Theater

NEW Graduate Builds Arts and Events Complex in Manhattan

NEW Graduate Builds Arts and Events Complex in Manhattan

My name is Robin Sokoloff, I am the founder of the non-profit organization Sokoloff Arts. I build performance and event spaces. My mission is to provide affordable, hi-tech space that is women and minority focused for New York City’s entrepreneurs and innovators. 

I am a proud graduate of NEW. Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) prepares, trains, and places women in careers in the skilled construction, utility, and maintenance trades, allowing women to achieve economic independence and a secure future for themselves and their families. This is how NEW helped me achieve mine. 

Like so many post-recession, both my husband and I were unemployed. In 2011, I was fortunate to earn a spot in NEW’s intensive apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship was a highly structured curriculum preparing us for conditions on the job. NEW provided a rigorous coursework in trade-focused mathematics, hands on general contracting skills, green building principles and engaging seminars by working union tradeswomen. The intensive was designed to mimic the hours and physical demands we could expect on-the-job, and prepared us for what challenges we would face as a minority class in a heavily male dominated workplace. 

When I was down and out, NEW believed in me. They welcomed me in their doors and 6 weeks later I emerged a working tradeswoman. My apprenticeship gave me the qualifications to land my first job as a non-union carpenter building residential brownstones in Harlem. Shortly thereafter, NEW gave me a path into The United Brotherhood of Carpenters as a union dockbuilder with Local #157 building the HOV lane on the Gowanus Expressway. I actually built a New York City roadway!

NEW also offered me classes in small-business entrepreneurship, providing me the tools to open my own company and build my first space venture, Loft227. I’m proud to say that Loft227 was a one-of-a-kind theater and event space in Chelsea which became profitable in less than a year; seeing nearly 70,000 in its doors in under 5 years, while supporting close to 900 innovative works and small business owners.

NEW took my desire to build, and crafted me into someone who could not only build, but employ and support others who want to build too. I am not only a tradeswoman, I am a female business owner and activist who is reshaping New York City’s cultural landscape to make more space for women, minorities, and immigrant classes.

My next building venture, TOWN STAGES, expands the mission started at Loft227. Town Stages is a state-of-the-art, flexible performance and event space. Measuring six times our initial footprint, Town offers four customizable stages and an elegant storefront event space that can support the entire lifecycle of New York’s hallmark industries. We will host all types of events, from civic to corporate, tech to theater. Town will provide world-class cultural experiences and opportunities for all.  

As Kevin Spacey says, “If you're lucky enough to do well, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down”. Town Stages is a new shared space model that is one part rentals, one part incubator, and one part subsidized production venue for emerging business leaders. Through our non-profit Fellowship Program, we incubate projects from start to finish, and offer a home for up-and-coming artistic and entrepreneurial works. We assist young creators with not only space, but resource generation, production, and community. 

New York City residents and small business residents are caught in a real estate crisis, the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the 70’s. Commercial rents have far exceeded the cost of doing business, storefronts are 38% vacant and climbing. Whether you sell a product, service, or experience, you can no longer afford to go it alone. Through its five year span, Loft227 specifically tailored a highly successful shared space model to remedy this real estate debacle. Loft227 became a beacon of hope to those needing a platform for their ventures and with overwhelming demand quickly outgrew our humble walls.  

Our new facility at Town will offer a larger audience capacity for Women’s Leadership Conferences, World Premier Performances, Charitable Fundraisers and… most importantly, a beautiful space to gather with family and friends on the most important day of their lives. It is a one-of-a-kind collaborative arts complex connecting like-minded innovators under one roof to address economic challenges emerging business leaders face. We expect 750,000 people in our doors over the next 15 years. 

New York City’s landscape is rapidly changing on many fronts, and I feel it’s paramount that we embrace what is coming with innovative and progressive thinking. Now more than ever, we must take responsibility for building the city we want to see. 

