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.

Terri C. Smith of Franklin Street Works in Conversation for 10xCommunity

It is a personal pleasure to feature the incredible work of the versatile and dedicated Terri C. Smith, whose leadership at Franklin Street Works yielded meaningful, community-based exhibitions such as “Otherwise Obscured: Erasure in Body and Text and “Acting on Dreams: The State of Immigrant Rights, Conditions and Advocacy in the United States.” A thoughtful curator, and alumna of the prestigious Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, Smith dedicates herself toward contextualizing conversations around art and social conditions within spaces ripe for critical inquiry.

We sat down to learn more about her time specifically at Franklin Street Works, and how the organization is dedicating its next chapter to archiving its powerful body of programs, events and exhibitions, contextualizing them for a new audience.

(Below image, Cut Up: Contemporary Collage and Cut-Up Histories through a Feminist Lens curated by Katie Vida, installation view. Foreground: Faith Ringgold. Background (L-R): Meredyth Sparks, Martine Syms, and Lourdes Correa-Carlo. Photo by Object Studies
Lead image, Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman, installation view. Foreground: commissioned site-specific installation by Nontsikelelo Mutiti. Background (L-R): works by Jay Simple and Bryan Keith Thomas. Photo by Object Studies.)

 

ANTE. Thanks, Terri, for sitting down with us! So Franklin Street Works was known as a contemporary art space but during your time working there, it achieved recognition for engaging with social justice as well. Can you elaborate on the founding of the space, its evolution and how social justice aligned with FWS’ mission?

Terri C. Smith. Being the founding creative director of an arts organization is a unique perspective because you are steeped in its institutional history and have a deep on-the-ground understanding of its growth and impact. When I was invited to co-found Franklin Street Works by Stamford lawyer and philanthropist Kathryn Emmett she had the idea of an art space with a cafe. It was up to me to craft the specifics in terms of mission, vision, and programming. I had been in Connecticut working in the arts for a few years and had a sense of that scene. When I began conceptualizing what FSW might look like, I was thinking a lot about NYC alternative art spaces from the 60s and 70s like Artists Space, The Kitchen, and Food and their commitment to emerging artists and grassroots principles. I also had 15 years of experience working in two accredited museums and valued good scholarship and museum best practices. So my thinking was to create a program that included rigorous exhibitions and also integrated values of community inclusion – a discursive, social, and activist community hub with contemporary art at its center.

When we first opened in Stamford, Connecticut, showing conceptual art necessitated a lot of interpretation and direct conversations with visitors. In the beginning, merely showing conceptual art felt like a form of activism! All of our exhibitions were original, thematic group shows curated in house by guest curators or myself. This thematic approach aimed to build an audience beyond arts-interested individuals by drawing connections between contemporary art practices and events in our day-to-day lives.  In other words, if an exhibition included work about the environment, the idea is that it would attract folks who might not be familiar with contemporary art, but, because of their interest in nature, science or conservation they would have a point of entry. It was an individualized approach that aimed at connecting, often challenging, contemporary art to a broader public.

As far as how the social justice trajectory connected to our mission, these key factors spring to mind: our coincidental opening of the space when Occupy Wall Street was encamped in Zuccotti Park; an archive of artist activist collectives we developed for a 2013 exhibition; our exploration of Franklin Street Works’ values with a 2014 strategic plan; and a show on immigration Yaelle Amir curated for us in 2015 (see above, “Acting on Dreams.”) I’ve only recently realized it, but Occupy Wall Street was a profound influence on the formation and direction of FSW. I knew some artists who were involved in the Park – many of them affiliated with Bard MFA. It was intriguing to me how artists brought an unmonumental sculpture/MFA materiality to activism and how an alternative, pop-up social system that shared qualities with social practice projects was being constructed from scratch there. I now understand FSW was influenced by OWS’s materiality and its creation of an inclusive, activist space that interrogated the status quo and posited corrective, world-building scenarios.

Social justice as an exhibition theme was directly addressed for the first time with our 2013 exhibition Working Alternatives: Breaking Bread, Art Broadcasting and Collective Action, co-curated by Mackenzie Schneider, Jess Wilcox and myself. We were thinking about how artists used food, broadcasting, and collective action during the early history of alternative spaces in NYC, and how artists were still using these tactics. Jess explored artists who use food, Mackenzie looked at artists using media like television and newspapers, and our gallery manager, Sandrine Milet, and I explored collective action, sending out an open call for materials from self-described artist/activist collectives. The starting date for our artist/activist collectives was the end date of an existing archive organized by NYC artist/activist collective Political Art Documentation & Distribution (PAD/D), which included socially conscious arts organizations working from 1979–1990. We put a call out to more than 90 collectives and received materials from approximately 30.  While the show was on view, Brooke Singer, a Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase (who was in one of the collectives we exhibited) invited us to take the archive out of its boxes and present it as an exhibition at the College’s Passage gallery later that year. Sandrine and I curated Collective Action Archive with Purchase students Stephen Barakat and Gina Mischianti, writing additional interpretive texts about the collectives and exhibition essays from various points of view. Eventually the materials were accessioned into the SUNY Purchase Library zine archive, making them available to students and scholars.

Nadia Wolff-commissioned performance, A Litany, at the opening reception of Roots & Roads, curated by Anita N. Bateman. Photo by Terri C Smith.

