Salome Asega On Fostering a Community for Creatives

Terence Trouillot speaks to the artist about her recent appointment as director of NEW INC, the New Museum’s incubator for practitioners working at the intersection of art, design and technology

BY Salome Asega AND Terence Trouillot in Interviews | 24 AUG 21

Terence Trouillot: It’s been one month since you were appointed director of NEW INC. How have you settled in?

Salome Asega: I’ve hit the ground running. The incubator is eight years old and already has a rich history and deep community of alumni and stakeholders. We’ve finished the selection process for the next cycle, so we will be welcoming our new cohort of members in September. We have just under 70 people joining us in year eight and I’m thrilled about the range of projects and initiatives that are addressing urgent challenges from climate crisis to the future of workers to fair housing and more. Our members are experimenting with new techniques, aesthetics and models to show us a way forward. 

TT: You’re an alum of NEW INC yourself. Can you tell me what it was like to be a member of the incubator and how it’s changed since you joined?

SA: I joined NEW INC in year three with POWRPLNT co-founder Angelina Dreem. The incubator was fairly new and I didn’t know too much about it beyond it being the place where people got things done. And it’s true. As a cohort, we could figure out all kinds of problems together and become resources for each other: in fact, much of the origin story of POWRPLNT is rooted in our time at NEW INC. Since leaving, I’ve popped in and out of the NEW INC community as a mentor; now, five years on, I’ve come back as director. It’s such an amazing community of people that I don’t think you can ever actually leave. I’ve jumped right back in and, since I’m already familiar with a lot of the members and their practices, I’m just so excited to be able to support them from this new position. Jeremy.Grier-1
Portrait of Salome Asega. Courtesy: New Museum and NEW INC, New York; photography: Jeremy Grier

TT: Have you seen any big changes at NEW INC since you’ve taken on this new role?

SA: NEW INC has always differentiated itself from other incubator-type programmes in that it really supports the people over the projects or products that they’re making. If anything has changed throughout the years, it’s that this message has been driven home with even greater intent. That’s become a focal point for NEW INC over the years: we’re just not thinking about what people are making, but who they are and where they come from and who they bring with them.

TT: Do you have a specific vision of how you would like to see NEW INC evolve over the next few years?

SA: Something that NEW INC does really well, which I want to be a little more vocal about, is professional development. The artists who come through this programme have three tiers of mentorship. They’re supported closely by colleagues who are a little more advanced in their careers. Members are also part of our working groups that offer technical assistance – whether that’s help with building a website or communication strategies or how to pitch projects and fundraise. They get that kind of focused attention. We also provide the opportunity for them to share their work and critique each other’s projects, so there is always critical dialogue happening.

Daniel Arturo Almeida, Saludos a Nadie, 2019–20, installation view. Courtesy: New Museum and NEW INC, New York
Daniel Arturo Almeida (former NEW INC member), Saludos a Nadie, 2019–20, installation view. Courtesy: New Museum and NEW INC, New York

TT: How has being a working artist and a teacher informed the way you approach this new position?

SA: I consider both as beneficial to this new role. As an educator, I’m thinking about NEW INC with a curriculum in mind: what are all the elements that members need to learn and how can they build them up so that the outcome is successful? As an artist, much of my practice involves experimenting and model-making within communities, and this is a job where I get to do that all the time. Every year, we bring in a cohort of 100 people and I get to figure out how to build a community with them. The same model isn’t going to make sense every year, so I’m trying to bring my artist’s mind to the programme to help it adapt as the years go by.

One thing I’ve been thinking about specifically as an artist myself is valuing artistic labour. Especially for artists who work in hybrid ways – and I speak as one of them – we aren’t always good at giving honest budgets. We tend to give unrealistic, malleable budgets because we’re just so excited to have the opportunity to do things that we think we can make them happen on any scale. This is just one of the issues that I want to make sure we’re addressing actively as a community: thinking far more carefully about our labour and our time and what it takes to do the work we do.

Main image: NEW INC offices/studio. Courtesy New Museum and NEW INC. Photo: Stephanie Mei-Ling

Salome Asega is an artist, researcher and educator. She is a founding member of POWRPLNT, a digital art collaboratory, and recently completed a four-year Technology Fellowship at the Ford Foundation where she was able to support media art organizations and artists through research, convening and grant initiatives. Salome teaches studio courses in the MFA Design and Technology program at Parsons.

Terence Trouillot is senior editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.