At Times Square PUNK SHOW, the New Museum’s Cultural Incubator Shows Off Its Versatility
September 29, 2023
In mid-September, I was standing in Times Square, the Disney Store on one side of me and a Sephora on the other, watching a collaborative performance by the noise artists Dis Fig and SOUR VISION. At first, the scene was surreal. But, as it went on, it began to make more sense. What neighborhood is more overwhelming than Times Square? What music is more abrasive than noise?
The juxtaposition was exciting; it was two opposite, yet equally extreme, poles of New York City culture coming together. The performance was was part of PUNK SHOW, a free one-day festival organized by Times Square Arts and NEW INC, a creative incubator founded in 2014 by the New Museum.
For Salome Asega, the director of NEW INC and a Las Vegas native, the pairing felt natural. “It’s a little taste of home, for sure,” she said early in the night about the sensory overload of Times Square. “It’s also just a dynamic part of the city where worlds collide.”
Helping worlds collide is at the heart of NEW INC, whose mission is to support creative practitioners working across a wide variety of mediums, from art and design to technology, science, and architecture. Now in its tenth year, the cultural incubator was the first of its kind when it was founded.
“I like to say it’s a home for the misfits, for the people who don’t neatly fit into any one discipline,” Asega said.
Accepted applicants pay $150 per month for membership and receive a workspace, professional development, and mentorship programs, organized by various disciplinary tracks. There are also events like PUNK SHOW and the annual DEMO, where members present their projects alongside more established practitioners in similar fields, according to Asega. (NEW INC offers a number of subsidized memberships for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ applicants, as well as those with disabilities for $60 per month. Currently 63 percent of their cohort pays the subsidized rate).
A strength of the program, according to Asega, is its ability to consult and make connections for artists or creators who don’t have an established model for their career trajectory like, say, a figurative painter whose works are more easily marketable or sellable. “We’re definitely a strategic partner,” she said. “Thinking about where their individual projects and work would land best, and where we can, we definitely make introductions, for sure.”
For example, while The Black School, a New Orleans-based experimental art school founded by Joseph Cuillier III and Shani Peters, was a NEW INC fellow, the organization staged a successful crowdfunding campaign to assist in building a brick-and-mortar schoolhouse where it could host classes on radical black politics and design. Among other things, NEW INC helped The Black School with certain organizational growth hacks: refining their pitch deck, practicing presentations, and connecting with funders.
“We were in the process of making the transition from The Black School being an art project to it being more of a formal organization,” Cuillier III told me recently. “We saw NEW INC and the incubator space as an opportunity to learn from other people who were going through that transition themselves.”
Another NEW INC alumnus is Andreas Laszlo Konrath, a photographer, educator and publisher who helped create a zine to go along with PUNK SHOW. While at NEW INC last year, Konrath developed SHRIMP ZINE, a free web app to design zines on your phone. The idea for SHRIMP ZINE came from Konrath’s experience teaching students during the pandemic for Dia Beacon’s Dia Teens program. NEW INC provided Konrath the resources to get the app to the finish line, he said.
“I had no idea what I was walking into, but I knew that I needed some help with the project I was creating, and I really needed some guidance and some mentorship,” he told me. “[NEW INC] helped me a lot in terms of professional development and trying to get a better understanding of what it was that I was trying to create.”
Victor Peterson II, an assistant professor of humanities at the Cooper Union, wrote an essay for the PUNK SHOW zine. “The piece was trying to center how Times Square, even though you see it as it is now, was central to not only punk music, but also hip hop,” he said on the night of the concert, noting the neighborhood’s history as a “conduit for how people move uptown and downtown.”
Times Square is not a neighborhood without punk history. In 1981, The Clash held a 17-show residency at Bond’s International Casino, a Times Square-adjacent nightclub that played host to numerous iconic rock and punk acts. The Clash’s residency featured a different opener every night; with the benefit of historical perspective, the choices now seem downright visionary: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five; The Fall; Lee “Scratch” Perry; Dead Kennedys; Bad Brains.
NEW INC’s programming for PUNK SHOW reminded me a bit of the kind of curatorial choices The Clash made at Bond’s. It was punk in the expanded sense of the word—more explorative than limited; more forward-thinking than dogmatic. Only one of the four acts used a stringed instrument or a drum set.
In addition to Dis Fig and SOUR VISION, opener Euro Trill played a catchy, typically Zoomer fusion of pop, punk, and rap; Yatta did a cover of “Theme from New York, New York,” which felt both earnest and tongue-in-cheek; LustSickPuppy ended the show a confrontational set that blended rap and hard rave music.
“They’re also very intersectional, for lack of a better term—they’re drawing connections, not just between their artists and a place, but their artists across disciplines, and where those overlap lie, where even the artists themselves might not see,” Jean Cooney, the vice president of arts and culture for the Times Square Alliance and director of Times Square Arts said of NEW INC after the show.
When Cooney approached the organization about a collaborative event, she told me that it was NEW INC as an organization who proposed the idea for a punk show. “They were the ones who drew the constellation to make this make sense and make it happen,” she continued.
NEW INC has built a community whose cultural inputs are varied enough to shift contexts and engender new possibilities. PUNK SHOW put that power on display. As I watched Dis Fig and SOUR VISION from the side of the stage, I chatted with Scott Everheart, who was visiting from Pagosa Springs, Colorado and in town on business. He had never seen a noise set before.
“I mean, I didn’t know what to expect when they got on stage, but here we are,” Everheart said, with his eyes on the performer. He wasn’t quite sure what to think about the set. Cacophony was the best word he could come up with. “But I’m still here,” he added.