When I heard that there was a grand re-opening of Secret Project Robot (SPR), I freaked. SPR has long been a hub for some of Bushwick’s most creative and daring artists to create and explore themselves. I expected grandiose displays of politicized art to be hanging on the walls, jarring sculptures forcing you to take in their existence and bodies of people donning Rhianna-esque looks. But the opening itself felt underwhelming and the answer to that may lie in the new funding model for the space.
The truth was, SPR was only ready to unveil the bar aspect of the space, which the founders Rachel Nelson and Erik Zajaceskowski say, will be how they fund the entire venture.
“Secret Project Robot is not-for-profit and our funding model for the last 13 years was that we had studios that supported the gallery,” explains Nelson. “We realized with the rising NYC rents we could only afford to charge market price, and that defeats the point of artist communities. When we closed on Melrose we tried to find a new model to fund art. Happy Fun [Hideaway] supports us, maybe this bar space can support art. We’re asking can we make an art space viable by only selling drinks.”
The bar for art model is a stark contrast to the traditional gallery method. Erik explains that “most galleries are commercial galleries that sell art and it’s restrictive. It has to be able to be sold, and without corporate funding, there’s no money for large scale instillations because they take a lot of money and time and space with very little return. What we focus on is large scale that’s experimental and people can walk through. The bar will provide us everything we need to do that without a gallery saying ‘oh you can do this or that’ because it has to sell.”
The bar model also circumvents looking for grants or government assistance. Rachel noted that it’s “hard to get grants with the temperament of New York and Trump being here. All the grants go to bigger, more commercial institutions.”
They hope that the bar, staffing only artists, will be able to really provide an impactful community space for artists. Rachel also hopes that they will be able to “rent a studio nearby for month-long residency programs that culminate with exhibitions in the SPR space.”
René, 29, a Bushwick/Manhattan resident, “wanted to see the 3rd renaissance of SPR. I’ve followed them for a couple years. It’s interesting to see how places have been pushed around, been able to embrace the space in more concrete ways. The last SPR space was in a courtyard onto [itself]. It was excellent for its needs. This is on a busy street and it’s definitely more a store front.
Erik hipped me to the upcoming line up. “The next show is called ‘Dreaming in the Now: A Gathering of Utopians’ and it’s all banners and flags celebrating the idea of utopia. Theres a really full schedule already. The thing I’m most excited about is finishing the space and getting fully open. It’s the opening of the bar [tonight], and the gallery space will be opening next week. The first art installation opening is June 6 so it’s a half opening right now.”
Rebecca Richards, 22, Bushwick resident and Flowers for All Occasions employee is already impressed with the space. “It’s blowing me away!”
Will Bushwick rise to the task of drinking to save art? I think SPR just might have something here.
Secret Project Robot
Hybrid gallery, bar, and performance space in a second Bushwick location.
1186 Broadway (Koszciuszko J)
Mon-Sun: 4:00 pm – 4:00 am
All images by Loris Jones-Randolph for Bushwick Daily.