All Things Beverly’s: An Interview with Leah Dixon | Grandlife
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All Things Beverly’s: An Interview with Leah Dixon

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The artist and creative mind behind Chinatown’s beloved art and nightlife space on expanding, making history, and thinking big in every way.

When BEVERLY’S was forced to close during the pandemic, artist and co-founder Leah Dixon knew this wouldn’t be the end. Four years and many exhibitions later, Chinatown’s beloved art space and nightclub has finally found its permanent home in a larger space on the Lower East Side. 

Understandably, Leah has a lot on her plate. When the artist isn’t traveling the world building exhibitions, she dedicates all her time to Beverly’s. And with the new space set to open this spring, we were lucky to pull her away to talk all things Beverly’s, her work as an artist and that all-too-crucial role community plays for the artist trying to make a buck in this big city landscape.

Tell me a little about your background. I’d love to know about your own personal work as an artist.

I have always been an artist and everyone around me has known that since I was very young. I studied painting at The Ohio State University. I was the only sorority girl in all of Ohio State to also be an art major. It was a very funny dichotomy but that dual early interest in social movements and aesthetic/architectural movements is something that is now a hallmark of my art practice as an adult. Immediately after I graduated undergrad, I moved to NYC and was making art while doing nightlife jobs to make money. 

When I was about 27, I started making art much more seriously. My nightlife experience and in general living in such a dense and intense environment started pushing my work into a larger and more geometric scale….I began exhibiting my art and getting attention. I went to graduate school for interdisciplinary art at The School of Visual Arts and was an artist-in-residence at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. I stopped making two-dimensional work entirely and began making large-scale sculpture and performances based around the creation-processes of these sculptures….I was bartending and working in nightlife that entire time. When I got into graduate school, I took out the largest amount of student loans possible because I knew I’d need the money to begin building my largest artwork to date: BEVERLY’S. 

How did you come up with the concept for BEVERLY’S?

Before I came up with the concept of BEVERLY’S, I began daydreaming about curating really high-level art exhibits inside of social drinking and dancing spaces. As an artist and nightlife worker, I understand so intuitively how these disciplines can work together. I’d be at work behind the bar thinking to myself, “I am so busy that I don’t have enough time to be in the studio so I’m going to treat being at work like being in the studio”. This way of thinking was massively fruitful for me. It is inside of this line of thought that I began envisioning what would eventually become BEVERLY’S. It is also within that line of thought that I truly began to understand the power of sculpture in high-traffic public space. 

The long version of how BEVERLY’S functionally came to be is a story of me as an artist, using every tool at my possible disposal to make something huge and working with other people who believe in the importance of bringing humans together. This includes partnering with my friends, finding investors, raising money, maneuvering through impossibly technical state and local bureaucracy, doing extensive community outreach in Chinatown and deeply mining my own personal art practice and aesthetic—and then putting it into a hugely broad and diverse public. It is a long story. The history books will tell the long version someday. 

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An early evening shot from BEVERLY’S original bar and exhibition space at 21 Essex Street (2013 – 2020), courtesy of BEVERLY’S.

When the Essex Street location first closed during the pandemic, were you already formulating your plan for a bigger space or how did the opportunity unfold?

Yes! We made a promise when we announced in July 2020 that we had to leave 21 Essex due to the pandemic that we would continue and not only did we continue, we are expanding! When the pandemic hit and small service spaces could not function at full capacity, I was working around the clock to find ways to maneuver through this unprecedented situation—both personally and emotionally—and also for our staff and our huge community. It was heartbreaking and nauseating and the lack of control and loss of community was so scary. The absolutely ridiculous amount of resources and patience that this took was truly unbelievable but that’s what it takes to make a sustainable arts initiative in Lower Manhattan as non-born-wealthy people. 

My business partners Gabe Schulman (a co-founder), Chris Herity, Abiola Fasehun and Justin Wilson have come together to pool and find these resources with me and it is beautiful and completely terrifying. Additionally, we have a new non-profit component, working alongside our business. This non-profit is composed of an artist board and committee. It is in very early stages but it’s a group of established artists and producers who have been showing up for and exhibiting with BEVERLY’S in uniquely dedicated ways. This artist board is composed of myself, Stina Puotinen, Azikiwe Mohammed, Alexandra Hammond, Jack Henry, Carlos Rosales-Silva, Maxx Wade, Dana Robinson, Tommy Schell and Heidi Norton. The early committee thus far is composed of curator Anne-Laure Lemaitre, the lawyer Caitlin Robin, producer Jesse Medlin and doctor and advocate Julian Watkins. But there are so many other artists, neighbors, DJs, and believers who help push this thing forward all of the time. Also, all of these people wear many hats and I’m only naming them by their trades to paint a broad picture. 

What can we expect from this new incarnation of BEVERLY’S?

Dancing, really good art installed in many ways, experimental exhibitions, lots of laughs, deep love and support for Chinatown, incredible music and DJs, more international exhibitions, a brilliant staff, maybe your new boyfriend or girlfriend, a dedication to pushing “high” art in spontaneous space and a serious need to get this story and this huge collaborative social sculpture put into the halls of “Art History”. So people in the future have access to this vision. This last piece will allow us to keep expanding and pushing this huge alternative model that shows the world that visual artists can work big. We can shift our culture and aesthetics, both with and beyond the hand-holding of institutions. 

BEVERLY’S has existed since 2012! So hard to believe it’s been 12 years—what have been some of the most memorable exhibitions or shows to date?

