Q+A: Rebecca Guber, Asylum Arts

Are you looking for a global network of Jewish artists? If so, check out Asylum Arts. Asylum Arts is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting contemporary Jewish culture around the world and bringing exposure to Jewish artists through new projects and collaborations. We sat down with founder Rebecca Guber to learn more about her organization.

How did Asylum Arts come to be?

I have been working with artists for nearly 20 years. About 10 years ago, I realized that I was really interested in thinking about artists and identity. I had been working in the New York City art world for quite a long time. I worked in downtown Manhattan after 9/11 and was part of the conversation about artist revitalization of downtown Manhattan. It made me really think about how artists interact with the larger community, about civic life beyond just a museum or an art gallery, and about how artists are part of the civic dialogue about issues larger than the art world.

Particularly, with my own background, I was interested in how artists were thinking about their artistic identity, their Jewish identity and how those did or didn't overlap. I think a lot of artists are considering how their identity intersects with their work. At the same time, I started another project that worked with Jewish artists in New York and Los Angeles, and realized that the artist community was much larger than that. The conversation was much more global. Asylum Arts grew out of that project about three years ago, and it works with artists from around the world.

Now that it's been three years since the creation of Asylum Arts, has it been easy running your own organization?

There is something very exciting about doing entrepreneurial work— which I have been doing for a long time— where you can create a vision and push towards it. Simultaneously, however, it's hard because you don't have ground to stand on and you have to really make it up everyday. That is both exciting and challenging.

How do you select artists for upcoming projects and exhibitions?

We work with art professionals, curators and producers from all around the world. They both recommend artists to us and then we convene panels to help us chose. Luckily, I don't have to make any decisions myself. I get to rely on trusted advisors who know more than I do.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the International Jewish Artist Retreat?

We are having what we call our all-star retreat in May at the Garrison Institute, which is actually an old monastery that is run by Buddhists. We are going to be a group of Jews taking over so it's going to be a pretty crazy multi-cultural experience. We are bringing artists who have been to our retreats previously, they are coming in from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, London, Germany, and Israel. We are going to bring about 80 artists together to the former monastery and we're definitely looking forward to it.

For the first time, we are also bringing together artists from different retreats, different years and different countries so that they can all begin to weave together into a network. A lot of the retreat is taught by the artists themselves. Artists volunteer to teach sessions and those tend to be everything from mask making, 3D printing, or dancing to fundraising. These are just some of the ways the artists will be sharing their experience and skills with each other at the retreat.

We are focusing on the larger conversation about Jewish identity and culture in the world and how that intersects with politics, history, and community life.

Rebecca Guber, Founder of Asylum Arts

Where do you see Asylum Arts in five years?

We are spending a lot of time this year focusing on the 360 artists in our network and how we promote their work. We are also focusing on the larger conversation about Jewish identity and culture in the world and how that intersects with politics, history, and community life. We are really trying to become a platform for the artists as well as grow our network geographically and spend more time in Europe. Hopefully, we can also work with more artists in Latin America as well. We have a larger vision for working on an international scale.

Let's talk a little bit about the neighborhood, why did you choose DUMBO?

This is my first time ever working in Brooklyn. I have always commuted to Manhattan my entire career, and then I realized that our artists are here. All of our New York artists are pretty much living in Brooklyn and our entire staff lives in Brooklyn as well. At the time that I moved, I realized that the energy of the artist community was here in Brooklyn and DUMBO would be a really nice location for us, because the community working down here felt young, vibrant, and creative. We are also really committed to co-working spaces because we are a small organization. It's a way to engage in a larger conversation and we were just super excited to find this space and meet Frico, who runs this space. It has been amazing to have the opportunity to learn from other people who work here. We are the only nonprofit in this space but everyone else is an expert in so many fields that we can learn from. People are really generous with sharing their knowledge and it's been really fun being a part of this co-working community and also the larger DUMBO community.

Also, I have an 8-minute bike commute which I do every single day through rain, shine, snow, and ice. I have been biking to work for more than a decade and it is such a change to bike for less than 10 minutes each way. It is an easy ride, and I get to bike along the waterfront, so I arrive to work happy. I never want to work in Manhattan again. My only complaint here is that the lunch options are extremely limited.

Last but not least, what is your favorite spot in DUMBO?

I really love the new part of the park that has opened up at the end of Jay Street where you can walk next to the power plant and enter into an amazing vista. I love sitting there and looking at the water, the park, and Manhattan. It is a really nice spot.

Mentioned in this article

Brooklyn Bridge Park - John Street