The city’s most famous coed bathroom is closing. Consolidated Works, as we knew it, is done. According to a brief press release (leaked to The Stranger) the organization plans to announce that it is homeless. The organization will not renew its lease with Vulcan, Inc. because (a) the building requires seismic improvements and (b) Vulcan “will require a nine-month exit clause to permit it to develop our South Lake Union lot if an opportunity arises.” ConWorks has begun looking for new accommodations.
Responding to the press release, ConWorks co-founder Matthew Richter said: “I am of course saddened to see the end of an organization I have loved, but I also feel that really the organization died the day the board of directors wrested control away from the artists, curators, administrators, and supporters who built it into one of the nation’s most exciting arts organizations.”
For those just tuning in: Consolidated Works is—was?—a multidisciplinary arts organization founded and run by Richter alongside fine folks such as visual art curator Meg Shiffler (who left to attend Bard) and managing director Sarah Wilke (who left to become managing director of On the Boards). In February 2005, the board unanimously voted to fire Richter, giving him an ignominious 10 minutes to clean out his desk and leave the building. Board president Robb Krieg refused to explain the board’s rationale and the reasons are still the subject of speculation. Current president Allena Gabosch—also board president of “sex-positive community center” the Wet Spot—replaced Krieg in April.
The lease with Vulcan doesn’t end until September 30, but ConWorks plans to vacate the building by late July to save money. Between rent, insurance, and utilities, the monthly cost of staying is, according to board secretary Eric Prager, “well into five figures.” And are there planned staff changes that will accompany the loss of venue? “We don’t have an announcement about that,” Prager said. “That’s not part of today’s news.”
Today’s news concludes with a party invitation: “In true ConWorks fashion, the organization will host a party over the final weekend of July 2006 to celebrate all of the great art, great friendships, and great times that have been enjoyed at 500 Boren Avenue North.” One wonders how well the first three and a half years at 500 Boren will be represented at the party.
Knowing that ConWorks is moving dredges up a more difficult question: Is ConWorks worth moving? It seems more like a glorified rental hall than an arts center these days—it lost something when Shiffler left and lost almost everything when Richter left and hasn’t made much of an artistic impression since. A few names have moved through the building, doing performances and art shows, during new artistic director Corey Pearlstein’s tenure—cult names (Negativland, Guillermo Gómez-Peña), local names (Joe Von Appen, Degenerate Art Ensemble), local big names (Trimpin), and local bigger names (Gary Hill)—but they’ve passed through like phantoms, leaving no sense of artistic cohesion or weight. The programming has felt more like a grab bag of phoned-in favors than a multidisciplinary mission. I don’t hear people talking about ConWorks anymore. It’s almost like it’s already gone.