As I learned at NEW, I cannot do this alone. Nothing is created in a vacuum. Collaboration is the key. Dedicating supplies and/or labor, committing resources to build or even naming the space are just some of the impactful ways you can help build this TOWN.

NEW took the leap and believed in me. As a supporter of NEW’s incredible mission, I’m asking you to champion my mine. 

Make this YOUR Town. 

Sincerely, 

Robin Sokoloff,

Executive Director Town Stages | Sokoloff Arts

TOWN STAGES Welcomes Casandra Rosario As General Manager

Casandra Rosario. photo by  Michael Kushner

Casandra Rosario. photo by Michael Kushner

Coming this Fall, the team from Loft227 will bring together emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and their supporters under one roof at their new space: Town Stages.

Alarmed by the quickening pace of city-wide performances space closures in 2012, Robin Sokoloff took bold and decisive action building Loft227: A shared collaborative space connecting like-minded entrepreneurs and artists under one roof.  With an emphasis on the advancement of young women, minority, and LGBTQ voices, Robin Sokoloff and her woman-led team run spaces in one of the most competitive real estate environments in the world so that their local community can self-sustain, and thrive.

At a crucial point in the Loft227’s growth, Rosario came on board as the Events and Venue Manager. Casandra Rosario produces results that make sense for small businesses through digital marketing, events and business strategy. Executing on Sokoloff’s vision for a new financial model for the arts and entrepreneurship, Rosario helped make Loft227 profitable in less than a year, and demand grew faster than they could have imagined.

“Casandra Rosario is a consummate hospitality professional with a proven track record developing unique social engagements in cities across America. Having built her own incredible New York City hospitality-based brand, Food Before Love, Casandra brought a huge fashion forward, creative, and business minded crowd ages 20 - 40 to Loft227. She hit the ground running, developing our social media presence and communicating our unique identity far beyond our network. We went from a word of mouth rental space to a must-have destination for any and every occasion, overnight. People didn’t just come for their one special day anymore. They began showing up for shows and events at Loft227 they had little or no connection to. We became everyone’s go-to home to hang, to experience something new, and connect with someone new. In a word, Casandra is unstoppable. We owe so much of our success to her efforts, across the board in marketing and management" says Founder & Executive Director, Robin Sokoloff. 

With this increased awareness, Loft227 quickly reached it’s capacity. Sokoloff and her team were forced to turn away over 7,000 projects. For years, they’ve been hunting for a bigger facility to relocate to.

Casandra explains, “Sometimes, one of the hardest things to do in this city as a creative, is survive. It’s also not an easy task to do so gracefully. Loft227 gave a platform to everyone who was trying to make a name for themselves in their respective industries, despite the odds, which is something I’ve always admired. Finding a space to succeed as an entrepreneur is the true struggle many face in New York City. Considering the amount of care and love Robin and Scott have for this community, I have no doubt we can make Town that home for those seeking open minds and fertile ground for their development.  I’m excited to see every play, launch, and landmark event that finds its first home with us, and watching how that helps their journey become what it’s meant to be.”

Starting construction Fall 2017, the new TOWN will feature a Cabaret Theater, a Mainstage, and multi-use Event Space; Capacity 229.

Sokoloff remarks on New York City’s changing landscape, concerned, but hopeful. “If New York is to remain a beacon of progressive cultural leadership on the world stage, a dramatic move is needed to solve our home grown real estate crisis. What good are shuttered theaters and vacant luxury condos? 35% of NYC’s storefronts are empty, and climbing.  It’s time for a new approach to small business. No one can survive this alone. We’re building a new kind of creative home at TOWN where all are welcome to congregate, connect, and collaborate for the next fifteen years and beyond, and we are doing it together.”

