How is the project operated?
Artist run non-profit organization.
Press Street began as an ephemeral organization in the summer of 2005 with the book project INTERSECTION | NEW ORLEANS. The project cemented the organization’s focus on literature and art by pairing 25 writers with 25 artists to develop blind collaborations about 25 significant street corners in New Orleans. While it began in the months leading up to Katrina, it became all the more poignant when it was finally published in April 2006. Shortly after the storm, Press Street also began producing some of the first cultural offerings in the city with art programs in businesses which had yet to reopen, including the Saturn Bar and Preservation Hall, to promote a symbiotic relationship in the rebuilding effort between small business, non-profits, and artists. Press Street’s annual 24hr Draw-a-thon was launched in 2006 to get folks excited about creating, and has since grown to our largest event celebrating its 8th year this past December 1st with over 900 participants. A physical incarnation of Press Street came about with the development of Antenna Gallery in 2008 at 3161 Burgundy Street, and in 2012 the organization moved to its current home at 3718 St. Claude Avenue which houses an expanded Antenna Gallery, residency space, and Reading Room 220, a space for our neighbors to come in and discover rare publications and art from our new collection of two dimensional work called Signals Flat File and Archive. Reading Room 220 is also home to our educational program Big Class, which aims to encourage the voices of young New Orleans writers, ages 6-18, through creative collaborations with schools and communities.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
It is largely volunteer run, with a collective of around 30 active folks involved in the various arms of the organization, and a working volunteer board of 9. In the last six months we have developed two paid positions – an education director and a development coordinator.
Through a mix of donations, grants both public (city and state) and private (national foundations including Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Blackrock and local foundations like the RosaMary, GPOA, and Wisner), supporting membership contributions, fundraisers (like the cupcake throwdown and a prom we will be doing this coming February), book and merch sales, and with the addition of a residency space in our new facility- AirBnB income between residencies.
Who is responsible for the programming?
It’s complicated. As primarily a volunteer run organization, who is in charge can sometimes be quite fluid. We have a Managing Member, Bob Snead, who oversees day-to-day operations and ensures the bills are paid, but each of the different arms of the organization has a group of volunteers who oversees programming decisions. Each group has a representative that sits on the Press Street board. So the board has your normal officers and then a rep from Antenna, Big Class, Room 220, Publications, Draw-a-thon, and Miniplex. There is some overlap between the groups, and they are structured so that anyone can develop a new program that fits under the Press Street umbrella. People typically join the organization in a “choose your own adventure” style of membership – which means, if someone wants to get involved, they have to jump in and involve themselves, take a look at what’s going on and find a place to insert their efforts. Press Street offers lots of opportunities and (some) resources, but no one holds hands in order to involve folks in projects or activities. The result is a collective of self-motivated people who take initiative on their own to do projects they want to see happen and welcomes the involvement of all others.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year. What kind of events are usually organized?
Antenna Gallery produces 12 month-long exhibitions, 1 Annual Draw-a-thon, 15-20 Room 220 literary readings, about 30 free film screenings through our MiniPlex program, Big Class free afterschool programs every Tuesday-Thursday during the school year, about 10 or so publications are produced every year (both adult and youth driven from our Big Class program), and many other random irregular programs like Comic Reading nights or series of events like the one we did leading up to December 21, 2012 entitled Impending Apocalypse.
How is your programming determined?
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
Every year we have an open call for exhibiton proposals in the winter called the Antenna Open Call. From that we select at least one of the shows for next calendar year.
That again depends on which person is in charge. Each exhibition has a different person in charge of overseeing its execution. Sometimes they curate and sometimes they give the artist(s) involved free reign. It is a structure that works well for us and allows for the most freedom to experiment with ideas.
What’s working? What’s not working?
I think what is incredible about Press Street is that it has a flexible and versatile structure that allows for many possibilities. Because the entire board is intimately involved in various programs, it makes for a very supportive group that loves to develop, add to, and help with ideas. The downside is that none of us have money, and so we have to hustle for every dollar that is put into the organization. I think it’s good that we don’t heavily rely on any one source of funds, but it also means that we spend a lot of admin time on hustling for funds.
All volunteer sounds great in theory, and in practice it does mean you have a group of extremely passionate people involved. But it is also not sustainable and means a fairly high burnout rate. I really think it’s amazing that Press Street lasted until this year before hiring full-time employees. With so much going on and our ideas growing larger, it was getting impossible to manage without someone in the office making sure grant reports got filed or the bedding for the residency space was cleaned. We also did the whole thing a little backwards with employees, leaving us still functioning without an Executive Director. And I don’t know if we ever will have one in the traditional sense just because I think we would lose the volunteerism that has built such a solid organization so far. A traditional ED has the potential to take over programming to the point that it could alienate many of our collective members.
Our biggest issue above all else, as with most non-profits, is getting folks with money engaged with our ideas, to the point that they are willing to pay for them to become real. We are just at the beginning point of building relationships on this long road. We’ll see how that goes.
We really aim to be a community art center for our entire neighborhood, the upper ninth ward. We want to be a beacon for experimental contemporary art and literature, but also an inviting space for anyone to join in at any level of engagement. And I think with the diversity of programming we produce, we really do accomplish that goal.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
We are in the thick of remodeling Reading Room 220, and the changes are going to make the space much more versatile, inviting, and it will give more storage. We really overlooked storage when doing planning for the new building – we always need more!
We are also launching two programs early next year, which we are excited about. First is a residency program for artists and writers who aim to engage with our local community. We are leaving the program fairly wide open to see where it goes. The space is really too small for rigorous studio artists, so it’s going to be for folks with non-studio based practices. And it will likely take the form of multiple visits, where a residency may or may not result in any outcomes.
The second is St. Claude Platforms, which will distribute grants to new and emerging artist projects to hopefully foster a new wave of ideas from the city. We are in the process of fundraising to develop a fund for this program and the first application call will likely be towards the end of next year.