Saturday , December 4 2021

Inside New York’s sacred DIY art space, The Glove

Dazed explores how an independent venue fights to exist in 2018, and considers the future of grassroots culture in the city

As the shutters rise at The Glove, and you begin to ascend the fluorescent red-lit stairwell that leads up to its rooms, you get the feeling you’ve arrived somewhere special. For many people that come to the space, it’s more than a place to listen to music and view art. “You’d have to check, but I don’t think anyone else is doing what we’re doing in the city at the moment,” says co-founder of The Glove, Dean Cercone. “I’ll be the first to tell you that it almost doesn’t make sense.”

“Running a space like this in New York is as annoying as it is beautiful. As fruitful as it is scary. It takes precedence over a lot of things we do in our normal lives now.”

For as long as anyone can remember, the relationship between New York authorities and its independent spaces has been fraught. However, with the creation of a New York Office of Nightlife in February – and the subsequent appointment of ‘Nightlife Mayor’ Ariel Palitz – the city claimed to finally be seeing the value in its underground culture. 

The Glove is one reason to be optimistic. It all began in the summer of 2016, when Dean and a small group of friends signed the lease on a disused building, with the intention of creating a bespoke venue to showcase art and music. Now – looking and feeling how you’d imagine The Cramps’ front room – The Glove houses up to seven shows a week of varying nature.

“We wanted to create a space where there’s a relationship between performers and the walls. A place where there’s freedom to experiment and be freaky,” says Dean. “Sometimes, with some shows, even I’m like, what the fuck is this! But that’s the whole point.” Dean acknowledges that his position in the New York nightscape is rare. “The people that do our booking are bombarded, because there are no spaces like ours left. Desirable spaces to exhibit for a certain type of artist.”

The Glove has hosted established names, such as Pill and Calvin Johnson (The Go Team), but its reputation has been built upon the fertile ground they’ve provided for a community of young artists. Dorian Electra – a musician who has performed at New York Pride alongside Charli XCX, and toured with Taylor Swift – played early shows at the New York location, fostering a strong LGBTQ clientele in the space. “(Artists and patrons) can talk about their projects, their aspirations. Whether it lasts for a year or ten years, these are the places where things change. You can observe entire shifts in the public. It’s actually really magical.”

Priding itself on being an inclusive, experimental territory, The Glove has indeed witnessed many of the left-of-centre cultural creators that come through its doors infiltrate the mainstream. Dorian Electra and their gender fluid parties would be a perfect example. 

The Glove is by no means the first club to try and do things with some sort of valour in NYC; to create a space where artistry takes precedence over financial aspiration. The famous CBGB’s – often credited as the birthplace of American punk – and more recently, Glasslands in Williamsburg, quite rightly developed reputations as realms that fostered creative communities. Yet the cultural value of both these zeitgeist institutions wasn’t enough to save either of them from powerful resident committees or belligerent developers. Is it inevitable, then, that all DIY spaces eventually suffer the same fate?

“It’s easy to fuck over the artist” suggests Dean. “There are layers and layers of bureaucratic bullshit to get through in order to set up a space, and when you do jump through the hoops, they can still fuck you. Artists have to keep moving, but there’s a defiance in it. People want to be a part of something that isn’t, you know, ‘scan the barcode on the back of my neck’”.

Yet in recent years, at government level, there’s been somewhat of an international movement towards supporting creative spaces. London, Paris and Zurich were amongst the first cities in the world to appoint “Night Mayors”, who oversee affairs pertaining to nightlife and its associated stake holders. New York followed suit this year, which suggests that those in the corridors of power are beginning to recognise the cultural, and even economic value, of preserving thriving artist communities – or at least, being seen to do so. 

“The problem is these (governmental) people are from another world” said Dean. “They don’t really understand how we live or why we do, what we do. I’d like to think that relationships could exist in the future. What we do here is important to a lot of people, it needs to be here.”

To suggest everything is hunky dory since the appointment of a Nightlife Mayor in New York would be wide of the mark. This summer, Brooklyn Mirage, a 3000 square-foot behemoth space in Bushwick was temporarily closed down, due to an issue with its license. Since The Glove opened, other spots in New York such as Cake Shop, Harlemm and Shea Stadium have either had their doors shuttered on a technicality, or failed to support themselves financially and closed.

Given the multitude of ways a thriving nightlife, and associated artist communities, can positively contribute to a city, it’s surprising how long it’s taken governments to officially recognise their merit. Yet, despite the appointment of a “Nightlife Mayor”, it seems the balance is yet to be struck between public safety and creative autonomy when it comes to running an independent venue. 

It’s hard to envisage perfect synchronicity between local authorities and art spaces, anywhere, in any decade; especially ones that are crucibles of youth culture. Perhaps this age-old, ongoing battle just comes with the territory?

“Sometimes it feels like a service, but a lot of the time it’s hard to articulate what the fuck that service is…” says Dean. “But it definitely needs to exist. This place definitely has to exist.”

“If they hold us up as something, for whatever amount of time we’re here, I’d like people to think of us as a free-thinkers’ saloon. A place where people come together and talk and think, and if not that, then they party – which is just as important.”

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