The first group of artists (which will occupy the space until May 2018, before a new group arrives in June) includes Jenna Westra, who graduated from Hunter College’s MFA program in 2015, with a focus on photography. Prior to earning a spot at Hercules, she tells me, she was paying more for a 90-square-foot, closet-like space in Ridgewood, Queens. “That’s just the case for artists,” she says. “It’s impossible to find affordable studios.”
Thanks to Hercules, Westra has been able to forgo a full-time job outside of her art practice, and she can devote each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to studio time. “It’s three days a week but it makes a big difference,” she says.
Her space, a squarish cubicle dotted with recent photographs, has also become a location for shoots, and it’s inspired her to push her practice forward. Since starting the program, Westra has forayed into filmmaking for the first time.
“It’s only seven artists,” Woodner acknowledges, “but at least it’s seven artists who get a little bit of a toehold at a critical, vulnerable point in their careers.” She nods to the jarring experience young artists face as they transition from supportive school environments to the ruthless, costly, and competitive realities of a big city like New York. “This is like a two-year soft landing after graduate school.”
A few yards from Westra’s studio, her former Hunter classmate Sophie Grant has a space filled with paints and in-progress paintings taped to the walls. Grant, who went to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture before starting at Hercules, notes that her studio has enabled her to work on a large scale, and she appreciates having space to program as well as to make work.
Grant has launched a critique program called Clinic, for artists to convene and share thoughtful feedback on each other’s work in the shared space, which is frequently hung with shows curated by the Hercules artists. At the time of my visit, it was host to a group show co-curated by Westra and her friend
, as well as a solo presentation of new paintings by another Hercules artist,