Dear artists, friends and colleagues of our extended NLE family:
It has been our great joy and an incredible honor to work with so many amazing artists, colleagues, friends and the City of New York over the past twelve years. Together, we have created No Longer Empty’s innovative community-responsive exhibitions and programs deeply connected to issues of social justice. With you, we undertook a journey through every borough of the city, temporarily transforming empty spaces into vibrant community hubs, uncovering old and new narratives grounded in local realities while welcoming tens of thousands of visitors.
COVID-19 has profoundly affected all of us and underscored the power of solidarity and of taking care of each other. In the midst of these current social and cultural changes, we are currently re-evaluating our role as an organization. With this in mind, we are writing to inform you that as of June 30th, No Longer Empty will suspend its programming and focus on our legacy as well as the lessons to be learned and shared.
This is indeed a very challenging environment for art and educational programming and funding. It is also a time for cautious optimism that there will be a deep realignment of our society, elevating values of equity and justice. Now, more than ever, voices of marginalized communities that were amplified throughout our exhibitions and programs need alternative platforms and spaces for expression. We look forward to seeing how artists and curators, including those from the NLE Curatorial Lab and the many youth who went through our programs, will continue to find innovative ways for public engagement with the arts. We hope there will also be an environment for grassroots organizations that have been inspired by our model to thrive and create meaningful projects in their communities. Please know, we will always be there to support those efforts.
We remain deeply proud of what has been accomplished in our 12 years of operation. We have co-created unprecedented platforms and opportunities with artists to engage with communities outside the traditional institutional frameworks and directly interact with new publics. Mel Chin’s SOS – Straight of the Streets (2012) compiled video messages of economic hardship from the streets of The Bronx that were sent to President Obama; Dread Scott’s Wanted(2014) highlighted the harassment and racial profiling of local youth by the police; Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s No Instruction for Assembly, Activation IV, (2014) functioned as an portable archive of the artist’s life and a testament to her family, who overcame years of socio-economic inequities and injustices; while Teresa Diehl’s video installation, L-Aber Into (2015) awed and disoriented the senses, creating awareness of the importance of nature as a critical force in our day-to-day reality, these are but four examples of the power and relevance to our audiences of No Longer Empty’s curatorial approach.
In a similar manner, our educational programming grew under expert stewardship to become not just an adjunct of exhibitions but an equally integrated foundation of our platform. Our Young Exhibition Makers (Y.Ex)and Youth Action Council (YAC), all teens from the communities in which our exhibitions were developed, interacted with artists and their peers to develop confidence in their own artistic viewpoints and their potential for intergenerational leadership roles. Our NLE Curatorial Lab, likewise, has prepared a whole new cohort of diverse, young curators to gain first-hand experience in curating and staging community responsive exhibitions and programming.
That is our history and our legacy.
Now, along with an unprecedented pandemic that has radically changed our individual, social and creative lives, the most recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor have laid bare the enduring brutal–and lethal–inequities in our society. In health care, the workplace, housing, education, and justice, we have seen broken systems deeply marred by racial bias. In the past several weeks thousands of people in the US (and around the world) have demonstrated in the streets for policy and legislative change. And it is here, even in a state of suspension, that No Longer Empty plans to delve deep into our own legacy as an organization and examine, with the same radical transparency, where we have been and what our model can potentially become.
We invite the artists, partners, alumni from NLE Curatorial Lab, Young Exhibition Makers, Youth Action Council and students studying our archives, to join us in this conversation (please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
We will be reaching out to everyone again soon with more information on how to get involved, should you be interested. It is our belief that with your energy, insights and collaboration, the visions and aspirations of No Longer Empty can perhaps respond once more in a different form–in line with our changing realities.
We thank all of our current NLE team and wish them success in their future endeavors: Christine Licata, our Executive Director whose leadership and vision never wavered throughout one of the most challenging years in our history; Lauraberth Lima, our Director of Education, whose progressive pedagogy and expansive expertise in education and social justice brought the possibilities of youth thought leadership to an even higher level, along with the unwavering commitment and talents of Curatorial-Educators Catherine Feliz and Augustina Warton; invited NLE Lab Curator-Educator Danilo Machado and invited Artistic Director Taraneh Fazeli, who shared their creative input and insights as well as vast knowledge and experience in disability art and justice with both the NLE team and program participants; Ashley Browne, our brilliant bookkeeper for the past 9 years, whose mind for numbers and financials is unparalleled; and Tahera Tajbhai, our Executive Coordinator, who gives a whole new meaning to being proactive and team-responsive.
More gratitude still to our colleagues, funders and our dedicated Board and Advisory Committee for their years of generosity, support, dedication, creative advice and trust.
Lastly, we would like to share our deep appreciation to you, for your commitment and support over the years. We hope that we will remain friends and colleagues throughout this transition into hopefully a better future.
Nancy Schwartz-Weinstock, Board Chair, on behalf of the Board of Directors
Manon Slome, Co-Founder, Board President and Curator-at-Large
Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, Co-Founder and Board Member
Christine Licata, Executive Director
Photo: Irish artists Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels used a quarter-million sugar cubes to create a fantastical city-scape New York Sugar Metropolis in Harlem’s Sugar Hill Development for NLE’s exhibition “If You Build It,” 2014.