At Large  September 27, 2021  Chandra Noyes

Good Art: ChaShaMa is an Art Charity Transforming Vacant Spaces

Photo by Harry Schnitzler.

Tales of a Phoenix The Letting Go Project by Yana Schnitzler.

In a city of endless opportunities, one organization is doing its best to optimize all that New York has to offer. Chashama has a 25-year history in New York of supporting artists by optimizing one of the city’s hottest commodities: real estate. The non-profit seeks out vacant commercial spaces and convinces their owners to let artists use the space.

It’s an idea only founder Anita Durst could have brought to fruition. Hailing from a New York real estate dynasty, Durst is also a long-time patron of the arts. She began Chashama to provide performance artists and avant-garde dancers with access to free space to stage their work. Since 1995, the organization has filled over one million square feet of New York City real estate with cutting-edge contemporary art.

Dreswel -Trunk Show by Daryl Wright.

Access to the vacant venues may only be available for a few months, but Chashama wastes no time bringing in artists who use the spaces as studios, to host performances, to offer free workshops, and as fine art galleries. There are currently forty Chashama locations across the five boroughs, and the organization hopes to expand to 100 venues in the near future.

For Chashama and the artists and communities it serves, the pitfalls of the COVID-19 pandemic have also created opportunity. As offices have shifted to working from home and abandoned or down-sized their in-person locations, new spaces are created for Chashama to leverage. And while too many small businesses have sadly shuttered since early 2020, the organization is working to breathe new life into their empty storefronts and usher in a new generation of businesses.

Storefront Startup is the organization’s new partnership with New York City’s Department of Small Business Services. The program is offering rent-free brick-and-mortar locations for small business owners, many of whom are artisans and makers. In the same way it has helped budding artists, Chashama is working to help budding entrepreneurs.

Chashama Artist Elisabeth Knowles.

Durst envisions the program as a major force in post-pandemic recovery in New York. "With all these empty storefronts, we are a connection between the property owner, the artist, and the small businesses,” she says. “We could help reignite the economy of New York and bring it back through the mom and pop shops." There are currently twenty businesses using Storefront Startup locations, with fifty additional companies poised to open in the near future.

You can support Chashama, the artists and businesses it serves, at one of its dozens of venues across the city and enjoy a workshop or exhibition, or patronize a small business. Or mark your calendar for Chashama’s annual gala on November 4, 6 p.m. to midnight, where you can experience over 300 installations and performers.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is the former Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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