An Arts Space Rises by the Banks of Brooklyn’s Eerie Canal

By Jessica George Firger

Published May 18, 2007, issue of May 18, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

From the outside, the structure resembles a fancy feed-storage bin: two converted oil silos overlooking Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. Inside, the space recalls a rustic lodge.

But while the unique edifice may be what draws people to Issue Project Room, it’s what’s produced inside that gets people to stay — and return. Besides, as Suzanne Fiol, the space’s executive and artistic director, is quick to remind those who stop by to hear some of the best experimental and avant-garde music around, the space is “only temporary.”

This is Fiol’s second location. In collaboration with the cutting-edge arts and culture magazine Issue, Fiol first set up shop in Manhattan’s East Village. The neighborhood had become a stomping ground for such performers as Marc Ribot, Elliott Sharp and Anthony Coleman, musicians who may identify as Jewish but whose experimental styles put them on the Jewish fringe. “Some of my chief advisers for Issue have been several of the musicians who were part of Radical Jewish Culture,” Fiol said, referring to the movement connected with impresario John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

Issue Project stayed in the East Village for four years, at which point Fiol knew it would lose its lease. “But you have to have faith,” she said with a grin. “One day, a friend called me up and said, ‘How would you like to have your space in a silo?’” And in June 2005, the project did just that.

Still, even with impressive weekly lineups, Issue Project, an acting not-for-profit under the New York Foundation for the Arts, remains dependent on donors, contributors and supporters of the arts to fund the space, which costs between $6,000 and $15,000 a month depending on the programming. Fiol’s all-volunteer staff is passionate and committed to the organization, but no one, including Fiol herself, gets paid.

What has motivated Fiol has been a hunger for community as well as a unique sense of mission. “The artistic community has always been a place where I felt proud to be Jewish,” said Fiol, who worked as a gallery director and art dealer for 13 years before starting Issue Project. She is also an accomplished photographer, printer and sculptor in her own right. “I didn’t like the attitude of the [visual] art world, so I created a new art world where I could fit in.”

Composer-keyboardist Coleman, who has performed at Issue Project on numerous occasions, spoke of its ambitiousness. “There’s an attempt to create a sort of community at Issue. It has elements of a European performance space and often dinner for the artists.” Coleman, who celebrated his 50th birthday there, thinks that the palpable enthusiasm and unusual physical space — “It’s ad hoc in such an intense way” — are some of Issue Project’s greatest assets. But while Coleman is signed with Tzadik, he questions whether Issue is a hub for the world the label represents. “The only thing ‘radical Jewish’ about Issue is that someone brings a big pot of soup and makes you sit down and eat,” he said with a laugh.

Whether it’s because of her Jewishness or not, Fiol stressed that she has always been driven by her sense of self. “I guess I am a proud Jewish woman,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily think I would have to work this hard when I first began Issue. I think that maybe if we look around, we would find that there are many Jewish American citizens at the forefront of keeping culture alive in this country.”

Jessica George Firger is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.