Breaking Ground in Bed-Stuy

From conception to curatorial choices, the word “serendipity” defines The Bishop. The brand-new gallery space on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood celebrated its grand opening on March 15th 2013, fueled by a combination of chance opportunities and the go-get-em-ness it took co-directors Jackie Cantwell and Molly Myer to say yes to them.

Talking with Molly and Jackie, who play off one another like sisters, you’d never guess their friendship and working relationship are both less than a year old. They met—serendipitously—as graduate students atPratt and it was love at first elevator speech assignment. Not long before it was time to begin serious work on their theses, a Brooklyn-born friend Jackie knew from Washington, D.C. (where Jackie ran a non-profit called Curating for a Cause) approached her. His family had a space in Bed-Stuy. He wanted to see something happen there. Did Jackie want to open a gallery?

The timing couldn’t have been better. Their thesis became The Bishop, The Bishop became their thesis: in it, they’re focusing not only on the mechanics of opening and running a gallery, but also on the history of Bed-Stuy and what goes into maintaining a sustainable artspace in a neighborhood that doesn’t yet have precedent for it.

The inaugural show, “Six Degrees of Separation,” running through April 28th 2013, is a celebration of the chance connections that have made The Bishop possible. All of the artists represented in the show are connected to both Brooklyn and Richmond, VA, where Jackie completed her undergraduate degree.

An Opening to Remember

If you’d attended the opening, you would have walked from the Bedford-Nostrand stop on the G down Bedford Avenue past a number of gated or lightless storefronts, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and, naturally, a bodega or two. Coming up on 916 Bedford, you’d have rechecked the address—was this right?—until, encouraged by muffled saxophone notes soft-footing it out onto the sidewalk, you’d have opened the glass door and walked in: down the hallway, past closed-for-the-night clothing storeBLK Cartel and into a basement space tucked into the back. The Bishop, you would have seen, was pulsing with new energy. Lively jazz from theMario Castro Quintet enhanced the colorful work lining the walls (fromCarlton Morgan’s fiberglass sculpture living in the space between coral reef and Dr. Seuss illustrations toNicole Andreoni’s intaglio prints of full-bodied bodiless heads of hair, it’s the kind of art crying out to be touched). You’d have joined a packed-in crowd representing an impressive range of ages, races, and hipness levels, and as you sipped your plastic cup of wine you’d have felt a statement being made: an undeniable HERE WE ARE, yes, but with its brassiness cut by a deep sense of welcome and inclusion and community. Exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from a gallery that works to “keep the art world in check.”

bishoponbedford_web3Enjoying a workshop at The Bishop. Photo by Christopher Baliwas.

NYC-APs: What’s your favorite thing you’ve come across in the neighborhood so far?

JC: How welcoming it is, how collaborative. Coming to New York, I was so terrified about being a small fish, because in D.C. the art scene’s very small, you know everybody, and it’s this nurturing environment, and I didn’t think it would be like that here. And I don’t think it’s like that in Manhattan but it certainly is in Brooklyn. [Now that we’re open, we’ve realized] we were under the assumption that the location of the gallery was a lot more isolated that it actually is. In reality, there is a very rich community of restaurants, coffee shops and proud small businesses. Our relationship with the community seems to be off to a great start—we made the effort to go around and introduce ourselves to our neighbors and found that they were very receptive and welcoming. We even had a community raffle with donations from Taqueria Villa Pancho, Pilar Cuban Eatery, Clementine Bakery, Dough,Colador Café, BLK Cartel,Brooklyn Kolache Co., Heavenly Crumbs,Bike Slug, and MoMo’s Sushi Shack.

MM: We’ve been doing a lot of research about what makes the art neighborhoods move around. Why did SoHo move to Chelsea? Why did Chelsea move to Williamsburg? That sort of thing. It’s all about where the artists go. And there are a ton of artists living in this neighborhood so we haven’t figured out why there isn’t gallery space yet. That’s why I sort of hated [The Last Bohemia by Robert Anasi], you know, I mean I loved it but I hated it, because he’s like, “I loved Williamsburg when it was the nitty-gritty-dirty, everybody was doing drugs,” and he hated how gentrified it had become. Which you can sympathize with, but, you know, you brought this here. So it’s an interesting discussion to try to tackle. How do you create this creative community without necessarily gentrifying and pushing out the culture and the history of the neighborhood and just be more accepting and communal and collaborative about what you’re doing.

NYC-APs: Right. The changes usually start out small, and start out good. It’s when it becomes an overdose that things get tricky and it becomes gentrification.

