Q&A: Levin Expands Idea of Writing Space

Melissa Faliveno
From the March/April 2013 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Artist, writer, and curator Melissa Levin joined the New York City–based nonprofit Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) in 2005. As the director of cultural programs, she oversees the Workspace residency, which provides studio space throughout lower Manhattan to emerging poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and visual artists. (The application deadline for 2013–2014 residencies has passed; the next one will be January 30, 2014.) As part of an organization directly affected by both the September 11 attacks and last October’s hurricane, Levin recently discussed how the LMCC, even while displaced, continues to give writers space to work. 

How did Workspace get started? 
It began in 1997 in the World Trade Center, through a partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It was originally called World Views, and the inaugural residents were cityscape painters who had space in the upper floors of the building to paint the views from their windows. But it quickly transformed into the program it is now, which serves writers and artists of all disciplines.

How did the LMCC rebuild after 9/11? 
After 2001 we lost everything, including the life of artist Michael Richards, who was a resident at the time. It was devastating. We became much more nomadic, and started hosting residencies in spaces provided by real estate partnerships throughout the city. Since then we’ve worked out of thirty-five different spaces with twenty-five property owners. 

In what ways do you serve writers? 
The writers program started in 2005 with one writer. This year we have eight. It’s geared toward emerging writers, though we don’t define that by age or education. One of the driving forces for both writers and visual artists is that they’re engaged with the contemporary dialogue, so we work to build a community among them, and within the larger arts and literary communities. We organize workshops and readings, and invite established writers, professors, small presses, and literary agents to meet with our residents and discuss their work.

Has the LMCC recovered from Hurricane Sandy? 
We’re still displaced from our offices, and until recently from one of our rehearsal spaces. But we secured a temporary office at One Liberty Plaza, where all twenty-six of our current residents are located, and were able to get everybody moved in within two weeks of the storm. We’re also reaching out to a group of artists to find out how the storm has impacted their work and their lives, and we’re hoping to use that to inform how we move forward. Working quickly through this type of situation and being nimble in response is something we’re lucky to have experience with. It’s the nature of our program to be always moving.

Why lower Manhattan? 
Artistic and creative practice is at the core of these residencies, so part of the goal is to weave that practice into the fabric of lower Manhattan--so writers are producing their work, walking the streets, shopping the stores, riding in the elevators, and diversifying the workforce downtown. We’re constantly responding to the different types of communities in the area, and a lot of our artists make site-responsive work. 


What kinds of projects are residents working on? 
Writers come in working on everything from novels and poetry to plays and librettos. There’s often a lot of collaboration within the residency, maybe most specifically when artists are interested in text-based work, or writers are interested in visual work, but it’s not limited to that literal exchange; it extends beyond that. 


Melissa Faliveno is the assistant editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.