a Brooklyn Warehouse for Aspiring Artists

Inside The East Williamsburg Walls Of The ISCP Program

From the outside, the home of the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) may seem nondescript, but inside the former East Williamsburg industrial site, artists from all over the world are making magic.

Nanna Debois Buhl sits next to the plans for her installation at her ISCP studio in East Williamsburg.

ISCP was born in 1994, founder Dennis Elliott told the Times Newsweekly in a Feb. 9 interview held in the site’s ground floor event space alongside Amy Blomme, the studio’s program associate.

Elliot, who was a painter, had worked in various academic programs since 1980, and “those were just exhausting.”

Having worked in a studio program in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, he decided to start his own program in Tribeca.

Alex Kershaw’s ISCP studio is filled with stills from his multimedia video installations.

“When I started this program, it took over my life,” he noted. “I really didn’t know that it would take off as fast as it did.”

Starting with one studio, the program grew to allow artists from across the world to come to the city to pursue their passions; Elliott would help find them living quarters. ISCP would sign contracts with various governmental agencies for the studio and various activities ISCP offers.

“Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I was lucky.”

Rob Voerman stands in front of the start of one of his wooden sculptures in his ISCP studios.

In 2008, faced with the increasing costs of real estate in the neighborhood, ISCP moved to its current East Williamsburg space, at 1040 Metropolitan Ave., after a search that saw Elliott look at 300 buildings throughout the city. The site was the home of a trucking company.

Admittedly lacking knowledge of the area at first, Elliott grew to love the neighborhood, calling it “a really great fit for us.” He claimed that many of theAmerican applicants into the ISCP program lived in Brooklyn at the time they are applying.

“If you put Williamsburg, East Williamsburg and Bushwick together, you’ve got more artists per square foot than anywhere in New York City, anywhere in the United states, probably anywhere in the world,” he stated.

ISCP now receives substantially more visitors at its salons (small events when one or two artists present their work) and its biannual open studio events, for which the studio runs shuttles to and from area subway stations.

“We’ve had more people come to our open studios here,” said Elliott, “than we’ve ever had in Manhattan.”

Although ISCP does not arrange living quarters for as many residents as it used to, the applicants still “come here under our umbrella,” he added. Elliott also keeps up on local crime data to see that the surrounding streets are safe for artists.

He expressed a belief that the neighborhood will not be gentrified, saying that “this is not the type of neighborhood they’re going to start building luxury condos in.”

“I say that now,” he added, chuckling.

How to apply

The applicants into the program are usually sponsored by their home countries, many of whom will pay the $20,000-$22,000 fee for the residency programs. The money goes into “the core of this program,” according to Elliott.

However, ISCP also raises money from government grants, including ones from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as private donors.

There are two ways aspiring artists can apply. Artists can apply through programs in their native country, or they can apply directly to ISCP.

Those who apply directly to the program will be screened by a panel screens every three months. If accepted, the artist is responsible for finding a financial sponsor, and can then ask private or public donors for assistance.

Elliott noted that the center looks for “mid-career artists.” The average age of the applicant is 36 years old. “This is more like talking from one professional to another.”

In return, ISCP helps coordinate the salons and open studio events, as well as various exhibitions, field trips to other art galleries across the country and visits from art critics.

“We’re here to promote the careers of our residents,” he said. “That’s our primary goal.”

In the neighborhood

“We’re not going to an art center,” he added, “but we want to work with the neighborhoods.”

To that end, ISCP has reached out to other art programs and foundations.

“We’re trying to bring in artists from underfunded areas,” he explained, such as from the former Soviet Bloc countries.

“One of the underfunded areas of the world is Brooklyn,” said Elliott, who added that a recent grant from the New York Community Trust will go toward promoting artists from Brooklyn.

Blomme added that ISCP is looking to set up a session between Brooklyn artists of renown and ISCP artists.

Studio visits

On the floor of Nanna Debois Buhl’s studio, letter-sized photographs of the human body lie sideby side with phrases she says were culled from quotes referencing parts of the body.

This is all part of a permanent exhibit to be displayed as “memory palettes” on glass walls to be displayed of bookshelves in a medical center in her native Copenhagen.

Creating “an atlas of anatomy,” the installation will display “the scope of human life and the body.”

Buhl, who has been living in Brooklyn for almost five years and now makes her home in Greenpoint, has received three visits to her ISCP studio from critics from Italy, Canada and New York.

“They take you to places that you haven’t gone yourself,” she said of the program.

Buhl’s work has been shown in The National Museum of Photography in Denmark, and has been reviewed in The New York Times and other art publications.

The first thing you notice at Alex Kershaw’s studio is a large monitor connected to a Mac Mini, with another laptop sitting next to it on the table.

A multimedia artist from Sydney, Australia, Kershaw is currently working on two video projects: one on hunting in New York State, the other on city subway performers.

For the hunting project, which is currently further along, Kershaw has spent over two months in research, interviewing hunters by phone and in person, and recently visiting a convention in Harrisburg, Penn.

This research is par for the course for Kershaw, who explained that “out of discussions come ideas.”

“Through a series of conversations,” he added, “we sort of choreograph things.”

His ideas then become part of a multiple-screen installation which he called “part documentary, part cinematic, part ethnographic.” The work features original music and sometimes even specialized seating.

Kershaw has been living in Long Island City for the past three months.

“It’s close and it’s not crazy,” he stated.

He also lauded ISCP’s work bringing critics in to visit with the artists, saying that it offers “another set of eyes on the work.”

Kershaw’s work has been shown throughout his native Australia as well as in London and Tokyo.

Rob Voerman’s studio is the most cluttered of the three, and for good reason.

Large pieces of wood litter the room, in preparation for a large sculpture he intends to display at a future show at The Armory Show in Chelsea in March.

The structures, he explained, are large enough for people to step inside them, and the addition of pieces of colored glass create “another way of looking at the world.”

When finished, his latest work will be 10’x10x15′ in size.

Voerman, who also creates prints, claimed that his work is influenced by industrial architecture.

In his native Holland, he explained, buildings are “really overdesigned,” and preservation efforts will restore old buildings to the point that they look like new. In New York, “everything is so temporarily repaired.”

Voerman finds his time in ISCP to be “quite practical,” as he finds it easier to get around and easier to obtain supplies for his work.

He is also able to hire studio assistants through ISCP, which runs a program allowing undergraduate or master’s students to help.

Voerman’s work is part of major collections including at the Museum of Modern Art.

More from Around New York