A conversation with Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed, a brand new venue for cutting edge arts and culture on Manhattan’s West Side.
Good evening and welcome to NYC-ARTS.
I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.
For those who haven't driven down the West Side Highway recently, a small city has sprung up there seemingly overnight.
It's called the Hudson Yards, and at about 28 acres, it's one of the largest private developments in the country.
Upon completion, almost all of the 16 planned structures will sit on platforms built over the West Side Yard, a storage facility for Long Island Rail Road.
Serviced by the new number 7 Line expansion - the area is a destination for high end shopping, with both residential and office buildings designed by some of the world's best known architects.
But the 'jewel in the crown' is The Shed.
This center for performing and visual arts was designed with Rockwell Group and Diller Scofidio and Renfro - which also happened to designed The Highline, the popular elevated walkway that leads to this exciting venue.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a champion and great supporter of this project and he urged the planning team to create an innovated center to keep New York at the forefront of the arts and culture scene, and with that, Alex Poots was hired as Artistic Director.
Poots comes to the job as founder and artistic director of the Manchester International Festival, and more recently as the artistic director of the Park Avenue Armory.
NYC-Arts spoke with him recently- When this new neighborhood was just a glint in Mayor Bloomberg and Dan Doctoroff's eye, the idea was to build a, an Olympic stadium here, so that goes back I think to maybe 2005 and there was nothing here.
New York didn't get the Olympics, but the idea that that they wouldn't be defeated, that they would use all of the energy that they got into this planning to maybe create a new neighborhood, and it was what they ended up doing.
At that point, it was insisted on that there would be a cultural facility built on city land at the intersection of this new neighborhood and and the city.
And it would be a not for profit.
And it would be something that would keep New York on the cutting edge and that would be complimentary and unlike anything else.
The mission of The Shed is to commission artists from all backgrounds and all walks of life, whether it's performing arts, visual arts, pop culture, we're trying to create parity across all of that, get move away from this old and I pretty corrosive idea about high art and low art.
You know, there is great arts across all genres.
And we commission artists, whether they're established or early career or community artists, they're all equal as well.
And I think if you can do that in an honest and an integral way, then you have half a chance of welcoming and and intriguing a far wider range of audience.
The building itself, which is designed by Liz Diller in collaboration with David Rockwell is one of the most flexible I've ever seen and is fit for purpose across all performing arts, visual arts, pop.
You know, so take the McCourt, which is the bit that moves, it's built on this system, gantry system, which is used in ship yards where these huge cranes move on wheels along the length of the ship, and, Liz Diller, created a hybrid of that influence of architecture on to an actual building.
So in even the concept of the architecture has a hybrid aspect to it.
And of course the programming that we're doing, um, because we cover all art forms, performing arts, visual arts, pop culture, um, artists if they want to can come in and if the idea they have requires them to work with artists from other disciplines, then The Shed is a really good place to do that because we have not only the contacts with those kinds of artists, but you also have critically the expertise with our staff.
So our staff comprise of new best in class curators, producers, presenters across all disciplines.
Not only can it be a 2000 standing arena like it will be for the concert series, but we can put in a 1300 seating bank in there for our futuristic country musical in the summer with songs by Sia and choreography by Akram Khan and directed by the great Chen Shi-Zheng, Chinese director.
It can adapt to all those different kinds of work, and then when we want to do something that is outdoors and celebratory for people just to bump into, we can roll the entire McCourt building over the fixed building and roll it back to create an open air plaza.
So that's one space, there are three other spaces in the building, two major galleries, which can either be large scale galleries or subdivided into small intimate galleries.
And above those two galleries is a 500 seat theater, which can be configured either with the seats and on the stage at one side, one end of the seats at the other or the seats break up and can go in the round or they roll back the seats and you can have a completely open area to do more immersive theater or to do standing pop concerts.
So really the the name of the game is flexibility, and she describes it as an architecture of infrastructure.
[Inaudible] One of the reasons why I think we can call it a shed is because its a a shed is where you make things and although the architecture is very advanced and very futuristic, it has been conceived as a place where things can be made and the building adapts to what the artists need.
We are launching a The Shed with four different, um, commissions, one is called , it's an idea about Steve McQueen.
We commissioned and so each night we have about five different early career, wonderful young artist, who have been given the family tree and they each have three or four pieces of music that they perform or helped perform by our house band to show those connections leading up to their piece of music that they are going to perform.
So you see these branches of the tree each night.
If you go up to our theatre we have a new dramatic monologue with songs written by Ann Carson for the actor Ben Whishaw and the soprano Renée Fleming.
In our galleries, we have the first exhibition of Trisha Donnelly's in 10 years in New York.
In the other gallery a project that's been developed with Gerhard Richter, Steve Reich and Arvo Paärt, and what you'll experience in the gallery is this communion between the visual and the live music.
We have Bjoörk with Lucrecia Martel really remarkable South American filmmaker.
Bjoörk wanted to make a futuristic new piece, she calls it a handshake between the music, technology, and theatre.
And so this is Bjoörk's first ever, I would say theatrical concert.
Our plan was to develop co-commissioning partners around the world to share our interests in the artists that we want to develop, work with and the idea is that there would be multiple co-commissioners, so that when a work opens, um, it then travels to other places.
Um, and actually we have one in our first season that is already happening in that way, which is the Bill Forsythe, , and that is a co-commission between Sadlers Wells in London and The Shed.
One program that I'm really proud of and I really have to call-out two of my colleagues Tamara McCaw and Emma Enderby is this program called Open Call, it was an open call to emerging talent in New York and we had 930 applications, we had to in the end choose 52, these 52 artist are commissioned.
We help produce and curate their work and then we present their work for free to the audiences.
When we had this idea of a place for all art forms that makes new work, it it was unlike anything else, in fact, what it does is it takes from a performing arts venue, from a museum and from a pop venue and brings those elements together.
And we need centers of excellence in every city.
What it it's desperately important that there is a public theater, that there is a Metropolitan Museum, that there is a Met Opera, that there is a New York City Ballet in New York.
All of these are vital cultural organizations, and I hope that The Shed can contribute and I do believe that if we get it right, we will provide something that is complimentary to the city and that sits hopefully shoulder to shoulder with the other vulnerable institutions of this wonderful city.