Working Open: Small Experiments at Staten Island Arts

Hello! My second Working Open post shares information on Staten Island Arts’ prototype in New Pathways for Arts Development | New York, which included testing new, innovative strategies around audience engagement, program development, and balancing the growing (and sometimes chaotic) needs and demands of its new, highly-visible location inside the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island, New York.

Over the summer, I shared a short introduction about our innovation project and complex challenge, which revolves around testing new programming and business models for our new gallery/performance/office space located inside the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in St. George. Through this post as part of my Working Open Fellowship, I hope to share a bit more detail about each prototype we embarked on from May-July 2015.

Based on audience surveys and continued innovation work with EmcArts, Staten Island Arts assumed that more people cross the threshold into our space from the St. George Ferry Terminal corridor when there are programs or activities happening within the space as opposed to when it is not activated with a workshop or event.


Based on this assumption, we designed, piloted, documented, and analyzed FOUR replicable, mission-driven programs at the Culture Lounge that:

  • Developed meaningful relationships (with both art practitioners and audiences)
  • Are consciously financed (namely through sponsorship and philanthropic investment)
  • Offer a professional venue for artistic presentation, with key amenities and equipment
  • Are largely modular and nonpermanent, to allow for multi-use of space (“swiss-army knife”)

We also realized that a significant challenge was establishing Culture Lounge as a destination, in tandem with succinctly communicating to the thousands of passersby strangers who Staten Island Arts is and what we do. We also knew that successful experiments would need to result in a lot of data, and that translated to driving traffic to these programs and capturing their experiences. Jaclyn Tacoronte was hired as a marketing content expert for these experiments.

Through our work with Jaclyn, these experiments were thematically packaged as the “Staten Island Storytellers” series, to highlight Staten Island Arts’ unique role in the community–as a platform for Staten Island based artists and organizations to tell their stories. This was noted as an especially important value to hold in the ferry terminal, which does see resident traffic, but also a large number of tourists who are experiencing Staten Island for the first time. Working with artists to change the borough’s negative perception on a global scale is an ongoing goal, but has also guided the curation and marketing of these prototypes.

The experiments included:

May 1: Staten Island Storytellers: FILM: Aquehonga Cinema:

Aquehonga CinemaAn off-beat film series to showcase a few local shorts and art-house films. Films were followed by Q&A with the local filmmakers and facilitated audience discussion. The films were chosen by a local film series curator, David DiLillo who hosts his events in various locations around Staten Island. They included American Car and Teenage. Tickets were $10. Total event cost was $504.20 (not including SIA staffing). Income was $243.00. Total attendance was 36 individuals. Lead Artist: David DiLillo and Aquahonga Cinema

May 14: Staten Island Storytellers: MUSIC: Wahoo Skiffle Crazies:

WahooAn acoustic music set featuring a local band (and recently America’s premiere jug band), offered an intimate performance and conversations with the 6-piece jug band who discussed their creative process and local context of their songwriting. Tickets were $15. Event cost was $550.60 (before SIA staffing). Income was $312. Total attendance was 32 individuals. Lead Artist: Wahoo Skiffle Crazies


April-June: Staten Island Storytellers: Teen Writing Workshop Series and a “Aspiring Artist Festival”(May 28) – Literary Event (Teens): Spoken Word/Open Mic:

TeensA series of 10 weekly workshops with teens and young adults (14-24) who hang-out in ferry terminal daily between 2pm-4pm. We featured works in progress at an open mic designed by the participating youth on May 28th. These events were FREE. Total program cost was $600. Income was $0, with concept of seeking support with pilot results. Total participants: 13. Total audience at Aspiring Artist Festival: 62.
Lead Artist: Claire Jimenez (SI Arts Staff); Guest Artists/Partners: Thomas Fucaloro, Nani Castle, Island Voice, Projectivity Movement

July 11: Literary Event (Youth & Parents): Little Maia, Big Picture:

Literary EventA Saturday morning event, featuring an interactive workshop for youth and parents around themes of storytelling, heroines, adventure, and bookmaking. Total program cost was $350. Income was $0, with concept of seeking support with pilot results. Total audience: 25. Lead Artist: Robert Geronimo

A total of 17 artists participated in these experiments and representatives from each experiment were invited to participate in our debriefing meetings. Surveys were also collected from audience participants and used in our overall evaluation.

I am excited to share the results of our experiments and overall participation in EmcArts’ New Pathways I New York in a future post, but today’s media piece is a more personal, artistic rendering of Staten Island Arts’ prototypes with the Culture Lounge . It also serves as a commentary on a few larger themes we are thinking about when designing future programming for the space. Through our work with EmcArts, we have consistently used this metaphor of a “swiss-army knife,” and the goal of this non-narrative piece is to demonstrate:

  • The breadth of artistic media that Staten Island Arts hosts in our space;
  • The unique layers and interaction between audience and artist; and
  • The ebb and flow of an audience on the move, as they are released from the ferries approximately every 30 minutes.

Enjoy the video, and do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monica Valenzuela is the Interim Executive Director at Staten Island Arts in New York.