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Anita Durst: Founder of Chashama

Chashama works with real estate companies to connect artists with free spaces to create and display their art. Chashama is a launching pad for artists and small business owners, whether they work in music, painting, theater, makeup, ballet, fashion, or anything in between. Their unique model gives both up-and-coming and experienced artists an opportunity to create freely and earn income from their passion. Learn more here!

What is the inspiration behind Chashama?

I used to work with a director who would ask me to find unusual locations to do theater shows around New York, and I started Chashama to continue that work when he died in 1997. My family is in real estate, and we started when they donated a block of seven little storefronts for me to give out to artists. We programmed theater shows and had amazing performances, had galleries, and all empty spaces were used for the artists to work in. We’ve moved around to a few different spaces since then. We work with many of the large property owners in NYC, with the Department of Transportation, the Economic Development Coalition, and more. We’re constantly taking on new spaces from real estate owners.

Can you tell me about your programs and how they increase access to the arts?

We have a storefront startup program, which helps small businesses owned by women and minorities. We have about 10 small businesses using our spaces and they are very successful, it gives people a space to fulfill their dreams. We do 150 presentations a year that can include visual art, music, ballet, anything you can imagine. There are work spaces available for all genres of art. We also offer free art classes, thanks to our partnership with low income housing in the Bronx. They offer us space for artists to use, and in return the artists teach classes to the community. Our next program is expanding into upstate New York, since we recently got a grant from the state to fund our growth.

How do artists utilize your spaces?

Each space is unique to its architecture. The studios range from 100 to 400 square feet. In the studios, you can see into the brains of many artists. In our small businesses, you see how people run different brands. In a presentation, you can see a variety of beautiful shows. Artists can keep their spot in a work space for as long as they want, we have one artist who has been there for over 20 years. As long as we have access to the space, they can keep it. It’s better for artists to have long-term access to a space to create. The presentations run for between 3 weeks and 6 months, depending on the show.

What has been the best part of starting Chashama?

I love seeing the joy on people’s faces when they get a space and seeing their growth over time. It’s great to see our small business expand. One of our small businesses just received $500,000 from an angel investor after using our space for a year. A lot of our businesses are sustainable which is great. That wasn’t my intention in starting this, but it’s worked out that way and I’m glad. I’m always open to expanding into new areas as long as we have the money and the manpower to make it happen. One of my favorite days of the year is our gala in June, where we have about 300 performers who do everything from fire shows, to dancing, to hair styling. It’s all about experiencing the creativity of New York.


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