New York City arts organization helps arts and businesses set up shop in vacant storefronts

Photo courtesy of Chashama

A local organization is helping more artists and businesses find spaces to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

25 years ago, Anita Durst started Chashama, an organization that supports local artists and small businesses by giving them spaces to create. She got the idea to start Chashama after she was in a theatre group led by Reza Abdoh.

“[Abdoh’s] work was very successful all over Europe. When people saw his work, it would change their lives,” said Durst. “He used to talk about the power of creativity. When [Abdoh] died of AIDS, I wanted to share that feeling of creativity and how it can change you. I did it in his memory.”

Durst says that Chashama originally started with the intent of focusing on the production and presentation of new theatre. Since its inception, Chashama has evolved to help artists and businesses find a space of their own in vacant New York City spots until the spaces are able to be rented out full time.

Chashama’s latest venture, Enliven NYC, really hones in on this mission, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a number of storefronts shutting down.

“Right now, when you look at the city, you see all of these people leaving and the shuttered spaces, but there’s still a huge passion and many people who are here want to help it,” said Durst. “There is so much potential for helping, and Enliven NYC will help artists and businesses in their spaces until they get rented out. We’re still awake and alive, and New York is moving forward through this pandemic.”

Photo courtesy of Chashama

Chashama currently operates 40 locations throughout New York City, upstate New York, and Matawan, New Jersey. Durst expects that through Enliven NYC, Chashama will take on 20 new spaces by January 2021. 

Durst says that these spaces not only help the artists, but it also gives the city community a boost as well. 

“First, it helps the artist a lot. Instead of being stuck in their apartment, they have a place to go to create, so they are doing things and collaborating with other artists,” said Durst. “Then, for the people who are out in the streets, the occupied storefronts lifts the passersby. It gives them a sense of hope. If there’s a negative space, that creates a certain energy. But a positive space really changes things around for the renter and for the people nearby.”

Durst says that the response to Enliven NYC has been pretty positive and hopes to be able to operate hundreds of spaces for artists in the next two years.

During the holiday season, Chashama is hosting a Holiday Market featuring handmade works from local artists. The organization is also working with the Shin Gallery to place museum-quality works into Chashama’s spaces for New Yorkers to enjoy safely during the pandemic.

For more information, visit chashama.org.