Shandaken Projects was founded by a peer group of artists and art workers in November, 2011 in response to increasing gentrification in urban crucibles of creative production, increased focus on the marketplace in contemporary art (as the financial sector recovered from the recession of 2008), and the grassroots spirit of Occupy. Initially called The Shandaken Project, this collective effort by a community of cultural practitioners began with a residency program: a free, open-ended opportunity for artists to focus on process. Forty-seven founding members signed up for Shandaken's limited edition program, which kicked off with sculptures by Margaret Lee.
In the winter of 2012, founding director Nicholas Weist signed the organization's first lease, at 300 Route 42 in Shandaken, NY. The first campus would include a small, furnished house; a decrepit barn; and over 250 acres of untamed meadows and wild forest. Situated on the plateau of a small mountain surrounded by State land, the estate was well suited for privacy and reflection, but had ready access to services in nearby Phoenicia.
Shandaken held its first capital campaign that spring, to fund the construction of three studios, the creation of its vegetable garden, and to set up an ad hoc office in New York City. Artist Vito Acconci, curator Bob Nickas, and critic Vince Aletti made mixtapes in support of the campaign. With the promise to make blueprints for its studios free and available to the public, Shandaken exceeded its goal of $16,000 and satisfied set-up costs for its first season. By leaning heavily on volunteer labor to keep operating costs to the bare minimum, memberships and other donations satisfied an additional $17,654 in operating costs for that year. That April, Shandaken accepted its first cohort.
Later that summer, Shandaken presented its first collaboration with the Center for Experimental Lectures. This program grew to become an annual tradition attended by hundreds each year, until its final edition in 2016.
While Shandaken's residency and upstate public programs were becoming well known, it was still operating on skeletal budgets, with no year-round staff. Its members agreed that opportunities for artists were still crucially needed, and alumni reported that Shandaken had produced transformative experiences—but without paid staff, the organization was in danger of collapsing. Shandaken's officers began to examine how to grow an organization that was firmly committed to the idea of small-scale, community-focused cultural production.
To raise awareness of the organization and communicate a sense of the power of process-led inquiry to a wider audience, Shandaken began producing "Pillow Talks" in New York City. This free lecture series invited alumni to create pedagogy about topics of interest related to their work—upending the traditional format of the slide presentation, and giving audience members an intimate sense of artists' idiosyncratic intellectual frameworks.
Shandaken planned its first auction in the late winter of 2014. Making the unusual choice to offer participants a significant percentage of their sales, Shandaken secured work by Terry Winters, Jim Drain, Jordan Wolfson, and many others in support of its free residency program. Now staffed by a full-time director, Shandaken offered more programs than ever this year, including a week-long, retreat-style think tank about queer theory and cultural production; and a retrospective exhibition with work by over 60 alumni and friends of the organization.
In the fall of this year, Shandaken received its full 501(c)3 designation and also became a founding member of Rethinking Residencies, a working group of prestigious New York-based artist residencies (including ISCP, LMCC, The Queens Museum, and more) who share knowledge and resources, while cultivating critical thinking and discourse about the residency experience.
With Shandaken's lease term on the upstate campus nearing its end, it began to search for a new home.
In short order, Shandaken began collaborating with Storm King Art Center to bring the residency program to that institution's historic and well-loved campus in Mountainville, NY. In a radical departure from the isolated context of the central Catskills, artists would now be offered the opportunity to live on the grounds of a major sculpture park, and work in proximity to its significant collection. Hundreds of artists applied for the inaugural year of Shandaken: Storm King, of which 17 were offered residencies.
In tandem with the residency, Shandaken and Storm King also began collaborating on the latter’s “Wanderings and Wonderings” series, begun in 2013. This ongoing public program invites artists to create unique tours of Storm King. Shandaken's annual Labor Day Weekend collaboration also began to feature contributions programmed by Adult Contemporary, adding pedagogy by noted academics to a heavily artist-focused roster.
To celebrate its fifth anniversary, Shandaken published its first institutional monograph: Jokes for the Campfire, presenting humor by more than 50 alumni and friends. As Hudson Valley programs Shandaken: Storm King, Wanderings and Wonderings, and the Labor Day Weekend Lecture Series became more established and visible, Shandaken's New York City programming picked up steam as well, with commissioned performances, a topical poster-making drop-in, and panel talks and lectures offered through Rethinking Residencies, SUNY Purchase, Sotheby's Institute, and more.
Paint School, a fellowship program for New York City-area painters, opened in the fall of this year. The first of its kind in the city, Paint School brought together lions of the field such as Faith Ringgold, Howardena Pindell, Byron Kim, Ian Altaveer, and more, to create lecture-based seminars for the city's next generation of important artists. These seminars were held throughout New York City at host institutions including Abrons Art Center, The Cooper Union, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York University, and Triple Canopy—and edited transcriptions were published as an ongoing series in the print edition of Art in America.
Also in 2017, Phillips Auction House produced a look back at the past six years of Shandaken, in the form of a group exhibition at their midtown headquarters. Shandaken: Storm King welcomed a record 19 residents and presented 4 new works by alumni as part of Wanderings and Wonderings. The 2017-18 seasons of Shandaken: Storm King enjoyed generous lead support from The Pollock-Krasner Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
2018 and beyond
Shandaken: Governors Island opens in fall 2018, offering five cultural producers free studio space for one year each, on Governors Island in New York Harbor. This important opportunity for New York City–based cultural practitioners is produced in partnership with the Trust for Governors Island. An exhibition of work by fellows of the inaugural year of Paint School is presented at The Flag Art Foundation.
Shandaken Projects remains a proud partner of Storm King Art Center in the production of Shandaken: Storm King, and of The Trust for Governors Island in the production of Shandaken: Governors Island. Paint School continues, and Shandaken offers public programs in New York City and select cities nationally.