Co-founder and FLUXstaff, FLUXspace
When you arrive at the giant building in the center of a residential Puerto Rican neighborhood in West Kensington, you will find a somewhat clean but mostly dirty, functional, thriving art space called FLUXspace.
On the evening that some of us FLUXstaffers pulled an amateur all-nighter writing Flux’s first grant (which we were consequently awarded), we also found the world’s most perfect studio kitten. At 3 AM, while leaving in an attempt to escape the 100th edit, a colleague found him. He returned to the office and threw the orphaned runt into my lap, as if it were consolation for having to think about what we were doing at FLUXspace and explain it to strangers.
Xerxes (pronounced zerk-seas), as the cat came to be called, runs to meet you at the entrance as you fumble with the keys to get through the first and then the second set of steel doors. He doesn’t come to escape and find out if the grass is greener on the other side, but to say hello and welcome you back to the studio. He’ll trot alongside as you get the mail, take out the garbage, and rearrange your workspace, and then he’ll nap on your keyboard as you sit down to type. He is at home at the space, and helps make the space “home.”
In addition to the gallery space, there are 27 private studio spaces, with access to a woodshop, metal shop, kitchen, internet, print shop, and 8,000 square feet of community space, available for rent to any maker. It’s all very grand and very inspiring! But it is the peppy, petite, friendly figure of Xerxes that seems to be the most immediately visible embodiment of the place’s hospitality. Yes, it is freezing in here. Yes, the elevator is broken again. Yes, that was a gunshot you heard. But look, here is an orange kitten who will sit in your lap while we talk about art! And yes, we will seriously talk about art.
Xerxes especially loves the gallery and its ever changing terrain; patiently chasing video projections, slipping on its clean finished floors, and leading charge to the top of the ladder to help configure dramatic lighting at 18-foot altitudes. He’s a little, wild, innocent thing amidst all the administrative and practical stuff of the organization.
There was one time the young Xerxes somehow found himself on the outside of the window grates, three stories up. There is still is no logical explanation for how he got out there. I imagine a Star Trek-like hologram, where one moment he is behind the bars of these window “cages” and the next moment he is on the outside, crying to get back in.
I too have these holographic moments where I wonder, “How did I get to be here, on this side of the window’s grate?” It was confusing to my young idealistic core to enter the nonprofit bureaucracy through that first grant, for instance. At the same time, our place clearly offers an alternative to impenetrable art institutions run by big money and big power. This is not a particularly unique struggle; there are, for example, at least a couple published articles about how NEA grant money “ruined” alternative art spaces.
I don’t mean to sound naïve about running an accountable art space, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who would rather deal with a litter box than with composing and agreeing on a five year strategic plan. Until the moment when Xerxes was bestowed upon us, it seemed as if we got by on our instincts and ideals.
In any case, Xerxes was three stories off the ground perched on a wide mesh of metal grate, wailing worriedly. The rescue effort went something like this: one person convinced him to jump over to a second grate while another person used a grinder to cut a hole in the mesh of the first grate. He was then lured back towards the hole and snaked through the opening by some caring hands. As soon as he was placed on solid ground, he quietly lay down on the spot and took a rest. Except for two trips to the vet and a freelance mousing gig, that was the only time he was ever outside of the building.
Xerxes and the FLUXstaffers now find ourselves less and less at some dangerous precipice. He has learned to keep vigil over his lair from the top of a ladder; we’re learning how to run a sustainable art organization without compromising our original goals and expanding visions.
Throughout our organization’s growth, I have been grateful for Xerxes’ good-natured but uncultured beast-like presence as a reminder of where our zoo-like allegiances lie. For better or worse, we exist with no staff titles, no lawyers, no accountants, no MBA degrees, and very little money. We don’t yet have artist contracts that mention something like, “Artist, you must follow through with the work you said you were going to show in the time period we hoped you’d show.”
And, if we do ever draw up a contract for exhibiting artists, the liability statements might read something like this: beware of work affected by extreme weather conditions. And beware of work that is not cat-proof. Xerxes lives here, he is one of us, and we have no control over him.
Published May 2010