This Side of PARADICE PALASE: An Interview with Kat Ryals and Lauren Hirshfield

ANTE is excited to be partnering on this International Woman’s Day with PARADICE PALASE: a women-run platform providing artists, creatives and patrons in the emerging art space room to connect.

As a long-standing fan of what PARADICE PALASE has been doing, we are excited to launch a week-long takeover of the ANTE mag Instagram account by the initiative. ANTE has also selected an Edit of 10 artists on the platform that really caught our eye.

Below, our Editor-in-Chief Audra Lambert’s wide-ranging chat with PARADICE PALASE founding members Kat Ryals and Lauren Hirshfield, who began the platform as a curatorial initiative back in 2017 focused on raising awareness of amazing contemporary artists through community-building.

ANTE mag. Hi Kat, Hi Lauren!  So, can you talk to us about the genesis of PARADICE PALASE? How did your team identify a need and seek to address it with the platform’s founding?

PP. PARADICE PALASE started as a project space with a simple goal – to get artists paid.

We met in the fall of 2016 and after only a couple encounters realized we had a lot of similar opinions about the contemporary art world and the art market at large. We planned a meet up for drinks and after 2 hours of constant brainstorming we immediately decided to work together on this project. The frustration we both kept circling back to was the normalization of the “starving artist” – that most working artists had to give so much unpaid and underpaid labor toward their careers, work multiple jobs often in industries or sectors unrelated to their practices. We were exhausted by the lack of transparency around these conversations. Especially for emerging and underrepresented artists, the lack of stable infrastructure surrounding their burgeoning careers was and still is troubling and we sought to solve it through the unique model we developed.

Our project space opened in June of 2017 in the basement of Kat’s apartment after the successful funding of a Kickstarter campaign launched in April. Our model was inspired by the power of crowdfunding, a notion rooted in Renaissance-era arts patronage (for context, Google the Medici family – Ed.). We invited the artists in our exhibition to also produce small original works or reproductions (along with PP branded in-house collectibles) at a price scale reasonable for the everyday patron to collect, and shared transparent costs related to production of each exhibition in the space that included a fair artist stipend for participation.

The goal was to encourage the public en masse to be directly involved in the success of an exhibition, receive a token of their support, and get every party paid for their time and labor involved. For us this model felt like the beginning of a new era for arts patronage and artist sustainability. Regardless of whether the works in the exhibition sold, artists were able to receive an even, fair wage for their labor surrounding participation.

ANTE mag. Can you walk us through the ways in which artists can be involved with the Paradice Palase organization as part of a community?

PP. Yes! Artists can be involved as part of our public facing community through our programs and events, as well as by joining our members network. This content comes in the form of public programming (often virtual), engagement on social media, and in person exhibitions. Our private members community works as a symbiotic relationship – artists and art lovers join at any of our 3 levels to receive perks, networking, and creative opportunities. Some of those benefits include monthly round ups of artist opportunities, connection to a network of peers online and in person, exclusive access to partner rewards and discounts, and exhibiting their work IRL at our annual members exhibition. Our monthly membership fees are low ($5-$15/mo) and allows for both accessible arts patronage as well as affordable professional career support. 

We invite a mix of both member artists and non-members artists to collaborate with our platform’s curatorial content – whether it’s including their work in our online collections, designing apparel editions with them, inviting them as guests on our programming, or simply posting about their work online. The benefit of being a member is that you’re often receiving both sides of our community building – internal and external. 

We’ve also been working towards creating not just a digital community but also a physical one with our storefront space in Brooklyn that supports 10 artist studios, an exhibition space, and the brick-and-mortar version of our marketplace. We’ve developed our platform in this way because we understand that community building, as well as access to resources, are some of the most important factors in contemporary artist careers. We want to support our Brooklyn community, and we also want to reach artists and art lovers outside of the NY (art world-Ed.) bubble too. 

ANTE mag. When did you found your Brooklyn storefront and how does it (multi-) function?

PP. We signed the lease on our current storefront location over Labor Day 2019. It was a whirlwind day for us because the process of finding, touring, and applying for approval happened over the course of only 5 weeks. We had been discussing the options and possibilities with a commercial space as at the time all of the ideas we had surrounding programming expansion were beginning to outgrow our basement location. The incredible benefit with operating in Kat’s apartment was we never factored her rent into operating expenses, so the idea of taking on a commercial lease was as daunting as it was exciting. However, we knew we were ready to take the plunge and expand our blueprint.

