SoHo today is much different from the SoHo of yesterday. When we think of “SoHo,” we think of artists’ lofts, cast-iron buildings, galleries – a nostalgic vision of New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But the once bohemian neighborhood has long since turned into a saturated grid of big-name and big-chain storefronts and shops. It’s not the stomping ground of Leo Castelli, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, or Andy Warhol it once was. The group of artists, influencers, and creatives that once defined an era are long gone.
Enter Soho Arts Club, a newly founded organization whose mission is to bring back a bit of that time period’s spirit and spark to 76 Wooster Street. The address used to be the hideaway of Warhol, a place where Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Julian Schnabel would hang. The ground floor acted as Grace Jones’ restaurant at one point, and at another served as a temporary exhibition site for Yoko Ono’s tribute to the art of John Lennon. When the opportunity came to inhabit the space not too long ago, artist Harif Guzman jumped at the opportunity to add his own bit of history to the building.
Initially, Guzman set up his home and studio there, but soon turned to friend Golan Marom, a real-estate developer, to partner on a new kind of way to energize its hallowed halls. Marom is no stranger to the art world. His family has run one of the top framing business in New York for over 30 years, New Yorker Picture Frames, whose clients have included Warhol, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Marc Jacobs, and more. Guzman was actually working on a framing project with the shop when the chance to occupy 76 Wooster Street came up, and eventually, Soho Arts Club was born.
Set up in collaboration with BABËL, a New York cultural events organization and community, the club is made up of people looking to connect creatively. Producing over 50 events a year, BABËL is shaping the New York City cultural life and sparking global change. Its mission is to bring together to most innovative minds to interact and inspire each through the power of art, music, and creativity. “We are artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, dreams makers. We realize how much we can accomplish in this life when we let go of the belief of “what is best for me,” and embrace the mindset of “what is best for us,” said founder and creator of BABËL Waël MECHRI- YVER.
Soho Arts Club is a contemporary twist on the artist enclave of the late ‘70s, “trying to keep that energy alive by bringing in various artists, photographers, fashion houses, and anyone that is a creative spirit to collaborate,” said Marom in a recent interview with Whitewall.
Members are called “advisors,” and pay an annual fee in order to have access to, engage with, and activate the site. Advisors have access to 76 Wooster Street’s 22-foot ceilings framing 2500 square feet. Spread over two floors, there is plenty of wall- and floor-space (plus a stage and DJ booth) for every member to take over with an exhibition, event, workshop, or performance for up to five days each year. The club offers event production and support to its advisors, along with first-look access to exhibited artwork, guaranteed invitations to private events, and the chance to participate in its decision-making board.
So what kind of members are Marom and Guzman interested in? “Advisors are people that would benefit from the space mutually. So maybe it’s an artist that wants to do an exhibition for five days, or a photographer that needs to use the space, or a fashion company, these are all people that could be advisors,” explained Marom. And a premium annual due keeps the bar high for potential networkers. “The advantage of [the fee] is that it ensures that the people you’re surrounded by are credible …and can contribute to the network,” he said.
After launching last August, membership has steadily grown. “This is essentially a networking platform that’s been created because you’re not going to meet these same people walking down the street,” said Marom. “[Designer] Jeff Hamilton right now is upstairs as we’re having this conversation. That’s the type of thing that is happening organically,” he told us over the phone.
If you’re interested in joining, you have got to leave posturing at the door, Marom insisted. “It’s meant to be a space where creative people can get away from all the bottle service, that whole pretentious lifestyle. You can be here with no guard up because everyone around you is on the same level, whether spiritually or artistically,” he said. The ultimate goal is that Soho Arts Club becomes not just a freshly invigorated historic building, but a reciprocal exchange, where the people need it as much as it needs them. We think Warhol could get down with that.