For Symone Wong, Jarryn Mercer, and Melissa Sutherland, Brooklyn’s sk.ArtSpace is more than a gallery space — it’s a safe space for creatives of color to express themselves in an environment that understands and works to preserve the integrity of their craft.
“As a creative, sharing yourself and your work is very challenging. A lot of creatives do not know where to begin, what kind of dialogues to have, or even how to get their work into shows,” the ladies, who have been friends for 14 years, share. “Typically, the local creatives in our community have access to exhibits that are held at local bars and establishments that took away from the experience of artists.”
That was the motivating behind opening the doors of sk.ArtSpace in 2018 — just two years after deciding it was something they wanted to create.
“After Symone and Melissa curated their two-man solo show in November 2015 at VM Nation Studios, we briefly sat down and talked about opening a space where artists can express themselves freely and without restrictions,” they continue. “Once we all decided this is what we wanted to do, we secured a spot in February. By June, our doors were open.”
Fast forward a little over a year later, the ladies have established themselves as innovators in their community, hosting everything from exhibits to music showcases. In July 2018, they hosted their second annual Future Is Female exhibition, which features an all-women roster of artists from all over New York City.
“Historically, successful Black movements and businesses in all industries have emerged from a need of wanting to create our own spaces due to being shut out of mainstream resources,” the ladies muse. “No matter how extreme the outside ‘noise, we will never allow it to penetrate our core and alter the course to the destination.”
Get to know the SK Ladies below.
Who are the ladies of sk.ArtSpace?
The SK ladies met on the track and field team at college 14 years ago. Jarryn is from Amityville, Long Island. Melissa is from Flatbush, Brooklyn. Symone is from Laurelton, Queens. We attended Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Connecticut, and graduated in 2009 — Jarryn with a bachelor's in Liberal Studies, Melissa with a BS in studio art, and Symone with a BS in Communication Disorders. Melissa also holds an M.Ed in Psychology and Jarryn holds an M.S.ED in Educational Leadership as well as an MPA in non-profit administration.
The three of us connected immediately. Besides track and field, one of the things that we all have in common is a love for the arts. Before we birthed sk.Artspace we were, and currently still are, all working nine to five jobs as executive assistants in different industries. Jarryn is an EA at a wealth management firm, and Symone and Melissa are EA’s at two different marketing firms.
What challenges did you face while building the space?
Honestly, we have a stream of challenges. One of our biggest challenges to date is financial support on a larger scale. There are a lot bigger projects that we want to roll off the ground and offer services to artists but are faced with the monthly struggle of trying to make rent to keep the doors open.
Our revenue structure is a combination of an event space business model mixed with a traditional gallery structure. We cater to all types of events from different creatives as well as catering to the everyday people in the local neighborhood looking for a unique space to host intimate events. We’ve had product launches, wedding showers, solo art shows, and even a surprise wedding proposal. We also provide cost friendly collaboration services to some creeatives and artists whose mission specifically aligns with ours.
From my experience, sk.ArtSpace is more than just a gallery space. When I attended the Future Is Female event this past July, it felt more like a community gathering/kickback. Is this something you’re thinking about when curating your events?
Absolutely. The SK ladies are sisters. We are family and we treat everyone else as such. When people walk through our doors, they automatically feel welcomed and comfortable to express themselves. This is all intentional because we are working on building a larger creative network where people are able to reach out to each other, collaborate, and expose each other to opportunities.
Art created by Black artists still only makes up a very small percentage of many museums. Despite that, you’ve held space for Black artists since you’ve opened. What does it mean for you to be making a difference in that way?
It means creating a legacy and setting the tone for others in our community to follow suit by supporting their own. Uplifting in a tangible way. Sometimes we do not realize the impact from a day to day perspective. We focus on our mission and the work, and in between the chaos there are moments of clarity where it’s like “Wow, we are really doing something that is affecting our community in such a powerful way.” We are appreciative of those moments.
It’s especially impactful that sk.ArtSpace is run by three dope Black women. While sk.ArtSpace uplifts art created by those of all genders, what does it mean for you to be in the art space as Black women, and how do you hope your presence impacts other Black women in the space?
As Black women, we constantly face a myriad of hurdles and the word “no” is often heard quite a bit. Social media is a huge component to being able to have such a large reach, especially as it relates to being seen by our peers. We are very strict on how we curate our images and messages to our supporters. We make sure that the images and stories we put out are inspirational, confident, strong, and with intention. With that being said, the down side to that sometimes means that people don’t realize that we struggle sometimes, that we need support so we try to show moments that are raw and real.
Can you talk a bit about your annual Future Is Female event and the inspiration behind it?
The annual future Is female exhibition started as a simple idea. We noticed that there was a lack of art shows that exhibited an all female roster. We wanted to showcase and highlight women in the local NYC area because it’s such an untapped market. Our intention with the show was consistent with our overall mission, which is to highlight creatives in a way that introduced the audience to their work and them as an artist and person. What FIF morphed into exceeded our expectations, and has created a camaraderie and cohort of women creatives who start as participants but end up as a sisterhood. The connections and friends we’ve made through this program will last decades. FIF is really growing into something spectacular.
What are your hopes for sk.ArtSpace in the next few years?
Man, we have SO much that we want to do. We want to be able to offer more services for beginning and emerging artists such as workshops on how to create an artist bio, panels on how to become gallery artists, and steps one needs to take to get there. We would love to have successful artists in the industry participate in artist talks. We have a HUGE list of initiatives that would help with expanding the depth and knowledge of artists. Most importantly, we want to continue to provide a safe space for Black creatives; a home.