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, women, poc, LQBTQIA, and immigrant populations 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 those watching to build that very world in their daily lives. Artists are here to push the cultural needle, show what’s possible, and pass the torch.”
Those working in some cross section of small business entrepreneurship, arts, media, social impact, and/or civic engagement are leaders. They deserve spaces and platforms looking forward with them - not deciding for them.
My team and I created the Sokoloff Arts Creative Fellowship program at Town Stages to change representation not only in the arts sector but all sectors, so that leadership can finally reflect the ones they lead.
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. Yet, there seemed to be a litany of ill-defined excuses why an artist could not be valued; why me and the people I work alongside could not be valued. There was a pecking order that depended fully on artists, but always considered them last; if at all.
I was not interested in hearing “that’s just the way it is”. 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 dictates the treatment of everyone under their roof. Their values, or lack thereof, bled into everything below - while profiting off the exclusion of so many.
Affordable, accessible, and welcoming space for all should not be a privilege, it is a human right.
Yet gig after gig I experienced first hand, that nothing could be farther from what’s practiced.
So 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, because women belong everywhere; especially where you least expect us.
We’ve grown from a one-woman shop, to 30 on staff, 59 fellows, and 15 board members that’s given well over $1M in space and resources.
We need leaders who aren’t busy with the business of perpetuating business as usual. We need leaders who understand the terrible cost of inequity. Lifting up radical, female, trans, non-binary, queer, poc, and immigrant people as leaders will lead to the inclusion and respect for all people. Town Stages claims space for the very people making our city what it is, and empowering their vision of what it can become.
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. Having a seat at the table - even if the table sucked - meant I could use that seat to transform the conversation at the table. It meant I could make more seats at that table for others. Some tables are too deeply invested in the success of a few off the suffering of so many, and those tables just need to be flipped. 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 by the gatekeepers of this world, hoping to ease the burden of those traditionally made vulnerable by systemic misogyny, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
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’m here to break the gate.
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 so many 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.