As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with Harlem Insiders. This week we caught up with Leanne Stella, founder of Art In FLUX Harlem. Art In FLUX Harlem is a series of pop-up art galleries in central Harlem featuring Harlem artists with opening nights and interactive events. FLUX highlights and creates opportunity for artists living and/or working in Harlem, brings art into the center of the community and stimulates a vibrant neighborhood merging art, commerce and community. Here’s what Leanne had to say:
Art In FLUX is a movement of artists appearing in Pop-Up art galleries featuring special events and creative collaborations with theatre, film, music & fashion industries. FLUX highlights and creates opportunity for artists living and/or working in Harlem, brings art into public spaces,creates a positive use for vacant retail locations & and stimulates a vibrant neighborhood merging art, commerce and community.
2. What do you hope to accomplish with your organization?
My goal for the galleries is to present dynamic exhibits that inspire discussion and dialogue in the art world and in the community. In addition we are very interested in developing collaborations with performing artists, writers, musicians, dancers, filmmakers. Our recent collaboration with Blacken the Bubble theater company was very successful. And we are heading into our next exhibit which is a collaboration with filmmaker, Ebbe Bassey in November.
The overall goal for the FLUX project is to become a conduit between property owners and creative people. Creative people develop neighborhoods in a positive and organic fashion. In Harlem we still live in a community with empty storefronts and lack of access to the arts in an area highly populated with artists. Property owners won’t talk to artists, fashion designers, performance groups, etc. about short-term rentals. We are creating a structure with FLUX so the landlords are working with one group with a history of taking care of their property, making it marketable, with insurance, etc. We hope to bring creative people and property owners together in a way that benefits everyone.
3. What inspired you to create Art Influx?
I was between projects and jobs and was searching for the next endeavor in my life. I wanted to do something that would be beneficial to the community where I live. I am an entrepreneur at heart and also have a passion for the arts.
4. What are some of the steps Harlem can take to better support and promote its artists?
Come together as a community behind the artists. The Harlem Art Walking Tour is one great example of this. It marketed artists in the community and brought foot traffic to Harlem. Unified efforts to promote the arts in Harlem is vital. Supporting local artists, getting out to plays, galleries and musical events in Harlem is important to growth.
5. Could Harlem develop an art scene in the way Williamsburg has?
Absolutely! And this is particularly what I hope to inspire. The artists are already here. There are a tremendous amount of creative people in Harlem in the visual and performing arts. Many people have heard me say when I discovered this “that it was like opening a box of jewels”. There are many surprises and hidden gems in Harlem. It will take property owners and realtors opening their minds to new concepts. If they allow creative people to use their spaces either directly or through Art In FLUX Harlem they will see the value of the neighborhood and their property grow. They will see the positive effects that art has on a community. They will see new partnerships between public and private enterprises develop and benefit youth in the community. I should credit GAIA real estate for being one of the first groups to have an open mind for this concept. They own/manage the Morellino Building at 118th and 7th – our current location.
6. How do artists and curators get involved in showing their work with Art InFlux?
We have an open door. We are very interested in meeting artists, curators, performers from the community. Our website (www.artinfluxharlem.com) has an application for visual artists on our contacts page and other groups are invited to send a brief overview of their proposal for consideration.
7. What’s coming up next for you?
The next few months are packed with some exciting exhibits and programming at the current location at 118thand 7th. This includes collaborations with local curators, artists, filmmakers, musicians, scholars and businesses. For specific programs and exhibits people can visit www.artinfluxharlem and sign up for our email newsletters.
On the bigger picture we are reviewing inquiries from property owners to present exhibits in their spaces and we are preparing exhibits beyond our space capacity so that we can work with property owners on short notice and short-term which is important for pop-up projects.
8. Is there anything else you want to add?
Developing Art In FLUX Harlem has been an amazing experience. I have never worked on a project before that has had such a positive response. I’ve met community members from all walks of life, artists native from Harlem and from all over the world, young children with eyes wide open, teenagers wanting to share their art, seniors who tell their history. When people walk through the doors they seem to feel they are in a neutral, hopeful, inspiring space without expectations. Sometimes people hesitate at the door but when we wave them in or say hello their shoulders relax and they seem to just fall into enjoying the art often taking an idea or spark away with them.
We are also excited about our new partnership with Creative Arts Workshops for kids, www.caw4kids.org . We donate a percentage of sales to CAW and we are working with them on other collaborations.
Creative Arts Workshop is a non-profit organization that improves the lives of underserved Northern Manhattan youth ages 4-24 through the use of visual, performing, and technology arts. Through CAW’s various programs, Northern Manhattan youth learn to build self –confidence, along with other tools such as job and developmental skills.
I also want to thank the arts patrons who have supported Art In FLUX Harlem by purchasing art in turn supporting local artists and youth arts organizations, spreading the word about the arts in Harlem beyond the local community, advised on the project, and attended our special events and community discussions.