This year-long immersion into collective action art practices was followed by Franklin Street Works’ 2014 strategic plan, which re-emphasized our commitment to socially conscious art and community engagement. In the strategic plan, we described our core values, “Art is part of a larger social enterprise and thereby serves as a catalyst for social action. Both the individual artist and our communities are vital partners with us. The artist creates new models and impacts our communities. Our communities generate creative conversations within our space and elsewhere about our production.”

The next year, when Yaelle Amir curated Acting on Dreams: The State of Immigrant Rights, Conditions, and Advocacy in the United States, FSW’s work in social justice really began to crystallize. I personally had an “ah ha” moment about how actionable elements could become part of an art exhibition when Yaelle asked us to create a resource list of regional immigrant organizations for the catalog. I was energized by how Acting On Dreams was firing on all cylinders. The artworks and commissioned installations were well executed and materially interesting, but it was also exhibition as logistical support, community gathering place, investigative journalism platform, educational venue, and more. From then on, we were off to the races in actively planning exhibitions that addressed social justice issues head on. 

ANTE. The pandemic has affected everyone in the arts, and has required flexibility and resourcefulness. Your team has recognized that the time has come to put future exhibitions in the physical space on hold. What are your goals moving forward in building an archive? In addition, how do you hope this archival project will evolve? What resources in particular are you seeking to help achieve this goal? 

TCS. It is important to me that the legacy of Franklin Street Works lives on through a digital archive that is organized and accessible to anyone interested in contemporary art history or any of our 415 past exhibiting artists and collectives. I’m working with a handful of past board members to map a path forward in creating that. Right now we are exploring the best approaches in applying for archiving grants. I’ve also been talking to other small art spaces that no longer have physical spaces but still have an online presence, and chatting with archivist friends about the best order of operations in getting started. Since the entirety of FSW’s institutional memory is in my brain and my computer (and back up disk, of course!) it is my responsibility to organize the materials in preparation for a professional archivist. In a perfect world, I’d like to have the spirit of FSW live on in a less localized way. It would be exciting to see the archive combine with a national program of grants for emerging artists and to create and/or support commissioned projects.

Love Action Art Lounge curated by Terri C Smith, installation view of Carmelle Safdie’s commissioned, site-specific installation. Photo by Object Studies.

 

 ANTEWhat particular aspect of your tenure do you reflect on with satisfaction?

TCS. There are so many, but two aspects that come to mind immediately.

First, the transformative nature of Franklin Street Works’ educational programming. The physical space of FSW is an intimate repurposed Victorian row house. So when we had tours, talks, and performances, there wasn’t much physical distance between the community and the presenters. I also intentionally set a very welcoming tone that signified there wasn’t much, if any, hierarchical distance between artist and audience either. I think this intimacy and casual, social vibe created a comfortable space for learning, questioning, and authentic connection that was memorable and resonant. There were dozens of times when a past event attendant would volunteer specifics about how it changed their perspective or affected the course of their work or life. 

The second aspect is a personal one. I developed so many wonderful relationships with FSW’s artists, curators, staff/board, interns, and contract workers these last nine years. So many of the people we partnered with on projects were collaborative, talented, and conscientious. My life is vastly enriched for having known them. I was 43 when I co-founded FSW. Frequently in middle age we can become set in our ways, but my life was infused with an endless stream of compassionate critique, encouragement, and aspirational thinking. Many of the folks I worked with became my teachers, modeling generosity and inquisitiveness, pointing out when I was being old fashioned or on auto pilot, and perennially challenging me to work toward optimal equity and inclusiveness. As stressful as the labor of running an art space can be, the love, laughs, and learning outshone the fatigue that sometimes accompanies this type of work.

Sherry Millner artist talk on the occasion of In this place where the guest rests, curated by Jacqueline Mabey. Photo by Michael Mandiberg.

 

ANTE. How have you focused your energy on moving forward during the pandemic as a cultural producer?

TCS. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this is such a universal question right now in the arts and beyond. Right now my energy is focused on staying connected with close friends, taking care of my body with exercise, and connecting to nature (and my dog) with walks and gardening. I’m also doing some freelance grant and copywriting for an Alzheimer’s organization which has me thinking about how the labor of families, especially women’s labor, is literally keeping eldercare afloat in the U.S. I am thinking there is a feminist exhibition on labor, healthcare, and ageism in there somewhere. Things are still fresh with FSW closing, and I lost my mother recently too so there are a lot of new normals to digest, consequently, I am doing a lot of reflection right now, in a good way, I think, I hope..! Haha.

As we touched on earlier, I am starting to organize materials for an FSW archive. I am also awkwardly working to shift the Feminisms and the Arts class I teach at UConn-Stamford to distance learning and continuing ask colleagues and friends –  especially those whose practices are about creating more equity and inclusiveness in the art world – how I can support them and their work during these difficult times.

In contemplating the last nine years, I’ve realize that curating for me is most rewarding when it’s in collaboration with a community where I feel a significant connection. Ideally, if I were to commit to another full-time position in the visual arts, the community I choose to work with would be as important as the organization. The places that feel like home to me are Bridgeport (where I live) and New Haven (where I have friends and there is a vibrant art scene) as well as my hometown of Nashville, TN. So I hope to stay put in Connecticut or move back to Tennessee. That said, we never know what the future brings, so I’m keeping an open mind at the same time