Me And Cass Laughing.png

Keeping a venue open isn’t easy, but Casandra and Robin have more than earned their stripes in the space game. Right before they met, a sudden shut-down at a previous location forced Rosario to find new homes for a calendar full of events. Sokoloff explains, “I’ll never forget the day I met Casandra. She called Loft227 explaining where she works was suddenly shut down. Obviously, this puts her out of a job. And yet - she was still taking the time to serve every single client and find them a place to relocate. She was looking out for them, going above and beyond; despite her own uncertain future. Anyone who’s ever tried to book a NYC venue knows it’s not easy. Anyone who’s ever tried to relocate several events all at once, is a goddamn hero. That’s the kind of person I want on my team. Casandra is a very special, hard working woman with impeccable character, a cool head, a huge heart, and big vision. No matter what this town throws at her, and the people she collaborates with, Casandra leads with what’s right, and what’s true.”

In 2015, Rosario was named one of the Top 10 Women to know in the Culinary space by Essence Magazine and she’s still killing it. This fall, she’ll be honored by the Rochester Institute of Technology with the 'Women Leaders In Hospitality Award'.

Check out her featured spot on 'Inside New York', with British Airways:

You can follow Casandra Rosario on her blog at FoodBeforeLove.com, and get updates as she builds TOWN at @TownStages. Stay tuned!

HUSTLE CREATIVE’S Magan Wiles joins TOWN STAGES as VP Operations

Magan Wiles. photo by  Confetti Moon Photography

Magan Wiles. photo by Confetti Moon Photography

Sokoloff Arts (501C3) is proud to name Magan Wiles as VP Operations for their new storefront Performance & Event Venue, TOWN STAGES. 

Riding it’s 5 year success supporting emerging creatives at Loft227, Sokoloff Arts is building TOWN STAGES to feature a cabaret theater, a mainstage, and multi-use event space to house a combination of ongoing rentals, sponsorships, and fully produced works from both the public and their newly inked Residency Tracks.

Magan Wiles has been a part of the Sokoloff Arts family since 2013; instrumental in Loft227’s rapid growth and 5-Star customer service. Sokoloff Arts welcomes emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and their supporters; with an emphasis on the advancement of young women, minority, and LGBTQ voices.

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Reflecting on her own journey, Wiles explains, “I earned my MFA from UT-Knoxville in 2012, moved to New York and found myself in the same position as almost all aspiring actors - working a series of part-time gigs to make ends meet, and feeling utterly powerless over my acting career and life in general.  I’ve always been good at project management, and had produced a number of theater productions as well as worked in various aspects of admin since I was a teenager.  I discovered I was really good at analyzing existing admin procedures and finding where they could be distilled, automated, and put online- enabling me to provide operational support at a fraction of the cost, from anywhere in the world. Together with Robin, I built an air-tight back-end process that allowed us to host hundreds of rentals and never need to be in the same city to do it.”

Robin Sokoloff describes those first few months operating Loft227 on her own: “When I opened The Loft the public response was both wonderful and truly overwhelming. My inbox was flooded, and the phone was ringing off the hook, and there were simply not enough hours in the day for one person alone to manage the company. I was doing everything from website building, social media, billing, stage management, sales… I needed help. That first hire felt so critical, and a bit scary - like your first skydive. You're speeding towards the ground fast, thinking… ‘Is this chute gonna work? Will anyone care about this as much as I do?’ What an incredible relief to find a fellow renegade artist and trusted partner in Magan. She’s a consummate classical actress with an extraordinary capacity for streamlining virtually any business practice. in a post-recession economy where artists were reeling from city-wide space closures and rising rents, we were able to build a fresh new model for servicing young innovators at any budget.”

Magan Wiles on set,  BUN IN THE OVEN . Jono Freedrix

Magan Wiles on set, BUN IN THE OVEN. Jono Freedrix

Bringing administrative shape to Robin’s vision for a new financial model for the arts, Wiles helped Loft227 become profitable in less than a year, and put the company in a position to start giving back. 