JC: It’s not only the overdose, it’s the lack of inclusion and consideration for people who are living there.

MM: We’re not trying to be a commercial gallery. We’re trying to be a community artspace.

NYC-APs: You both majored in art as undergraduates. Do you still make art?

JC: I sometimes draw in a small sketchbook, and I actually had some of those drawings in the show—having the space has inspired me and given me an outlet to start creating more. But mostly, no. I realized my senior year of college that I enjoy curating art far more than I enjoy making my own.

MM: I’m completely the same. On the first day at Pratt we both had to give an elevator speech, and Jackie and I were both pretty much dead on. I don’t create anything anymore. I mean, I write sometimes, I still feel artistic in my thinking but I don’t draw or paint.

JC: I’ve found my voice through showing other people’s work in a show that has a concept. I can still communicate my ideas through art—just not my own. We also both realized that something we love is teaching art. When a kid first realizes that yellow and blue make green? It’s just the most magical thing. They don’t have self-consciousness. They don’t try to be anything.

NYC-APs: What has it been like to make the transition from idea to reality these last few weeks?

JC: We’ve been most impressed with how nurturing our neighborhood is and how accessible the local business owners are. Our favorite part [of the grand opening] was meeting new people who were truly excited about the space and hearing all of the different ideas that our patrons had for the space. It was also really cool to see people from all of our different worlds colliding and making connections, which is what the show is all about. As with all events, there are some parts that you can’t possibly anticipate, such as our track lights busting out mid event—but the party went on. The hardest part about this experience has been doing all of this with just two people. Neither of us has ever gone through the process of renovating a space so it took a lot longer than we could have ever expected.

bishoponbedford_web4Hanging loose at the Bishop. Photo by Christopher Baliwas

NYC-APs: You work together incredibly well, though. That has to help. You call yourselves co-directors of the space, but Molly, you’ve told me you identify more as a director, and Jackie, you as a curator. What’s that about? What makes someone a curator versus a director?

JC: When I think of curation I think of the process of collecting things and organizing them in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing. And I love doing that in life. I do it all the time. With things. Just things.

MM: That’s your calling.

JC: Yeah. If that’s what that means, then yes. I’m a curator of life. All I do is organize beautiful things.

MM: Have you ever seen her take an Instagram shot? (Molly shows us: arranges a salt shaker and a flower on the table. Looks through her phone. Shakes her head. Scoots the flower a little to the right. Looks through her phone again. Etc.)

NYC-APs: Curatorial Instagramming.

MM: She’s a hoarder, actually.

JC: Whereas Molly has an amazing ability not to just visualize ideas, but also to speak them. She’s very good at articulating things.

MM: She’s a little more artsy than I am and I’m a little more logistical.

NYC-APs: What has it been like to work on The Bishop both as a thesis project and an actual gallery?

JC: We’re using all of our resources from school to make something from real life happen, which is ideal. At the same time that we were opening the space, we were writing our thesis. It has been really beneficial for us to use our thesis to reflect on the show and write about the many different experiences that we have had. It has allowed us to use our hindsight to make educated decisions when thinking about the future.

MM: In grad school they teach you about creating a “business plan.” But in reality most of the time a business plan is kind of futile becausethings change so quickly here, especially in Brooklyn where everybody’s moving here so quickly and changing the neighborhood so rapidly. We know shit’s going to change and we also have to adapt to that. That’s kind of freeing in a sense. How are we going to sustain ourselves? How are we going to make money but also still offer what our mission says? And that’s always going to be changing. I just moved to Prospect Heights-Lefferts Gardens and you can feel the change. You go to a grocery store and ask, do you have any coffee beans instead of instant coffee and the guy says, “Oh, I’ll buy you some, I recognize that the neighborhood’s changing.”

JC: That’s a struggle for every business, not just the arts.

NYC-APs: You have to stay open to change. And you have to love what you’re doing.

JC: A good friend of mine always asks, “What’s the last thing you’ve done that you were proud of?” And if you can’t remember then you’re doing the wrong things. A lot of people write on Facebook every day how much they hate their jobs. When they could be changing it. It’s hard, but wouldn’t you rather do that? And be happy?

MM: We don’t make art anymore but the thought of other people making art—it’s amazing.

JC: That’s what we want to do with the space, is support people in doing that.


The Bishop Nicole Andreoni, Andrew Kozlowski, Carlton Morgan and more – “Six Degrees of Separation” March 15th – April 28th, 2013 Thurs–Fri 11am–6pm Sat 12pm–6pm. [$60–$60,000