The arts organization held its annual gala on Saturday, honoring Pope.L, Sarah Schulman, and Michelle Coffey with an intimate dinner theater

On Saturday night, inside Performance Space’s Keith Haring Theatre, friends came together in the name of art and world-building. The annual gala was to honor three trailblazing figures in the city’s creative landscape—artist and educator Pope.L, writer and activist Sarah Schulman, and Michelle Coffey, executive director of the Lambent Foundation—while treating guests to a seated dinner by Doshi’s Susan Kim, and a slew of musical acts, MCed by the poet Brontez Purnell.

The artist Richard Kennedy was the night’s creative director. Black Swan’s Song was his concept, a dinner theater put on by the Nano Collective: lounge vocalists, upright bassists, pianists, trumpeters, and the rest of the components of a fully-fledged jazz ensemble. A star-studded hosting party—counting Telfar, Eartheater, Claire Danes, Raul Lopez, Chloë Sevigny, Cindy Sherman, and Justin Vivian Bond among its ranks—welcomed guests at a cocktail hour, bookended with the close of a silent auction and an afterparty DJed by BEARCAT.

Founded in 1980, Performance Space arose largely in response to the AIDS epidemic—a refuge for queer and radical voices, otherwise shut out from the institutional art world. Between its emphasis on the interdisciplinary and its spirit of endless inquiry, the organization provides a 40-year-strong model for fostering meaningful bonds across the creative sphere. “The pervasive image of the individual artist working alone in a studio is primarily a myth,” writes Director Jenny Schlenzka. “Artists, especially those working in performance, always have and always will create in a community of their peers.”

“Artists, especially those working in performance, always have and always will create in a community of their peers.”

Performance Space had much to celebrate, marking a year of programming dedicated solely to the notion of healing—from hosting acupuncture clinics, to Indigenous-led forums, to its disability justice festival I wanna be with you everywhere. “Artists who work with performance understand the critical role the body plays in the continuous process of overcoming trauma,” Schlenzka goes on. “They also know that healing is not the individual’s responsibility—as capitalism would like to make us believe—but that it is most powerfully experienced in community with others.”

Says Schulman, who’s been involved with Performance Space since its inception, “As an artist working with lesbian content in the 1970s and ’80s, only [my] community validated my efforts. The best thing that can happen to arts in New York is [that] community-based and grassroots artists develop their own vocabularies, outside of institutions.” Pope.L, who’s shared his work at the organization multiple times since ’87, chimes in: “Performance Space New York [has provided me with] encouragement, a cohort of mutual practitioners, and opportunities to test my craft live in the world, in front of real people.”

Intimate, generative, and united by a joint mission to forge new paths through New York’s arts scene, the 2023’s Performance Space Gala was a reminder of what good art is built on—and a prelude to its manifestation in the future to come.