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New culture lounge showcases Staten Island’s robust arts scene

The Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge opened for the first time on Saturday afternoon at Staten Island's St. George Ferry Terminal.
The Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge opened for the first time on Saturday afternoon at Staten Island's St. George Ferry Terminal.
Madina Toure/Examiner.com

After five years of planning and acquiring funds, Staten Island’s up-and-coming and established artists now have a place they can call home: a culture lounge at Staten Island’s St. George Ferry Terminal.

The Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge officially opened on Saturday afternoon with a grand opening ceremony at the terminal. The ceremony drew roughly 100 people, said Christine Dixon, the lounge’s manager. The lounge, which consists of an artist and an art gallery, exhibits local and international artists such as visual artists, musicians, poets, writers and performers. Staten Island Arts is also moving into the space.

The lounge highlights artistic projects that are placed-based, such as projects that explore local communities, help individuals examine their environment in a new way, look at how neighborhoods can become more livable and sustainable and developing ways in which visitors can become more socially engaged. Admission is free.

The ferry terminal was deemed the perfect location as nearly 75,000 Staten Island Ferry passengers go through the ferry terminal each day — more than 21 million people per year. The lounge seeks to transform passengers into participants, help Staten Island artists gain more recognition for their work and establish art as a financially stable field.

“This culture lounge artist market is a stepping stone for the artists on Staten Island and those who used to live on Staten Island, but it’s not exclusively Staten Island artists of course, but of course Staten Island artists, they’re our first priority,” Dixon said.

When Staten Island Arts Executive Director Melanie Cohn first joined the organization six and a half years ago, there was a lack of exhibition space on Staten Island and a strong interest in showcasing artwork on the ferry.

“They would say, ‘We really want to show our art on the ferry. We could just show our work here on the ferry. That would be really good!’ and people have always been interested,” Cohn said. “There’s all the traffic that comes to the ferry, kind of tapping into the people that come through here and then there’s a real lack of professional exhibition space on Staten Island.”

In 2009, the organization received the Rockefeller Cultural Innovation Grant, which allowed them conduct focus groups and hire a consultant to develop a business plan. Former Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro helped the organization get the space and secure funding. The space is funded by a lead gift from Molinaro, the Richmond County Savings Foundation, Hyde and Watson and the Northfield Foundation.

And this isn’t the first time that Staten Island artists have requested such a space.The borough has been seeking a place in which it can showcase its artists for a long time, said Staten Island resident Mary Bullock, 68, a painter. In 2002, the American Institute of Architects decided to conduct its yearly study on Staten Island’s waterfront because the waterfront is underutilized. At a meeting, Bullock called on the institute to give artists a haven at the terminal.

“I said, ‘I’m here because I can’t believe how underutilized the artists of Staten Island are,’” Bullock said. “I said, ‘You give us a place in the ferry terminal, we’ll get them off the boat and you can have your way with it.’”

The artist market offers retail opportunities to artists whose work has a placed-based focus in theme, utility, concept or design, responding to the harbor, the ferry terminal or Staten Island, for example. Preference is given to Staten Island-based artists, and the work is sold on a 50/50 consignment basis — Staten Island Arts gets 50 percent of commission and the artist gets the other half.

The art gallery features two artists every two months, meaning that artists can remain on the waiting list for two years. The first exhibit on display was Tompkinsville artist and Malaysian native Tattfoo Tan, whose "Sustainable. Organic. Stewardship." (S.O.S.) installation, which included mobile gardens, a seed sharing library, an S.O.S. pledge and an earthworm compost.

"I am intrigued about things. I learn them, I practice them and then I teach them," Tan said. "In that way, I am able to make the mundane life of people and normal life of people more creative."

Individuals and organizations can also host workshops, performances, lectures and parties at the space. Staten Island Arts will also hold two community events by Staten Island artists and arts organizations that are free, open to the public and non-fundraising for up to two hours per month rent-free for use.

For Staten Islanders, the culture lounge is an opportunity to showcase the artistic talent on Staten Island and bring the borough more into the spotlight.

Lys Riganti, 21, a dancer, and Nani Ferreira, 28, a musician, of Tompkinsville, plan to showcase their line of accessories, Mustache Mermaid, a line of convertible accessories made without gender in mind, at the lounge in the future.

“I think that it brings visibility to artists that are here and calls attention to the fact that there is a large group of artists who exist and create on Staten Island, all different kinds of artists,” Riganti said.

Sajda Ladner, artistic and executive director of Universal Temple of the Arts, said that her organization is aware of Staten Island Arts initiatives given that her organization receives funding from them.

“I’m very happy to see that they’ve taken it on in such a magnitude because I thought it was going to be a regular gift shop that you have in those areas like this,” Ladner said. “I also really enjoy the diversity of the artistic offerings that they have for sale. It’s quite an interesting concept.”

The Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. For more information, visit Staten Island Arts’ official website.