our Artsy page, by participating in our projects. It’s time to rebuild, let’s do it together.

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