Robin Sokoloff is the Founder & Executive Director of Town Stages: a new women-led cultural arts space and event venue in downtown Tribeca providing mentorship, sponsorship, and fellowship to artists and innovators. As a dance and theatre professional committed to transforming leadership and representation on our stages and screens, Robin builds platforms for women, POC, queer, and immigrant voices by decolonizing New York City spaces for restorative equity. As owner and Executive Director of Loft227, Robin created a home for New York City’s best and brightest artists and innovators from March 2012 to March 2017; seeing nearly 70,000 in her doors in under 5 years, while supporting close to 900 innovative works and small business owners. In Town Stages’ inaugural year, Sokoloff and her team have supported over 300 events, created over 1,000 jobs, and subsidized over 2,500 hours of arts programming to the public while supporting a Creative Fellowship Program for 59 recipients through her non-profit Sokoloff Arts (501c3).
Robin Sokoloff is a scholarship recipient and alumna of Jacob’s Pillow School of Dance, NYSSSA, Stage-door Manor Performing Arts Training Center, HDCNY, Skidmore College Studio Art Program, Coupé Theatre Studio, and New York University. Robin holds a BA in Sociology from NYU's College of Arts and Sciences, she’s a graduate of N.E.W. (Non-Traditional Employment For Women), and a former union carpenter of The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America with Local #157. Robin serves as Vice President of the Board for the Musical Theater Factory, and Chairman of the Board for Sokoloff Arts.
EQUITABLE ACCESS IN NYC SPACES
"the most expensive part of making art in New York City: the space. So what happens if there's no spaces? there's no places to make art, no places to pay artists, no places to work as artists?"
Real estate is leveraged by gatekeepers to determine who gets to come and go—and too often their determinations are made along identity lines. When shut out of spaces, we are relegated to “the digital” as avatars of ourselves in online spaces and social apps while the rich and unencumbered get to take up and command the physical space. While this paradigm has birthed the age of remote “influencers,” it’s also dismantled our mechanisms to physically connect—for nuanced conversation and interpersonal empathy. It has led to a catastrophic rise in social anxiety, drug addiction, mass incarceration, mass murders, and the accelerated destruction of the inalienable rights of all but a few.
I built Town Stages as a reimagining of equity and access in New York City spaces - where we can connect, collaborate, communicate, and celebrate. I built Town Stages so we can heal.
ARTISTIC INNOVATION & REPRESENTATION
“When we model how the world can be on our stages and screens, we inspire and galvanize those watching to build that very world in their day to day lives. We are here to push the cultural needle, show what’s possible, and pass the torch.”
I grew up onstage, backstage, in studios, in the catwalks, and in the booth. I was often taught by women, but always led by men. In my early 20s I operated under the idea that if I became multi-hyphenate enough—truly indispensable enough—got paid high enough—that I could amass authority of some-kind with enough age, experience, and skills to make a difference for myself and others. There seemed to be a litany of ill-defined excuses why an artist could not be valued. I was not interested in hearing “that’s just the way it is”. There was a pecking order that depended fully on artists, but always considered them last; if at all. I navigated this food-chain for a time, learning all I could about what made it tick. I climbed just high enough to understand that it’s the very person who owns the space, even the building itself, that determines and dictates the treatment of everyone under their roof. Their values, or lack thereof, colored everything below.
We need leaders who aren’t busy with the business of perpetuating business as usual. We need radical, female, trans, non-binary, queer, color, and immigrant leaders who understand the terrible cost of inequity; and have a bold roadmap for the inclusion and respect of all people.
Nine years ago I took off my dancing shoes, and picked up a hammer. I began building and running spaces that could restore respect to artists, and heal the divide between us and the public. I began inviting other women to build and run these spaces with me. We’ve grown from a one-woman shop to 30 on staff, 59 fellows, and 15 board members.
My team and I created the Sokoloff Arts Creative Fellowship program to change representation not only in the arts sector but all sectors, so that leadership can finally reflect the ones they lead.
RESTORATIVE EQUITY BY ENDING GATEKEEPER DRIVEN INJUSTICE
“I’m fighting the forces that keep commercial real estate a discriminatory and exclusionary force in NYC. I’m fighting to claim the art of Public Assembly for all. I’m fighting to afford the right to space, so that we can all commune together in story and song - Where the margins brought to the center.
I’m fighting for you and I.”
For all my ups and downs navigating my own survival as female, as queer, as worker, as artist—I have been more fortunate than most. My white skin has afforded me a boldness, an outrage, an easy out, and an easy way back into a rigged system; a way that isn’t afforded to most others. I learned early on that opting out felt like individual justice for a minute, but being responsible for change for myself others couldn’t be achieved from the outside. Having a seat at the table - even if the table sucked - meant I could use that seat to change the table, or flip it. It meant I could make more seats at that table for others. So, however possible, wherever possible, I have tried to use my privilege to step up and step in. I remain transparent, I remain loud, I remain unafraid to place myself in the way of violence perpetrated the gatekeepers of this world, in order to protect others who suffer it. I’m here to break the gate.
The thing about being a white woman is that no one expects me to intervene. No one expects me to resist, and no one expects me to fight. They expect me to reenforce the systems in which I was raised. They expect me to behave. But nobody’s got time for that. Certainly not me. Certainly not those I serve. I’m here doing what I do, because gatekeepers gotta go.
I don’t follow in the footsteps of those who’ve pretended discrimination isn’t real while they discriminate. I’m not waiting on the generosity of those who’ve excluded us in the first place. Complicity for the sake of opportunity is not the bedrock by which to build a space where all are welcome. I’m looking for the people who can reimagine opportunity without making it about charity. I’m looking for people who can help clear the road ahead, so no one gets left behind.
If you are here to fight with me, you are doing so with the understanding that none of us are free until all of us are free.