We settled on a fairly common footprint of sharing the exhibition space with studio space. Our storefront is 1900 sqft. housing a front-facing gallery, a feature wall for the latest apparel editions and in-house goods, 10 semi-private studios, a common lounge area, and lofted artwork storage.

We are incredibly proud of the small community we’ve built in our Oasis Studios program and are grateful everyday for the artists that work there. With our mission of expanding our emerging artist community ever present, the bulk of our gallery programming are exhibitions from each of the artists in our Oasis Studios program. Our starting calendar also mapped room for 2-3 internally curated exhibitions, but as we’re sure you’ve gathered from the timeline, soon after moving in we had to shut the doors for the pandemic. This rapid and heavy blow to our operations gave way to a lot of soul-searching about how PARADICE PALASE would move forward strategically, succinctly, and still in consideration of everything we built before that moment. 

ANTE mag. How do you plan your exhibitions and programs, both in-person and online in the virtual arts programming you produce?

PP. We thrive off spreadsheets, extensive note taking, and long hours surfing the web! Our model first began with curating group exhibitions, usually 4-6 artists per show. We wanted to work with and support as many artists as we could and not be limited to an exclusive group (side effect of being truly passionate about contemporary art!) We would research artists on Instagram, we’d attend lots of local shows and art fairs, Kat would meet artists at residencies, etc. We look mostly for emerging and underrepresented artists to work with, as we want to help nurture budding careers.

More recently after the pandemic hit in 2020, we really started reevaluating our operations and ultimately decided that with everything we were beginning to grow online, it was time to close the chapter on curating in-person group shows. Our storefront gallery calendar now consists of our studio member exhibitions (10 per year), our annual Open Call show, our annual Members’ show, and a handful of invited pop ups organized by external curators or groups. We focus our internal curatorial efforts now 100% online, curating collections of original works under $800, art objects, and artist designed apparel editions. This move online brings a new level of visibility to the artists we work with, and our focus on affordable art helps us further drive sales and expand our market reach. Our in-person shows are now more collaborative with lots of people involved, which helps foster community engagement within our physical space. 

When selecting artists for exhibitions and programming, we tend to pull from both our internal pool of talent within our membership program and our own “wish list” of artists who we are fans of. We both keep running lists of artists we’d like to invite to participate in specific types of opportunities, whether it’s consigning artwork from them, or inviting them to be part of our Virtual Visit series. Different artists we come across might be good for one opportunity but not another, depending on what type of work they are making, and we keep notes about this and discuss during curatorial meetings. Our curatorial taste I would say is best described as “bold” and we typically curate new collections and do guest outreach for programs every few months. We now split up our labor, and Lauren largely handles curating and outreach for online collections while Kat manages and plans exhibitions in person.

“postponed”, July 2020, work by Oasis Studios member Jovanni Luna, image courtesy PARADICE PALASE
“Sudden Relics”, August 2020, work by Oasis Studios member Courtney Dudley, image courtesy PARADICE PALASE

ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about the ways in which you make art sales more feasible, and collectible art more affordable, for consumers (your recent Limited Edition mask artworks come to mind)?

PP. This is pretty much all we talk about now, haha, so we love this question! Our favorite part of our journey is the aha moment last year when we realized we’ve been dancing around the same goal since day one. When we began planning our line of apparel editions we drew on our first crowdfunding campaigns for inspiration, recognising the sales success of artist prints and collectibles from our brand. 

A lot of galleries and arts organizations open with a clear vision of how they will grow on a road they rarely stray from. When PARADICE PALASE launched we had so much passion: a high stakes mission, but little else. Our goal all along was to make art collecting more accessible, and to create a sustainable revenue model for both artists and art organizations in the emerging art sector. Our passion and drive encouraged us to explore the dirt paths off the main road, but our mission to expand artist visibility and arts patronage has been there since the beginning and our current curated programming drives home all of the above.

So when we moved our curatorial programming online this year, we also narrowed in on selections of original works priced $800 and below as a way to remove stigma around artists producing work at accessible price points, and to lower the barrier to entry for novice collectors or general art lovers who want to get in the game. Through our collaboratively produced apparel editions, we are meeting those same intersections at an even more feasible scale of $55.95. We definitely see our apparel editions as a version of flat files programs, except wearable! And keeping the editions at a small production availability creates added value to their exclusive design. 

Limited Edition artwork on sale in the PARADICE PALASE shop February 2021— Editions of 30 each.

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