I didn’t know what to expect as I stepped past the rope line into the dimly lit lounge. Drenched in sweat from my swim through the evening’s humidity, I immediately headed towards the Gatsby-esque bar to order a drink. As I sat sipping on whiskey and drinking in the 1920s opulence of the No. 8 club in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood I started to wonder what I was doing here. The evening had been billed as a conversation between the Guardian’s U.S. correspondent Dominic Rushe and Alexis Bloom, the talented and prolific producer of We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, but the posh designs edged into the wood paneling coupled with the hipster-chic dress code of the patrons seemed distant from the typical lectures devoted to such complex issues.
My contact Arielle Patrick, a young lady with the same intellectual curiosity and energy as the Disney princess with whom she shares a name, introduced herself with a hug and then proceeded to introduce me to the founders of The Committee, a curatorial and cultural programming agency responsible for the night’s salon — not lecture— as well as a number of pop-up art installations in and around New York City. Their salon series aims to replace the stiffness of academic lectures with a sense of adventure and a certain friendliness that encourages the exchange of ideas ranging from Graffiti Art to National Security.
The founding members, Alexandra Wagle, Ricky Lee, Diana Burroughs, and Laura Mintz, got the inspiration to form The Committee while collaborating on The Young Collectors Exhibition back in 2012. That event was an opportunity for new collectors develop their taste and not be intimidated to invest in art by exhibiting artwork priced up to $5,000, according to Ms. Burroughs, an art dealer, collector, and curator whose ex-husband happens to be the nephew of Jackson Pollock. Mr. Lee, a veteran of the magazine industry, further elaborates that despite their diverse backgrounds the founders all share a common passion and ambition for re-imagining open spaces as a way of integrating artists with the wider community.
Past salons have offered their guest list a chance to interact with talented speakers and moderators such as musician Dave Matthews and fashion editor Isabel Wilkinson. The moderators are essential and just as engaging as the presenters. When German artist Robert Noke spoke, The Committee persuaded the Russian author and installationist Silva Mogutin to lead the discussion. Our salon’s moderator, Mr. Rushe, was in a unique position to ask Ms. Bloom about her experience bringing the documentary on WikiLeaks to life, as his newspaper leaked a number of classified documents including those at the heart of the Edward Snowden saga.
The overall tone of the evening was set by the audience, as the more they probed issues relating to technological advances, privacy rights, and democracy, the more animated the speakers became. While not as boisterous as the late night bar debates I use to partake in at the dive bar around the corner from the New School, I found the aloof elitism often used to describe the artist community absent before, during, and after the lecture as I found myself involved in a very thought-provoking discussion with the new friends I sat with.
The salon series is a great way to experience the city at the cross-section of culture, art, and politics in an unpretentious and engaging environment. The salons do have their limits given the amount of time devoted to such interesting speakers as well as the hit your wallet will take at the bar — 18 bucks for a whiskey on the rocks. The Committee’s next event takes place on August 13 and will invite graffiti artists Zac Buehner and Jason Castro, speakers at an earlier salon, back to unveil a mural outside of No. 8. If this past salon is any indication of the organizers' dedication and professionalism they’ll bring to their future events and installations, then New York will be hearing only good things about The Committee for years to come.