An Interview with Ilk Yasha of the Arts Initiative 'No Longer Empty' in New York City
Ilk Yasha is an arts advocate, community builder, academic, and chaotic soul that hails from the great state of Virginia. We first met for a cup of tea at the Ace Hotel, New York back in August and soon found that both our creative energy and social consciences were much aligned. Currently based in New York City, Ilk inspires and engages arts audiences with his work at No Longer Empty (http://www.nolongerempty.org), a contemporary arts organisation that revitalizes underutilized and abandoned spaces. They create site-specific community-responsive exhibitions across the five boroughs of New York. From the Bronx courthouse to abandoned churches, they involve the community and honour the building's history, whilst creating an immersive aesthetic experience. By chance, Ilk and I discovered that we have both worked with the arts education provider Dreamyard in the South Bronx. Hearing about his work as an arts advocate and community builder was incredibly inspiring for me, given our shared passion for arts education.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion?
I finished my PHD in political thought and didn’t think that the written word was for me anymore.
What piece of your work would you like to be remembered for?
Repurposing an abandoned courthouse in the Bronx and turning it into an exhibition space, using local volunteers.
If you could be born in another period of history, when would it be?
The 1960s to experience free love on the West Coast of America.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
Do you have a favourite book, film or painting, which inspires you?
It’s a film called The Dandelion, which is very obscure, but intensely harrowing. It’s about a persons life in the middle of nowhere in the USA. The images and scenes are just stunning. There Will Be Blood is another favourite, because of the great scenes and moustaches.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Girls with ginger hair.
What fictional character from literature or film would you like to meet?
J Alfred Prufrock, because of his decisions and indecisions.
Do you believe that true creative expression can exist in the digital world?
I think we’re getting to a place where it’s possible, but we’ve still got room to break a barrier. People had to learn how to use pencils, before they could write, so we need to learn how to use technology in order to be truly creative in the digital world.
What do you wish every child were taught?
Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
When you are paying your bills, because creativity doesn’t pay.
What is your favourite museum or art gallery and why?
The new Whitney Museum in New York, which was designed by the architect Renzo Piano.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I would love to work with Ira Glass from This American Life, because he understands the process of telling stories. I love stories - humans love stories - and we all gravitate to those that can tell stories and leave you with a sense of connectedness to something or someone around you.
What is your daily routine when working?
I wake up early, start off with a coffee and read some articles on the feminist blog jezebel.com. I went to Burning Man last year, which made me realise how much I like the serenity of the early morning hours. I like waking up before the chaos. In between meetings I think it’s important to fit in some walking and people watching in New York. Though, admittedly, scheduling and foresight don’t come naturally in this city, so that takes a lot of time. Once I’ve finished working on my projects, I try and find something to do that is separate from the art world, which uses a different muscle in my brain. If my day has been about planning, I try and be social, but it the day itself was social I try and do something quiet to balance it out.
What has been your most inspiring travel experience?
Travelling from Azerbaijan to Georgia on a local bus at 3am. It was one of the most bizarre, sketchy and interesting experiences of my life. I remember the shock of being stopped at the border in the middle of the night, yet it felt so natural to walk a mile to the nearest bus depot.
What advice would you give to a young person following in your footsteps?
If someone were going into arts education or cultural programming, they must know exactly what they want to/can bring to the table. Know whether you’re an ideas generator or a cheerleader is key. I’m a cheerleader who works at my finest when paired with an ideas generator that I can bounce off. You’re either the spark or the fuel – I’m a fuel person.
Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do, because it creates a platform for inspiring people with new experiences as well as providing education opportunities. Quite simply, I get owl eyed and excited when I’m showing people something that they never thought could happen.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com