Conventional wisdom says that the Gowanus Canal is a not-so-scenic and sometimes-fragrant breeding ground for mosquitoes and luxury developments. A new group of Brooklyn artists sees it as a breeding ground for culture.
Tucked behind a gate and a rather swampy yard on Carroll Street and housed in a renovated industrial building, Suzanne Fiol’s Issue Project Room represents a strong new force in Brooklyn’s arts scene.
“There really is no line between the artists and the audience — no stage that elevates anybody,” Fiol told GO Brooklyn. “Both the artists and audience appreciate that aspect and it makes it feel very warm in here.”
Originally located in Manhattan, the Issue Project Room relocated to Carroll Gardens after losing its home in 2005. Fiol admitted she was originally hesitant to leave Manhattan, but is now glad that she did — and even said that if her group ever outgrows its current space, she will stay in Brooklyn.
“The surrounding community is wonderful,” she said. “They’ve really embraced us.”
Like many avant-garde spaces, however, Fiol’s is having trouble keeping afloat. Despite a board of directors with members like Park Slope powerhouse Steve Buscemi, the space is still actively looking for funding — but Fiol won’t compromise her integrity to find it.
“We are interested in artists who are trying to create new ways of seeing, new ways of hearing,” she said. “This is the kind of art that pushes culture forward — not the kind of art that necessarily brings in the big bucks.”
Fiol’s openness toward innovation and knack for creative programming have made her much-loved among the performers she works with.
“I think what Suzanne’s doing is really great,” said musician Audrey Chen, currently the Issue Project Room’s artist-in-residence. “The space is amazing, it has great acoustics and is great for the city in terms of the music scene. Suzanne has such creative programming and is very open to new artists.”
And, despite the great acoustics, music is only part of the programming that Fiol produces. This month, she and photographer Kevin Ryan have put together “Sensorium,” a month-long series of performances, installations, film and art that are “shattering the distinctions of music, art and performance and all the interrelated media.”
The venue has caught the attention of Brooklyn’s cultural tastemakers.
“They’re very active and have very good ideas,” said music promoter Todd (“Todd P.”) Patrick. “I really like them [and] I’m planning to work with them in the future.”
Record producer Martin Bisi, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1979, added, “There was never anything to do in Park Slope. It’s good to know there’s something right down the block. It helps me to connect with other people in the area.”
In February, Fiol (who works full-time without a salary) launched the Littoral Experimental Writer Series, a collaboration between New York-based musicians and writers. The monthly event will return in April featuring the Wingdale Community Singers, an all-star musical project founded in 2002 by novelist Rick Moody.
A team of volunteers and eager interns helps keep the admission prices at $10.
It’s not hard to see the Issue Project Room as a space where artists and musicians would constantly buzz in and out. Collaborations would form organically on a Tuesday afternoon over coffee in the kitchen while someone invents the next multi-sensory musical instrument upstairs. It could be the center of the creative Brooklyn bohemia that seems to be on everyone’s lips
Until then, Fiol is working to increase the organization’s membership, especially among community members. “In this political and economic climate, it’s important that individuals step up and support culture,” she said.
The Issue Project Room (400 Carroll St. at Bond Street in Carroll Gardens) is open daily. Hours vary. For information, call (718) 330-0313 or visit www.issueprojectroom….