Executive Artistic Director Jenny Schlenzka to Depart Performance Space New York

Performance Space will announce plans for its leadership transition in Fall, 2023.

By: Mar. 30, 2023
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 5/21/23; Final Week of Season

Performance Space New York Executive Artistic Director Jenny Schlenzka will depart the organization in Summer 2023, after six years of groundbreaking leadership, in which she has reimagined the institution's relationship to its artists and community-in constant collaboration with them. In keeping with the future-oriented vision she has sustained from her first days overseeing Performance Space's momentous transition back into its renovated home in 2017, Schlenzka sees this change as an opportunity for the historically significant experimental and interdisciplinary organization to continue to invite new voices, communities, and practices to the fore.

Schlenzka will be relocating to Berlin, returning to family and the first city she called home, after living in the U.S. for over two decades, and will be stepping into the role of Director of the exhibition hall Gropius Bau. The Gropius Bau, part of the Berliner Festspiele, is one of Europe's most important exhibition venues. With its acclaimed exhibitions of contemporary and modern art, the Gropius Bau has built an international reputation. There, she will have the opportunity to bring her experience with performance, thematic programming, and creating new avenues for community and artist involvement to a vast stage and institution that serves hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

Schlenzka says, "So much of the work we've done in the past six years at Performance Space has been about rethinking power structures in our artistic institutions and creating an ethos of openness to change. This was, in part, like self-imposing a term limit: organizations stay vital with fresh approaches and visions. My hope is that, in these years, we've built a stronger institution with deeper ties to its artists and communities, with a renewed and reimagined identity that has bolstered its capacity to nurture the future of performance. It's been an honor working with a staff and board who believe in collaborative, transformative experimentalism, not just in the art we program, but in our approach to every facet of the organization-and it's exhilarating to think about what they'll be able to accomplish with all the ideas a new leader brings to the table."

Under Schlenzka's leadership, Performance Space has grown from an annual operating budget of 1.7 million when she joined in 2017 to 2.6 million, and has accumulated reserves to leave the organization in a financially healthy state, with a three-year strategic plan in place. Performance Space will announce plans for its leadership transition in Fall, 2023.

Performance Space New York Board President Roxane Gay says, "Jenny Schlenzka has been an invigorating leader at Performance Space New York. She has enriched our organization with her impeccable taste, bold vision and willingness to evolve and respond to the needs of our vibrant community. Jenny is irreplaceable but we are thrilled for her and this new professional adventure on which she now embarks. In the coming months, we will begin the difficult but important work of finding a new executive director for Performance Space, knowing that the organization is stronger than ever by virtue of Jenny's incredible work."

Jenny Schlenzka entered her role at Performance Space at a pivotal moment. The organization had lived in temporary homes for seven years while its building, 122CC-a historic former schoolhouse-underwent a major metamorphosis. Schlenzka used the moment of transition back into its permanent space to reconsider its institutional identity, and who the organization and its programming serve. At once honoring Performance Space's storied history and initiating a vastly more inclusive future, Schlenzka programmed the East Village Series-which explored the organization's radical artistic and political roots and their place today, in parallel with social and cultural intersections within its neighborhood. Under her guidance, Performance Space 122 became Performance Space New York-a new name that signaled an invitation, to the whole city, into community.

Schlenzka introduced thematic programming to Performance Space New York, with seasons of works entering into complex dialogues around a shared theme. These included the Donna Haraway-influenced Posthuman Series, the No Series (gathering artists who locate power and creativity in refusal), and the current year-long Healing Series, exploring how finding ways to heal ourselves from the current moment and the horrid injustices of the past might in turn help us create new art, forge new alliances, and imagine new worlds.

A cornerstone of Schlenzka's leadership, and of her unwavering and multi-pronged approach to artist-centricity, was 02020, conceived with Sarah Michelson. The initiative offered a cohort of artists Performance Space's full annual production budget and the opportunity to work collectively-and in whatever formation they chose-in programming Performance Space for a year. With 02020, which surrounded the institution's 40th year, Performance Space returned to its origins as a hub of open experimentation founded by artists (often working in protest of the cruelties of the Reagan era and, in the microcosm of the space, imagining a more just society).

02020 looked to artists to explore and initiate new models in collaboration with the staff, board, and leadership-not just for that year, but as a continued process of discovery. Though the pandemic drastically shifted the ways 02020 would unfold, it was no less eye-opening. It led Schlenzka to continue to work with artists from the cohort-alongside the board, and community members participating in town hall-style board meetings-to create a new mission statement for the organization. It also propelled the expansion of the board to include at least 50% artists; led to the revival of Open Movement, the early Performance Space tradition reimagined for today's artists and communities by 02020 cohort member Monica Mirabile; created a full-time position for Community Inclusion and Access for Ana Beatriz Sepúlveda to deepen Performance Space's commitment to more community centered programming; and prompted the inauguration of Open Room, Performance Space's publicly accessible space for communal use, featuring rotating installations that encourage gathering.

Across Schlenzka's time at Performance Space, the organization has also debuted the John Giorno Octopus Series, which invites artists and guest curators to organize an evening-length program with several artists working in any number of disciplines; the Sarah Schulman-organized series of readings of works in progress from accomplished writers, First Mondays; and a generative partnership with the Keith Haring Foundation, which has included a lecture series for kids, a curatorial fellowship, and the renaming of the organization's largest space as the Keith Haring Theatre.

About Performance Space New York

Over the last 40 years Performance Space has been propelling cultural, theoretical, and political discourse forward. Futurity and world-building connect the interdisciplinary works presented here-works that have dissolved the borders of performance art, dance, theater, music, visual art, poetry and prose, ritual, night life, food, film, and technology, shattering artistic and social norms alike.

Founded in 1980, Performance Space New York (formerly Performance Space 122) became a haven for many queer and radical voices shut out by a repressive, monocultural mainstream and conservative government whose neglect exacerbated the emerging AIDS epidemic's devastation. Carrying forward the multitudinous visions of these artists who wielded the political momentum of self-expression amidst the intensifying American culture wars, Performance Space is one of the birthplaces of contemporary performance as it is known today.

As the New York performing arts world has become increasingly institutionalized, and the shortcomings within our industry were further revealed during the ravages and transformations of 2020, our focus has been not just on presenting boundary-breaking work but on restructuring our own organization towards prioritizing equity and access. We seek to build deeper relationships with our artists and communities by creating new access points. Through community programs, annual town halls, guest-curated programs such as Octopus and First Mondays, we welcome the public to actively shape our future and help us hold ourselves accountable. Programs like the revived Open Movement and the new Open Room invite the community in and reclaim the institution as a rare indoor public space in the ever-more expensive East Village.

Our search for new models is an embrace of the unknown-and an acknowledgement of transformation as a process of continuous inquiry, imagination, response, and accountability. Mirroring the spirit of experimentation artists have brought to our spaces across four decades, we strive towards something which does not yet exist. We believe this focus on changing the conditions in which art is made is just as fundamental as the art itself, and only serves to make it more substantial.

02020, the year-long project during which a cohort of salaried artists were invited together with the staff and board to re-vision Performance Space, initiated this transformation, and itself rapidly reshaped to meet artists' and community members' needs amidst the early days of the pandemic and uprising for racial justice. 02020 was a new beginning for us, a sharp and needed turn back towards artists to help rethink the institution for the future.


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