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The Buzz, 7-2: Needling
Singer Sews up Kitchen Gig

Instant Reaction by Paul Ben-Itzak
Considered Responses by Cathy Edwards and Mark Russell

The Press Release

Late Tuesday, the Kitchen announced that Debra Singer, associate curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum, will succeed Elise Bernhardt as its executive director, with the added title of chief curator. "It is a great honor to have been appointed to lead the Kitchen at this moment in time," Singer said in a press release issued by the Chelsea venue. "I have such admiration for the Kitchen's extraordinary legacy of showing experimental work, and I look forward to building on that unique history. Given today's conservative cultural and political climate, it is more critical than ever to show risk-taking work within a variety of disciplines."

According to the Kitchen press release, Singer's primary performance curating experience consists of five seasons programming the Performance on 42nd Street series at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria (Phillip Morris) and selecting the "sound and performance works" for the 2002 biennial. She has also served on the Bessies committee.

The Flip Reaction

On Wednesday, Paul Ben-Itzak forwarded the Kitchen press release to the Dance Insider e-mail list, topped off with the following flippant comment and request for substantive response from readers:

Let's see.... The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council hires a new president/executive director whose main artistic experience consists of having started a Chelsea gallery, and now the Kitchen's hired a new chef who's mainly cooked up biennials. They're even going to call her "Chief Curator." (The departing director came to the Kitchen from Dancing in the Streets, if memory serves.)

What do you think, dance insider? Is the Kitchen about to put its customers on a low-performance diet? Is it time to wake up and smell the toast?

The Considered Response

On Thursday, Cathy Edwards, artistic director of Dance Theater Workshop, and Mark Russell, recently departed artistic and executive director of PS 122, wrote to offer their evaluations of Singer's appointment.

Cathy Edwards wrote:

Debra has a lot of knowledge about performing arts -- she's been active as a curator of live performance, and has served on the Bessies committee for years and been deeply involved in dialogue about contemporary dance and performance. I think she'll bring a new perspective to the Kitchen but I wouldn't assume that performance will disappear. Have you been in touch with Debra to ask what her programming priorities will be? She has probably put a lot of thought into this.

Mark Russell wrote:

I hope that you give Deb Singer a chance. She is a very gifted curator, whose roots are in theatre and performance, and, yes, dance. She is a friend to the community of artists in New York. She is part of a new generation of leaders that is coming up to the plate. She has a very big job in front of her and she will need all of our support and good will. I hope you will not jump to conclusions just because she comes from a visual arts institution. I am looking forward to what she will program at the Kitchen; I expect it to be challenging and different and full of questions, new questions. We need some new questions. If she is able to integrate the Kitchen back into the visual arts world that would be a good thing for all of us in the live arts. Perhaps dance will have to share a little more of the pie at the Kitchen but I think the benefits to all the fields will be worth it.

I will miss Ms. Bernhardt at the Kitchen. She did a great job during a really tough time with a dysfunctional institution. She brought them back to fiscal health and to interaction with their community. A lot of great work got done there during her tenure. I think the Kitchen will miss her knowledge and energy.

However, I applaud the Kitchen for taking a big risk and a brave move to engage Ms. Singer. I am particularly impressed by their fast transition to this new directorship. I think she will do them and us proud... if we open our minds to a new vision of the Kitchen and give her a chance.


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