Antenna had its beginnings as the artist and writer collective Press Street, and so much of this history refers to Press Street during the nearly 10 years it operated as such. The organization formed in 2005 with a mission to promote art and literature in the community through events, publications and arts education. Shortly after Katrina, Press Street began producing events in small businesses that had yet to reopen, including the Saturn Bar and Preservation Hall, to promote a symbiotic relationship between small businesses, non-profits and artists in the city’s rebuilding. The organization continued to develop around the project INTERSECTION | NEWORLEANS – a blind collaboration between 25 New Orleans artists and 25 writers, inspired by 25 specific street corners of the city. Though started in the summer of 2005, pre Katrina, it became all the more poignant when it was finally published in April 2006. INTERSECTION | NEWORLEANS spawned the first indoor art exhibition in the St. Claude Arts District with the original work from the project hanging in the gutted l’art noir space and 100 percent of the proceeds going to affected artists. INTERSECTION | NEWORLEANS established the mission of Press Street’s book projects, which focus on the relationship between the visual and literary arts.
Since 2006, Antenna has produced the event Draw-A-Thon, a round the clock, 24-hour drawing extravaganza where multiple forms of drawing are explored by artists and non-artists alike, last year attracting over 700 attendees. Antenna’s 24 hour Draw-A-Thon is the only event of its kind in the city of New Orleans. It is an art experience in which people are active participants– not spectators; where the premise is to encourage creating for the sake of creating, process over product. It is an all-ages, free event that is open to the public. All art materials are provided. The 24 hours are punctuated by two-hour drawing workshops led by local artists and arts educators, designed to encourage the participant to experience different aspects of the art of drawing. The environment constantly changes because of what is being taught and drawn. In addition to these more structured events, there are on-going activities: the Drawing Room, in which every surface is covered in paper; as well as the Amazing Draw-a-tron 3000 and live figure drawing.
In March of 2008, Press Street opened Antenna Gallery at 3161 Burgundy Street in the 9th Ward’s Bywater neighborhood. Antenna developed exhibitions at the Burgundy space, existing as one of the few small, non-profit spaces to exhibit visual contemporary art in New Orleans, until moving into its current location at 3718 St. Claude Avenue in summer of 2012. Antenna Gallery has always emphasized emerging artists and young curators who focus on collaborations, group and solo shows featuring long-time local artists who are still underexposed, and challenging works of video and digital media; at the same time building partnerships with city-wide programming initiatives like Si Cuba and PhotoNOLA and national arts initiatives such as Independent Lens. Antenna’s growing profile opened the opportunity for exchange shows with national and international art organizations and the Antenna: Open Call, which provides exhibition opportunities for both local and national/international artists. An active member of the New Orleans arts community and the St. Claude Arts District (SCAD), Antenna’s shows have been well-attended and well-received with positive reviews in local, national and international media. The space was founded as a collaborative venture and continues to be run and maintained by a collective of artists that draws on the diverse strengths of its 13 members to create exciting and original artist-focused programs.
In 2009, Press Street’s Art House Film Program was created through a partnership with the Charitable Film Network – a diverse community of media-makers dedicated to connecting and collaborating with non-profits, artists, and activists on projects that benefit the community. The Art House Film Program hosted New Orleans Community Cinema, a national civic engagement initiative featuring free monthly screenings of films from the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens, as well as other monthly screenings about art and artists. The Art House Film Program ended in 2013, but films continue to be presented at Antenna with the Miniplex film program, focusing on independent and experimental films that engage with the ideas represented in the current exhibitions.
The Room 220 online publication, started in 2011, has been called ‘the only place to find serious (and irreverent) discussion of literature in New Orleans’ by the New York Review of Books. Growing from modest convenings in the former Colton School to a virtual clearinghouse for literary culture in New Orleans, Room 220 regularly hosts workshops and literary events, including the evening salon reading series. And with the introduction of the expanded facilities at 3718 Saint Claude Avenue in November 2012, a physical Room 220 now exists as the ever evolving downstairs space of Antenna.
In 2013, Antenna became the home of Big Class, a youth creative writing initiative that hosts after-school programs and workshops, and partners with area schools on projects that cultivate students’ interest in writing. Big Class was the first of Antenna’s programs developed in ‘incubation,’ where development efforts helped foster its growth into an independent 501(c)3 organization in 2015. While no longer a part of the organization, Antenna continues a strong relationship with Big Class by partnering on youth focused projects, publications, and exhibitions.
In 2014, Antenna launched the Platforms Fund with the support of the Warhol Foundation and now the Joan Mitchell Foundation and in collaboration with Ashé Cultural Arts Center and Pelican Bomb. Over the last two years, the fund has distributed $75,000 to self-organized artistic projects that emphasize the city’s historic characteristics of creativity, collaboration, and resiliency. Antenna also recently selected its first cadre of artists and writers for the Spillways Residency. First piloted with Tavares Strachan’s ‘You Belong Here’ in conjunction with Prospect.3, Spillways has expanded with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, and in the coming year, the four selected resident artists will develop large-scale art projects that cultivate public impact and engagement.
Antenna continues to act as a support system for a cadre of visual and literary arts projects, as fiscal agent and mentor. After the development of Big Class and the Platforms Fund, Antenna formalized an incubation program to help foster the growth and development of new socially conscious artist- or writer-driven projects, with such efforts currently focused on Blights Out, a collective of citizens, artists, activists, and architects daring to design a new model for community development that generates dialogue, art, and action to challenge blight, displacement, and gentrification.
With its headquarters located on Saint Claude Avenue, Antenna strives to be a welcoming entry point into the arts community with a focus on the Upper 9th Ward. In the eleven years since its founding, Antenna has expanded its reach beyond its home neighborhood to connect local artists and writers with audiences across the city and world.