Performance Space New York announces influential best-selling author, professor, editor, and public intellectual Roxane Gay as Board President. Earlier this year, the organization made strides in placing its artist-centric model at the very core of its institutional structure, bringing artists including Gay, Nicole Eisenman, as well 02020 cohort members Jonathan González and Jackson Polys onto the board and nearing a stated goal of building a board made up of at least 50% artists. Gay’s new position at the board’s helm represents a further step towards ensuring Performance Space New York’s capacity to put artists’ need for risk-taking and community first.
Gay, a lover of performance with years of experience in theater tech, with a robust legacy of supporting underrepresented and groundbreaking voices (through her Book Club and Substack), first stepped onto the board after having been connected with the organization by her wife, board member Debbie Millman. Together, they attended Performance Space’s Spring 2019 gala, where Gay was inspired by the gathering of “so many interesting people who all love experimental theater and experimental art in one place, with the common goal of making sure that this sort of work is continuing to be nurtured.”
Gay says, “My vision as board president is to continue supporting great experimental art and to make sure that a diversity of aesthetics is brought to Performance Space. But I’m also interested in diversifying the board and making sure we continue to ensure that it’s not only people with money who get to sit on the board and make decisions—because that’s not a reflection of our actual community. I want us to make sure we are connected to the East Village community where our space is located; to support as many artists as possible; to say yes to as much as possible in ways that are interesting and innovative, and to stay as nimble as possible and remain open to ideas that are maybe uncomfortable but are ultimately going to best serve Performance Space and best foster art.”
Performance Space New York Executive Artistic Director Jenny Schlenzka describes Gay’s first 1.5 years on the board in a way that would certainly resonate with fans of her work and voice as a cultural commentator: as “opinionated and practical…someone who would rather make change than endlessly talk about making change.” She recalls the board retreat that Gay led—where the board ended up voting for her for the role of President—as being “like a breath of fresh air, in the way she leads the group, how matter-of-factly she talks, how people are drawn to her.”
Schlenzka adds, “It was always a dream that an artist would lead the board—and on top of that to have someone with her politics and her ethical compass is really exciting. Her opinions are realistic and they’re sound: she wants a more equitable and accessible culture and sees how we can be part of creating this culture. She understands and engages budget conversations as fundamental to an organization’s visionary aims. Most importantly, as an artist herself, she believes in giving artists the space and support they need to take risks.”
Gay takes on the role as President of the Board, Suzanne Geiss, steps down and becomes Vice President to help with the transition—ultimately continuing her tenure on the board as Chair of the Development Committee. Geiss has been vastly influential to changes at Performance Space across her many years on the board: she was first hired to sit on the Search Committee for a new Executive Artistic Director, which culminated in Jenny Schlenzka’s appointment and devisement of a transformative era for the historic institution. As President of the Board, Geiss, who has a deep connection to Keith Haring’s work and estate, initiated and energized a momentous partnership between Performance Space and the Keith Haring Foundation, which included a $1,000,000 award from the foundation.
Roxane Gay is a writer, professor, editor, and social commentator, among others. Her writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.