Top image: Photography by Ivan Espinosa.

“I think a lot of the time people tell kids to dream big but don’t exactly give them the tools to succeed,” says Athena Currey Director of Programming and Partnerships at Downtown Labs – Red Hook Labs’ new LA space. Created to provide these tools, Red Hook Labs is a US-based public benefit organisation designed to encourage and aid the artistic development of young people within low-income districts.

Founded by Jimmy Moffat –who launched the renowned photography agency Art + Commerce in the early 1980s with Anne Kennedy and Leslie Sweeney – the organisation operates on the principle of nurturing raw, untapped talent and transforming it into a productive and dynamic force. Comprising of four labs, Red Hook Labs allows its students to explore the realms of the studio, school, gallery and production. Each of these labs provides a dynamic experience that emphasises the importance of connectivity, creation and learning.

Photography by Ivan Espinosa.

With Donald Trump proposing to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts – a vital programme supporting public accessibility to the arts – organisations such as Red Hook Labs are more vital than ever. In offering a space that cultivates creativity, alongside the practical foundations required to launch a career in the art world, Red Hook Labs is at the vanguard, producing the next generation of intriguing and thought-provoking artists.

Here, Currey and Red Hook Labs’ Director of Programming and Partnerships, Anastasia Rogers Kidd, talk us through their philosophy and the importance of supporting the next generation of creative talent. 

Aïsha Diomandé: So to start off, could you tell us about how Red Hook Labs started and developed over time as an organisation?
Anastasia Rogers Kidd: I have only been working at Red Hook Labs since early 2017, and so has Athena. The staff at Red Hook Labs is growing, the programming is growing, the gallery is growing, and everything is on its way up. It was founded in 2015 by Jimmy Moffat and the whole idea is to bring opportunity to groups of students in high schools who are otherwise not exposed to the arts. Red Hook Labs is a production service, a studio space, a gallery and also a school. All of this is the same for Downtown Labs in Los Angeles. Downtown Labs is the newest model of labs, but it is recreating the same concept on set; the production, the studio and the gallery all enhance the school programme. The way we do it is that we partner with local high schools and community centres and we create a curriculum that is implemented at the schools and at the studio facilities. 

Photography by Zoran Seda

Aïsha: And you have industry leaders giving classes.
Anastasia: Exactly, we have ten classes per semester and they each meet two times a week. We have consistent teachers throughout each semester and we also invite guests and mentors who are industry leaders in photography, fashion and art to be part of the educational experience and to give lectures or a three-day workshops. So the students are given this exposure because of our relationship with the industry, we also provide internship programmes for these students.

Aïsha: Accessibility and connectivity are essential for a young creative. What is the process behind building up the vision and confidence of these young artists who wish to make their mark on the cultural world?
Athena Currey: I think a lot of the time people tell kids to dream big but don’t exactly give them the tools to succeed, so this is a programme that introduces young people to the industry and the various roles within it. But we also give them a realistic approach to being creative, telling them that these are the steps you need to take to be a photographer, and these are the kinds of clients that you may have, and what it’s like working on a set. Teaching these sorts of things is really important and in that way they can earn money doing it because we know that it’s very hard earning money as an artist. But some of the kids on our shoots may want to be a producer or they may have other aspirations, so it is up to us to encourage them. A big part of this is connection, so we’re bringing the industry to this neighbourhood in order to introduce them to the kids and hopefully they’ll start to have their own connections too.

Photography by Ivan Espinosa.

Aïsha: How has the local area evolved since Red Hook Labs established itself?
Anastasia: Red Hook as a neighbourhood, there’s the projects, so economically there’s a huge population in Red Hook that are underprivileged. Meanwhile Red Hook is a very creative area, and we’re really trying to bring that out of the neighbourhood, we’re working with local artists in Red Hook and trying to really revitalise Red Hook to its fullest potential. We want to create an integrated community between the students living in one area and the creatives who are living in another area and get everybody to know each other and to support one another. Red Hook itself is a cool community, there’s all sorts of things going on but at the same time most of the students who come are not from a privileged background.

Aïsha: Considering the tense political climate under Donald Trump’s presidency, there is a looming threat over the National Endowment for the Arts funding programme – what would this mean for Red Hook Labs?
Anastasia: Yes it’s terrible to hear that and what’s going on in this administration, especially with the N.E.A.. However, there are other organisations who are fully able and interested in supporting arts education, both locally and nationally. So we really hope to work with them and partner with other organisations who are still able to help arts education.
Athena: We also have individual donors giving money as well, and in times like these it is up to everybody to give where they can.
Anastasia: Red Hook Labs also do programmes that support our schools, we do portfolio reviews and all profits go to the school. We have a new artist in residence who will take photos, and will do portrait sessions for people, and all those profits will go to the school. 

Aïsha:  Despite such political turmoil, even the smallest bit of support from an arts organisation makes a difference – so far, what would you consider the most important impact of Red Hook Labs to be?
Anastasia: I think that it can come down to very specific examples. For instance, one of our students received a scholarship from SVA (School of Visual Arts), seeing that happen through the programme at Red Hook Labs is amazing, and a lot of our students are getting internships. I think seeing these students working very hard to a point where they are at a level where they can start to really think about their career, seeing that happen on a day-to-day basis is great.

More information on Red Hook Labs can be found here.