BY PATRICIA JONES (Executive Director of Westbeth) | New Yorkers have long taken pride in our city’s cultural wealth. From Lincoln Center to the Met Museum to the Downtown dance scene and Off-Off Broadway theaters, New Yorkers care about the arts.
Right in time for spring cleaning, the Westbeth Artists Housing flung open its doors for the annual WestFest, inviting dance into every nook, hallway, and courtyard. Now in its ninth season, WestFest celebrates the diverse choreographic voices of the city and provides an opportunity for the public to see over 30 artists in both conventional and site-specific spaces.
Bob Gruen still recalls the moment vividly — and, no, it didn’t involve an event from his storied career as a rock-’n’-roll photographer.
“When I got the call that there was an apartment for me in Westbeth,” he said, “it was the most exciting moment of my life.”
This annual festival takes over the Westbeth Artists Residence building with two tiers of performance. The first, WestFest Top Floor, offers two programs of works by artists including Carol Nolte, Claire Porter, Benjamin Freedman, Li Chiao-Ping Dance, Jamal Jackson Dance Company, the Bang Group and LMnO3. The second, All Over Westbeth, is a free guided tour of the arts complex (starting every 15 minutes from 2pm to 4pm on the weekend) that is studded with site-specific performances throughout the space.
When entering Westbeth Artists Housing, a sprawling, converted industrial complex located on the quiet and manicured Bethune Street in New York’s West Village, you’ll have to abandon all preconceived notions of what it means to “make it” as an artist. In the lobby, young students of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and the New School for Drama, both housed in the building, zip between shuffling senior citizens sporting brightly dyed hair and artfully disheveled, hipsterish clothes. These bohemian elders are the original residents of Westbeth, a keen, active group of people who have spent a lifetime challenging convention.
It took this writer 24 years to get a one-bedroom in the West Village artists’ colony, and now she wouldn’t dream of leaving.
It’s been three wild days (Nov. 11-13) of bargains and amazing finds at the annual Westbeth Flea Market. Think: Coach leather bags and Lands’ End and Ralph Lauren Polo coats and jackets all for $5.
But, alas, all good things must come to an end.
What is home, and how do you know where you truly belong? These are questions that Kanchana Ugbabe, an Indian-Nigerian writer currently living at Westbeth Artists Housing in New York City as a Fordham University “Writer At Risk,” has had to contend with over the past several years.