To compare the challenges faced by the Issue Project Room, an experimental music collective in Brooklyn, to Homer’s Odyssey might be a stretch, but the challenges faced by the group certainly have all the trappings of an ancient tragedy. The recent performance of “November” — a five-hour piano performance written by Dennis Johnson — was yet another triumph for the organization, which has oscillated between progress and defeat for nearly a decade.
Founded on the Lower East Side in 2002 by the artist Suzanne Fiol, Issue Project Room now resides in its fourth location, an opulent 1926 chamber music hall on Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn. The hall was designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, famous for early 20th-century buildings like the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum and countless other New York City landmarks. Ms. Fiol orchestrated the move shortly before she died of cancer in 2009 by entering the organization into a competition to fill a vacant music hall that had fallen into disrepair under its previous tenant, the New York City Board of Education. As the winning applicant, Issue Project Room secured a rent-free 20-year lease on the 4,800-square-foot space from the new owners, Two Trees Management.
The 2012 debut of Issue Project Room in its new home marked a milestone for the experimental arts community. Flanked by the Brooklyn Academy of Music and St. Ann’s Warehouse, it appeared that the hall was part of Downtown Brooklyn’s evolution into a genuine district for avant-garde performance. But Issue Project Room’s tenure in the space came to an abrupt halt in August, when a 50-pound decoration embedded in the vaulted 40-foot ceiling broke loose, crashing to the floor. No one was in the building at the time. But all performances in the space were put on indefinite hiatus.
After a full engineering review and the removal of more than two dozen similar decorations, Issue Project Room reopened its doors on March 16, to an eager audience of more than 100 patrons at the performance of “November.’’ The spring performance schedule includes a variety of musical forms before what will hopefully be the final setback in the organization’s efforts to carve out a stable home — an 18-month break beginning this fall while the space undergoes $4 million in renovations.
Originally published on March 26th, 2013 on the New York Times City Room Blog.
Loading more stuff…
Hmm…it looks like things are taking a while to load. Try again?