Fresh voices: The Shed's Open Call

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The up-and-coming cultural institution aims to present arts and pop culture under one roof for all audiences. Can a generous commission program for emerging artists help?


  • Open Call's inaugural class. Photo: Scott Rudd

  • Rendering of The Shed, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Rockwell Group

“Open Call provides the resources local artists need to fully explore their ideas, as well as the platform for reaching higher levels of visibility with new audiences.”

Tamara McCaw, chief civic program officer, The Shed

To butcher a Virginia Woolf quote, artists must have money and a large cultural institution of their own if they are to create. Now, 52 New York City-based artists and arts collectives have just that, thanks to The Shed's inaugural Open Call program, announced by CEO and artistic director Alex Poots on Oct. 9.

The luxuries of time and space have long eluded even established and mid-career artists, particularly in a city where the rent is too damn high. The Shed, the gargantuan new cultural center located where the High Line meets Hudson Yards, is trying to change that. The institution is already positioning itself as New York City's next hub of artistic innovation with the inaugural commissions well before it officially opens in spring 2019.

“A fundamental part of our mission is to engage our local communities and support New York City's diversity of talent,” said Tamara McCaw, chief civic program officer at The Shed, who co-organized Open Call along with Emma Enderby, senior curator. “Open Call provides the resources local artists need to fully explore their ideas, as well as the platform for reaching higher levels of visibility with new audiences.”

Developed specifically for New York City-based artists who have haven't had the opportunity to create and present work with large cultural institutions, Open Call spotlights artists from across the creative spectrum. Beating out a pool of nearly 1000 applicants, the recipients each receive a stipend of between $7,000 and $15,000, in addition to support and resources to develop their work. Applicants went through a rigorous vetting process, including a committee of curatorial and producing artists that honed in on inventive and risk-taking proposals. Final selections were made by a panel of New York-based movers and shakers, including poet and cofounder of Cave Canem Cornelius Eady, Harlem Stage managing director James King and filmmaker and CEO of the fashion collective Hood By Air Leilah Weinraub.

Though the artists selected for Open Call self-identified through the proposal process as either “early-career” or “emerging,” many boast impressive biographies and myriad accomplishments — just not a previous commission with a large or major institution. Recipients include designers, rappers, dancers, activists and makers, all of whom will have the chance to bring their creative visions to two stages in The Shed's innovative space: a 500-seat black box theater and a 17,000 square-foot open air plaza with The Shed's movable shell ceiling.

Recipients include Prince Harvey, a Dominica-born artist and musician known for recording his first album in an Apple Store and for STAY BOLD: 100 DAYS 100 SONGS, where he released a song a day for 100 days as a protest against President Trump; artist Gabriela María Corretjer Contreras, who utilizes textiles and performance as a way of imagining a future for a society with an “identity crisis;” and vocalist and composer Tariq Al-Sabir, who has premiered roles in the Smithsonian-commissioned operetta “Qadar” and in the social justice opera “Stinney,” in addition to jingle writing, film scoring and music production. The inaugural group of artists will launch the Shed's 2019 season and continue into 2020. All of the performances will be free.

Core to The Shed's mission is commissioning and presenting leading artists and thinkers from all disciplines under one roof. Just like the structure itself, it's a lofty goal — but one that now has plenty of creative fuel behind it.

For more information, visit

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