Since opening in Williamsburg in 2000, Triskelion Arts has been an important part of the Brooklyn art scene, providing artists and the community as a whole with rehearsal, class and performance space, as well as actively participating in the community.
On the eve of the company’s upcoming move to a new space in Greenpoint, we spoke with founder Abby Bender about Triskelion’s past, present, and future.
What was the impetus to open up a space like this, and what made you choose Williamsburg?
Triskelion’s first studio here at 118 N. 11th, Studio A or The Aldous Theater, was opened in 2000 by the dance collective formerly known as Kick/StanDance (me, Cary Baker, Anna Luckey, Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs). There was, as ever in this field, a shortage of available, affordable studios. We’d all spent time in Williamsburg and liked the neighborhood. When we first saw the sun-filled room that would become our Studio A, we realized just how badly we wanted to make a go of building out and running our own space as a home in which to develop our own work and to rent to others. We agreed that if we could raise the money for a year’s rent up front, we’d sign the nine-year lease. Hell, we were in our mid-20s. I was bleached blond. Everyone had jobs. Anything seemed possible. Williamsburg’s waterfront was still predominantly industrial at that time and our first renters were actually pretty sketched-out coming and going from here after hours, since there was NOTHING around once all the manufacturing businesses closed for the day.
I brought my cousin and soon-to-be business partner, Andy Dickerson, on board, and together we built a second studio in 2006. We’ve grown not only in size but have become much stronger organizationally. Triskelion means three-legged and appropriately, we now have three full-time staffers. We receive substantial city, state and private foundation support and offer inventive and diverse year-round programming in our theaters, serving thousands of artists and audiences.
How has Triskelion changed over the years, and how has the neighborhood?
The neighborhood is unrecognizable. Sometimes I still get confused about where I am, as it seems another block-long condo has sprouted up overnight on a corner that’s burned in my memory as being an empty lot. I used to walk home in the middle of the street for safety, since the warehouses were dark and there were never people around late at night. There were a couple of great dive bars and a few Polish restaurants, no cabs to be found. I’ve never seen a place change so fast. I feel a particular loyalty to some of the longstanding joints here and feel my heart break just a little when what seems like a neighborhood mainstay becomes replaced by an overpriced shoe store or something. Our once deserted block is now filled with passersby, tons of tourists, on their way to one of several uber-popular destinations just a stone’s throw from our building. It’s as crowded as Disneyland outside our door on weekends.
What have been some of your favorite—or most memorable—experiences in the last decade plus?
Getting paid for the first time in 2005. I worked here free for many years, so being able to take pay, no matter how pathetic, six months after committing myself to full-time was a dream come true. Likewise taking on Andrew and more recently Becky Radway, were both earmarks of true growth and success for the organization. I’ve developed and presented nine evening-length works with my dance company, Schmantze Theatre, at Triskelion over the years. Outside of running this place, those projects were some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve made some important work here and the people I’ve collaborated with have been incredible. This community is pretty remarkable. I don’t take that for granted. Our annual auction fundraiser party is beloved by many and is insanely fun. Watching the artists we work with grow; huge treat. We’ve had long term relationships with some of these companies, have witnessed some of their entire careers, and in many cases, the development of their work and their improved clarity of vision is astonishing. We’ve also had two burglaries and a pretty bad fire, hard to forget. Also there was the time a naked guy holding a feather sauntered into the office or when an adolescent couple presumably got intimate atop our bathroom sink, breaking it from the wall.
What are you most excited about with the move to the new space?
Greenpoint feels like a true small-town. The neighbors we’ve met have made us feel so welcome. They seem genuinely excited to have us and, as the first institution dedicated to dance performance in Greenpoint, we’re equally excited to share our programming with them and find out how we can best engage and serve them.
Being the sole tenants in a two-story corner building is ideal. This street-level location will drastically improve our visibility and accessibility. We share the 3rd floor at our current location with a few other businesses, though we’ve required autonomy for many years. Having an unshared space is going to be lovely. There are only so many years of putting the seat down a girl can stomach.
What makes Brooklyn a good place (if you think it is!) for artists and other creative professionals?
Brooklyn has become a real bastion for the performing arts. Ninety percent of our renters and artists live in Brooklyn. There are all kinds of traditional and alternative venues to see live work here. I think making one’s way as an artist, especially a dance artist, in Brooklyn is practical. I’m not implying that it will ever result in the same financial rewards as in other professions but the dance ecosystem is already in place, and for all its flaws, it’s a remarkable community there for the taking. There are loads of phenomenal dancers and choreographers here. There are highly skilled composers, sound engineers, lighting, set and costume designers. They learn from one another, have regular exposure to one-another’s processes and products, and because of this are ideally making better and better art and sharing that art with their audiences. For promising emerging artists, and certainly for those already established, there are actual choices, options for venues and all kinds of performances opportunities you won’t find in many other places.
Help Triskelion with its relocation by donating to to its funding campaign at www.gofundme.com/triskelionarts