“We built a sliding scale ‘Robin Hood’ type model that addresses the life-cycle of New York City’s hallmark industries. From civic, to corporate, to tech, to theatre. In a stalled economy, where outside funding for the arts was rapidly waning, it seemed paramount that we learn to self-sustain. It was important to me that we build an institution with no financial strings attached, so that those artists we gave a home to could do their work the way they saw fit. We put artists in the driver’s seat here every step of the way - from who we employ to who we service. Magan and I have been in the trenches in theater, dance, and film our whole lives; both onstage and backstage. Having seen it all from all sides, we had a vision to transform the adversarial relationship creatives had with NYC spaces.  Together, were able to execute on this vision, leverage our incoming business and our space to donate over $215,000 each year back to emerging artists and entrepreneurs in sponsorship, rehearsal hours, and production dollars. Where most fledging arts organizations must spend precious time and resources seeking external financial support, we were able to operate with zero outside funding right away. Magan’s operational expertise kept us ahead of the game at every turn, so I could be fully focused, boots on the ground with our renters, building a pipeline of value we could count on for years to come” says Sokoloff. 

Sokoloff Arts Team  - Magan Wiles (VP Operations), Robin Sokoloff (Executive Director), Casandra Rosario (General Manager)

Sokoloff Arts Team - Magan Wiles (VP Operations), Robin Sokoloff (Executive Director), Casandra Rosario (General Manager)

Over the next four years, the team at Loft227 grew to support over 600 live events by revenue sharing with each other, creating jobs for over 54 local freelance artists, and enabling an additional 1,800 freelance jobs engaging with various organizations and events. In all, Loft227 saw over 70,000 unique visitors through its intimate doors. 

Reimagining Google’s famed 80/20 Rule, Sokoloff didn't require Magan onsite after her first year at Loft227. Wiles successfully managed sales and operations for Loft227 from across the country while pursuing her artistic dreams - whether backstage and in costume at some of the country’s top regional theaters, or from film sets with her producing partner Jono Freedrix, or while managing world-renowned Oxygen Tango Studio in Los Angeles.

Magan Wiles -  Oxygen Tango LA

Magan Wiles - Oxygen Tango LA

Sokoloff explains,Magan is proof that applying strategic planning and radical efficiency can not only transform a workplace, and reframe how we think about a work/ life balance, but our very choices when it comes to what kind of work we want to do. It’s so empowering to see artists everywhere adopting more entrepreneurial values and expert digital skill sets, to free them up from the constraints of a day job. Some of the most successful artists I know are those who’ve developed a non-traditional means of income boasting non-traditional hours. If you are working with me, I insist you build a company of your own. I always say ‘Building spaces is my dream; let’s make sure we are building yours too.’ Call me crazy, but I believe if you let people do the job they really want to do, they’ll give you more than you can imagine in return. Not only has Magan been a trusted partner for over four years now, she’s become a lifelong friend and creative collaborator.”

Magan Wiles has since opened her boutique client services firm, Hustle Creative. “The Hustle” provides low-cost hi-tech operations support for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. Her clients are located across the country, and include production companies, financial tech startups, medical professionals, real estate developers, and a farm-to-table catering operation.

Magan Wiles,  Loft227

Magan Wiles, Loft227

“Robin urged me from the beginning to start my own business; I’ll never forget when I got an email from her saying I better design a logo because she was naming me a sponsor of the grand opening party she was throwing for our second event space. Once I had a flexible means of support in place, my acting career took off, and I had the time and energy to create my own work as well.

I hosted a fundraiser, produced a film, produced & directed a one-woman show, and threw a screening party - and it was all possible because Loft227 could offer me a sponsored rental rate to do it. Robin fights for autonomy for actors, in both their creative and financial lives, and I’m proof of what she makes possible.  I’m so thrilled we are able to grow our mission to empower thousands more artists in the years to come.”

Beginning construction August 2017, TOWN STAGES will incubate projects from start to finish, and offer a home for up-and-coming artistic work. Sokoloff Arts will assist artists and other creators with not only space, but resource generation, space, production, and community.

To learn more about TOWN STAGES, email connect@townstages, or call (212) 634-7690 x703.

Follow us as our capital campaign goes live on sokoloffarts.org, on Facebook and Instagram at @sokoloffarts and @townstages.