Issue Project Room is New York's premiere experimental music venue; and not surprisingly, since it reflects the commitment and hip taste of its founder and artistic director Suzanne Fiol. Since its origins in the East Village in 2003, to its current home in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, Issue has staged over 750 shows, and attracted musicians and audiences from all over the world. And it hasn't been all music either. A recent week in September had movies and videos made by female artists, a documentary on punk rock dance and an evening exploring the finer points of percussion. Sound and art installations, spoken word performances and a series that matches up writers with musicians are regular happenings. The variety of artistic expression is what particularly appeals to the dynamic and gorgeous Fiol, who, when she was an art student at Antioch College in 1978, told her classmates, "I want to devote my life to experimental culture."
"Issue exists to commission artists, to give them a proper artist's fee," says Fiol, "We want to see the artists who move our culture forward valued for their contribution." And, like all great visionaries, Fiol understands where her dream fits into the larger picture. She says, "We think of ourselves in New York City as the center of the art world, and in order to maintain this stature, we need to support the artists who create that, from the get-go."
Fiol comes from the visual world. The native New Yorker was a well-thought-of art photographer, when a baby daughter caused her to think of other ways to make money. She got into the business end and quickly distinguished herself as the sales director of a number of galleries. In 2001 she co-launched Issue Management, an agency that represents photographers, and two years later she opened Issue Project Room on East 6th St., between Avenues B and C. From the beginning, downtown musicians like Elliot Sharp, Marc Ribot and Anthony Coleman began to play there, and the raw, bare space became a hot house of loud noise, strange sounds and electronic connections to another world. "When I worked in my studio, this is what I listened to. All sorts of new, weird music." As for types of musicians who perform at Issue, Fiol lists "the downtown improvisers, the experimental musicians, the sound artists, people making new chamber music. I love all music, as long as it's on the edge, it finds a place here."
Right now, the non-profit IPR finds itself at a critical moment. Earlier this year New York City awarded it a 20-year rent-free lease on a 4,800 square foot space in Downtown Brooklyn. In order to make the move, they have to raise $1.6 million to restore and refurbish the site, secure state of the art equipment and keep up operating expenses. Fiol is going all out to get what's needed. She must have pulled in a lot of markers in the art world, because over a 100 well-known artists donated works to a September art auction at the swanky Phillips de Pury gallery in Chelsea. A beautiful charcoal on paper drawing of a huge ocean wave by Robert Longo went for $200,000, and the entire evening raised $350,000. "We'd like to see $600,000 in the next couple of months," and, if her past track record is any indication, she will get it. "We're going to try every way we can. I'm a Taurus and I just won't quit."
Issue Project Room, at The (OA) Can Factory, 232 Third St., third floor, Gowanus, Brooklyn. (718) 330-0313. issueprojectroom.org.
PHOTO BY JOSEPH HOLMES