It's a rare and wonderful thing when a self-reputed not-for-profit art's organization stands by its claim to not only support artists through the traditional means of exhibiting their work, but also through its overall commitment to maintaining stellar programming and community outreach. Founded in December 2001 as an educational corporation and not-for-profit alternative space, Participant, Inc. is now located at 253 East Houston Street, up a bit from their previous local on the Lower East Side. This move represents a shift in both literal space and figurative programming for the organization as their focus has shifted to include artists from the Lower East side whose works are perhaps a little less gritty, but whose vision is more inclusive and wide-reaching, affording Participant an opportunity to connect with an entirely new clientele.
What distinguishes Participant, Inc. from so many other art's organizations who profess the same commitment to versatility and innovation is both the consistency of their program, its breath and scope, and the fact they have not deviated from their original mission to "build upon alternative space methodologies, particularly a commitment to interdisciplinary, intergenerational exhibition making, and an insistence upon placing together, in one space, work in various formats, encouraging the co-existence of visual, media, literary, and performing arts."
Participant, Inc. Involves itself as both an art and cultural organization on a variety of levels, "participating” well beyond the current art world dialectic by continuing to exhibit cutting edge, innovative projects by different artist's collectives including My Barbarian, (the current show), a Los Angeles-based performance collective founded in 2000 by Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon and Alexandro Segade, performing on site-specific plays, musical concerts, theatrical situations, producing video installations that play with the spectacular while engaging viewers critically. Their interdisciplinary projects "explore and exhume cross-cultural mishaps and misadventures drawn from history, mythology, art and popular culture."
At Participant, Inc., the written and spoken word claims as much relevance as visual language, and Participant's involvement in constructing the cultural iconography that delineates our human history and our particular moment in time, is what sets this organization apart from so many other not-for-profit spaces. They've struggled for sure, having opened their doors in 2001 with the assistance of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, procuring funding from the MAT Charitable Foundation, as well as a benefit event including performances by Le Tigre, Antony and the Johnsons, Thalia Zedek, and emceed by spoken-word activist Eileen Myles.
Participant means business, forging in-depth alliances over the past nine years with artists and "thinkers” resulting in a series of exhibitions, screenings, performances, educational programs, and publications, all of which take as their central focus the single and singular goal of representing the arts as separate and distinguishable from commerce. By doing this, the work debuted at Participant has an inherent authenticity and purity of intent that allows it to be experienced for what it is alone, separate from commercial expectation. Exhibitions like the upcoming Stuart Sherman: Nothing Up My Sleeve, based on the work of the widely unknown, remarkable artist Stuart Sherman represent Participant's commitment to quality above all else. Sherman, an early member of both the Charles Ludlam and Richard Foreman theater companies compiled an immense body of his own work in performance, film, video, writing, sculpture, and drawing until his death in 2001. Participant is picking up where the artist left off, leveraging the artist's work on the basis of its own intrinsic value.
The fact an art's organization like Participant continues to flourish almost like those small, wayward blossoms that occasionally spring up through cracks in the pavement in a bustling, congested city, must give us hope for the future of art and artists everywhere.