Click the link below for Way of the Word' at Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, on Oct 9 2009. Bob pays tribute to event co-curator Suzanne Fiol
Suzanne Fiol, an impresario of avant-garde culture in New York, who founded the performance space Issue Project Room and served as its artistic rudder, died on Monday in Manhattan. She was 49 and lived in Brooklyn.
The cause was cancer, said Sarah Garvey, a spokeswoman.Opened in 2003 in a former garage in the East Village, Issue Project Room quickly established a place in the small circuit of downtown clubs and makeshift theaters that specialize in the fringes of contemporary music, with performances by experimental, jazz and new-music regulars like Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman and Elliott Sharp, as well as with literary readings and art exhibitions.
Ms. Fiol, a photographer and gallerist, opened it as an adjunct to the Issue Management photo agency, but she soon left that organization and dedicated herself to the performance space and its interdisciplinary approach. In an interview with Paper magazine in 2008, she recalled that as an undergraduate art student at Antioch College in Ohio, she decided, “I want to devote my life to experimental culture.”
Plenty of alternative arts spaces have difficulty keeping the doors open, and for its first several years Issue Project Room was no different, moving to two Brooklyn locations in the next four years as rents rose out of reach. Then, with pluck and help from corporate and government sources, Ms. Fiol found a prominent home and significant financing.
Last year she won a 20-year, rent-free lease at 110 Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn, the former Board of Education building, whose residential developer was required to set aside space for cultural use. And in July, Issue Project Room received a $1.1 million grant from the discretionary funds of Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, for renovations. With the space’s new stability, Ms. Fiol was about to expand her staff and board — which includes the actor Steve Buscemi, the musician Tony Conrad and the visual artist Robert Longo — and begin to transform Issue Project Room into what she called “a Carnegie Hall for the avant-garde.” “We want to be an important space for music and film and literature and poetry and video and sound art,” she told The New York Times in July. “And a little bit of dance.”
The new Issue Project Room is scheduled to open in 2011. Until then it will continue to operate at its current space, at the Old American Can Factory, on Third Street near Third Avenue, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.Born in New York, Ms. Fiol attended Antioch and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago. Her photographs are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions, and in the 1980s and ’90s she worked at several New York art galleries, including Donald Wren, Marcuse Pfeifer and Brent Sikkema galleries.She is survived by a daughter, Sarah; a sister, Nancy Goldspink; and her parents, Arlene and Lawrence Perlstein.
Her marriage to Joaquin Fiol ended in divorce.Once plentiful in Lower Manhattan, alternative performance spaces like Issue Project Room began to vanish with rising real estate prices in the 1990s and 2000s, but Ms. Fiol said she thrived on the challenge of staying one step ahead of the real estate market.
Last year she learned she had lung cancer, which spread to her brain, but as recently as a few weeks ago she was still raising funds for Issue Project Room, friends said.“Everybody gets kicked out of their space, or they end up shutting down,” Ms. Fiol said. “But instead of getting all flipped out about that, I took the road of just finding a new space. And I’ve been really lucky.”