This is a tough question because we have organized over 90 shows at this point. All of the artists on the Artist Board have had incredible BEVERLY’S shows. In addition to that and instead of focusing on past shows, I’ll focus on specific artists whose works became so beautifully site-specific in their various exhibitions with BEVERLY’S: Kat Chamberlin, Sam Chun, Jackie Slanley, VLM, Jonathan Stanish, Loney Abrams, Cristina Tufiño, Hugo Montoya, Jesus Benavente, Zachary Fabri, Hein Koh, Alison Kuo, Josep Maynou, Edward Salas, Colin Tom, Andrew Birk, Arkadiy Ryabin, Marie Anine Møller, Pamela Council, Christine Rebhuhn… This list could go on and on and on. And I absolutely cannot wait for all of the artists and other spaces we are going to be working with as our new, bigger full bar and exhibition space opens this summer!

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An install shot from a show at BEVERLY’S temporary Downtown exhibition space during COVID, image features work by Marisol Ruiz and Eric Santoscoy-McKillip, courtesy of BEVERLY’S.

Do you have any exciting exhibitions or projects planned with the new space?

So many things are bubbling up but I will mention one show in particular. We will be working with Mexico City-based collaborative architecture studio APRDELESP and re-exhibiting ‘Campesino Basketball Court’ in a site-specific configuration in our new bar and exhibition space at 297 Grand Street in Chinatown. ‘Campesino Basketball Court’ was researched, designed, and built by APRDELESP for last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. We are friends with founders Rodrigo Escandón and Willi González and have been so excited by how they collaborate with so many artists, musicians, other architects, and organizations. We have a great years-long kinship that began years ago at The Material Art Fair in Mexico City. Their BEVERLY’S presentation is going to be wild and will include artworks, design components, video and DJ sets!

How do you feel the NY art scene has changed since you first opened?

Well, there are fewer afterparties for gallery openings than there used to be. But I am pretty sure that our new space is going to fix that somewhat. I think that the Downtown art world has definitely turned piece-ier, if that makes sense. There is such a huge emphasis on individual, marketable, safe works… Figurative painting and small ceramics are everywhere. There is less of an emphasis on huge, boundary-pushing atmospheric setups—which is something that I loved about the NY art world when I first started making work here. My own art practice, as well as my pushing BEVERLY’S as an artwork, is in direct response to this and to growing and building this. I miss the monumentality and I personally refuse to go small. I can’t wait for there to be less “this work is about some minutia of my personal life” AND MORE “this is a new form and shape that can remind us that our shared curiosities are powerfully intertwined”.

What do you love about the art scene today?

It’s beyond inspiring that so many people still come here every day and TRY. I could honestly care less about anyone succeeding because I’ve lived here long enough to know the fleeting nature of traditional success in this place. But the will to come, show up, find new and different people and build something with and for them, is all around me every day. Trying hard in public is beautiful. It is what actually tears down walls, gets voices heard and pushes the conversation forward. The love of the process, the love of adventure… These things are the fuel of the art scene in New York. 

Who are some of your favorite emerging local artists to watch out for?

Wow—again, such an insane question because the list is so long. No one watches out for anyone; it’s the fallacy of discovery. People make themselves seen. And also, I never use the word emerging because if someone is supporting themselves in New York and making artwork and showing, they are beyond experts: they are crushing it. So to reframe this, here is a list of a few people who have made themselves seen to me. Some recently and some over many years. They are all absolutely pushing boundaries in their own respective ways. This list could be so long, but here is a short version: Jackie Slanley, Kate Steciw, Marisol Ruiz, Melissa Joseph, Onyedika Chuke, and Kat Chamberlin. 

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The Artist who Built and Made BEVERLY’S, sitting amongst her sculpture chunks in her Chinatown NYC studio, courtesy of the artist.

What excites you the most about your new spot on Grand Street? 

Everything about our new spot both excites me and terrifies me. I guess that’s how you know that you are doing something important. On a very literal level, I can’t wait to laugh and dance more. Since we have been in this little special neighborhood for so long and since I’ve lived here for decades, we know many of our neighbors already and can’t wait to meet more. As always, HUGE shout-outs to 123 Chrystie Hardware, Chinatown Lumber, and Vida Signs. There would be no BEVERLY’S without those places. We also can’t wait to host afterparties, projects, and collaborate with the galleries in our radius. 

Describe a perfect day in Chinatown/LES. 

A perfect day in the LES for me would be to wake up with a magically empty email inbox and a not-scary bank account, saunter from my apartment down Henry Street, pick up a coffee at Dreamers Cafe, lounge in the Adirondack chairs out front and get art ideas. 

Then, meet my friends at Forgtmenot right before it opens at 10am. We’d have a long breakfast there, see some galleries–Management Gallery and Entrance Gallery are both doing incredible shows—and then I’d go pick up some wood and materials at 123 Chrystie Hardware and have a good chunk of space in my studio on Eldridge Street. This entire time, the daily grind of BEVERLY’S stuff would be getting done without me (I can’t wait for this). Some Brooklyn/Queens friends would be in the neighborhood and they’d hit me and my Chinatown friends up and we’d all go get a drink at Edward’s in Tribeca before seeing some shows. 

After that, we’d come back to Chinatown, grab food at Buddha Bodai, Bacaro, or Williamsburg Pizza and then get a drink at Saluggi’s East (our little secret). We’d then head to Mr. Fong’s. BEVERLY’S of course would be open and we’d all go there afterwards to dance and hang. Peppered into this day somewhere would be a little walk down to the Seaport to feel the breeze–where I trick myself that I’m on vacation. 

This just made me realize: wow, this day will really, actually happen so soon (minus the empty email inbox). Damn, I’m excited. 

WORDS Hillary Sproul 


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