The pandemic has been hard on many workers, and that certainly includes artists. Deprived of live venues to play in and financial relief to help keep them afloat, many have forsaken organizations and turned to the internet to host concerts or readings on Zoom, utilize Patreon to source funders, and job hunt for positions outside their industry.
The Park Church Co-Op at 129 Russell Street in Greenpoint has seized this moment, realizing it can have a role to play in the betterment of artists’ careers and spirits. Now through January 18, the local and ever-community-fostering church is accepting applications for its four-week Artist in Residence program. The program will begin in late January and will allow artists of any medium up to 10 hours of free space use per week to work on their art. Specifically, the residency seeks artists who have a faith/spirituality theme, which doesn’t need to be Judeo-Christian in nature.
The price for studio or rehearsal space in New York is an enormous setback for artists; often, for those paying for it, the prices for these spaces can mirror one’s rent cost. Space is crucial to the experimenting and workshopping of a piece, and here, Park’s Rev. Jacob Simpson discusses the genesis of this initiative and his church’s ability to service others.
Greenpointers: So exciting that you are hosting an Artist in Residence program, especially during this time. Have you offered something like this before?
Rev. Jacob Simpson: Park has not offered something like this before, although supporting artists is not a new concept to the church. Before the pandemic, Park was noted for hosting concerts, arts shows, and dance parties, the latter of which thanks to our friends at No Lights, No Lycra. We look forward to bringing those back once the pandemic is over.
Can you describe your church’s relationship to its artists? How is this program an extension of your mission and ministry?
Being in north Brooklyn, and Greenpoint especially, the arts community is foundational to the borough and its neighborhood. For us, partnering with artists makes sense in that regard. In sharing the Gospel, we’re called to meet the needs of those we serve (Romans 12:13). Providing space, safety, and attention to artists and performers is an important way of fulfilling this command.
As we look toward an equally uncertain new year, what assistive role do you hope this residency plays for artists?
Right now, we want to provide a space for any artist to thrive. Space is difficult to come by in Brooklyn, and especially now thanks to the pandemic. Since our building is hardly occupied during the week, we feel as if it’s a fair trade for any artist to come and use our space free-of-charge. It allows them safety, comfort, and, hopefully, stirs their creative imagination.
The hope, I presume, is that the art submitted is influenced by spiritual elements. Is there anything else you hope to see in the applications?
We really want to amplify voices who have a difficult time being heard due to systemic prejudice. We would love to get applications from non-white and/or LGBTQIA+ folk to help them get the exposure they need to get their gifts out into the world. My first call was in Baltimore and while there, I volunteered with an activist/artists collective. One of the groups I was exposed to was “Artpartheid,” which worked to combat segregation in Baltimore’s art scene. I’m not an artist myself so it taught me how artists of color, queer artists, and other folks with marginalized identities often get shoved to the side in that community. I want to make sure that our institution, which believes a call to God’s justice is a call to end bigotry, is participating in a best practice.
How long have you been presiding at Park, and how has it evolved during the pandemic?
I started on June 1, right in the heart of the pandemic! My immediate goal was making sure people knew Park was still open because it nearly closed last year. I reached out to our community partners and former members to inform them that I’m here and that our Synod, which is our governing body, was making a financial commitment to Park in order to ensure its success. I’m as eager for a vaccine as anyone so I can host people indoors and finally enjoy a beer and theological discussion inside The Palace Cafe. But until that time, I plan to keep building relationships with community members and help them to know that Park isn’t closed even if we can’t gather indoors. We are very much open and doing God’s work.
Anything else you’d like to add?
This project has the support of our congregation but is really the brainchild of Concetta Abbate, a Core team leader, violinist, and music instructor (check out her work at www.concettaabbate.com). I went to Concetta this past fall wondering what we could do to maintain ties to the art world. We had come off a successful run of outdoor concerts on our front steps and, while they were all awesome, we knew the weather would soon impact our ability to hold them. She suggested this program. And while I’ve been happy to do the administrative work, she brings the knowhow as far as connecting to the arts world. And her work highlights the best a faith community has to offer. I’m happy to be Park’s spiritual leader as their Pastor but I know in order to grow our ministry, it takes all of us using the gifts God gave us. So I’m very grateful for Concetta’s work.