Rarely have I been in the right place at the right time but it happened one day in 1978 when I visited Cindy Karasek in her temporary studio in the old PS122 building. The former school building had been vacant for about six months when several social service groups had acquired it from the city. Cindy had rented a room on the third floor, but we saw that there was plenty of empty space. At the time we were both working in tiny apartment spaces and we knew other artists were also having problems finding studio space.
So we made a proposal to the building’s board of directors, which they accepted, and we put together a core group of six other artists and we moved in. …The rooms were almost perfect and we had affordable rent, high ceilings, good light, plenty of storage…
At first Cindy and I ran the association — collecting rent, meeting with the board and helping to administer this terrific old building. But the social service groups in the building either succeeded or failed due to their ability to raise funds, while the board could always count on us for the rent. Thus, as other spaces became available… we were able to get those too. We continued to add to the core group, taking in new members on the basis of their work.
Finally we reached what Cindy called “critical mass.” It was getting more difficult for Cindy and I to be the directors of the association, plus we wanted to do other projects — primarily open a gallery. After discussing it with the other artists we agreed to change our structure so that everyone would assume some responsibility for running the organization. From then on we have been a collective. We have always operated in a democratic manner and struggled through the typical problems of trying to reach consensus on a variety of issues. We had arguments and we had fun, but there was always a feeling of mutual respect.
In 1979, we opened room 406 as our gallery and inaugurated it with an open studio exhibition. Our first show was a selection of artists from the 4th Street Photo Gallery. It was never our intention to show just our own work in the gallery. We wanted to create an alternative space. Once we got the hang of operating a gallery space, we decided it would be better to assemble a jury to select the artists that would show each year.
The gallery does one of the best jobs of any space in the city to support promising artists who are still struggling for recognition. – DAN CAMERON