Matthew Higgs, Director and Chief Curator, White Columns
‘White Columns was founded in 1970 and was originally known as the 112 Workshop. The name came after its street address, which was 112 Green Street in Soho. It’s considered to be the first of what came to be known as ‘the alternative art spaces,’ and was really part of a larger narrative, which was about artists seeking to take control, seeking to think about the conditions in which their work was seen and to create a context for ideas that at that time, perhaps, weren’t necessarily being addressed within the mainstream.
Of the thousands of artists that have shown at White Columns over the last 50 years, many of those have gone on to both national and international acclaim. Cady Noland had her first exhibition at White Columns in 1988. John Currin had his first show in 1989. Glenn Ligon had his first show in the early ’90s, along with people like Jack Pierson, Gary Simmons, and many others.
Like a lot of small organizations, White Columns doesn’t have an endowment. We start every financial year on September the first with zero dollars. The organization has weathered every kind of financial and political and social crisis that New York’s had in the last five decades. The only upside to that is that I think we’re prepared for what’s been happening recently during the coronavirus. And I think we’re able to absorb some of the initial shocks to the economy, simply because we’ve always been absorbing economic shocks. But going forward, I think it’s the uncertainty about what comes in the next six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, 36 months. How does a small organization continue without using the old models of how we raise funds?
It seems to me the easiest way to think about why New York’s kind of cultural life is so extraordinary is to imagine the city without these nonprofit cultural institutions—whether it’s the opera, the theater, or the visual arts—to imagine the city without them. I think it’s immediately apparent then just what an extraordinary loss it would be, not just for the city itself, but also for art and for the future development of art.’