Dumbo’s Cultural Director Zannah Mass Departs

When a real estate management firm brings in a ‘cultural affairs director’, skeptics say it’s a thinly veiled approach to promoting the brand. That’s what some thought when Two Trees Management brought in Zannah Mass, the Cultural Affairs Director, in 2007. She quickly proved skeptics wrong by synthesizing the arts community in Dumbo and creating cultural programs that enriched the neighborhood. The only other real estate development hire, to my knowledge, to have achieved a comparable position is Debra Simon, the Artistic Director of Arts at World Financial Center (part of Brookfield Asset Management).

After four years on the job, Zannah Mass has announced her departure from Two Trees to pursue other opportunities. Jed Walentas, Principal at Two Trees told DumboNYC, “Two Trees remains committed, as always, to a strong arts presence in Dumbo. We will be unfolding details about our plans shortly.”

When David Walentas and his company, Two Trees Management, bought up property in an undeveloped area known as Dumbo in the 1980s, his intention was to build a creative community around the former warehouse and factory buildings. Two Trees famously provided low lease properties to attract artists and creative businesses while developing residential loft space. In 1998, when Two Trees’ first residential building, 1 Main Street, was completed, loft apartments were priced at $300k to $400k+. Over the next five to eight years, 30 Main Street/Sweeney Building (2003) and 70 Washington Street (2006) were also converted into luxury loft apartments. By then, Two Trees had built the foundation for a creative, residential, and commercial community. In February 2007, Two Trees hired Zannah Mass as the Cultural Affairs Director. In hindsight, this was a key move by Two Trees to commit to this cultural vision.

Zannah has some noteworthy accomplishments for the arts and culture scene in Dumbo today. She is credited with building up DUMBO First Thursdays, co-producing the Dumbo Arts Festival, bringing a live elephant to Dumbo, the main sponsor’s rep and an advisor of the New York Photo Festival in Dumbo, among others. I asked Zannah to reflect upon her experiences and then asked a few people to provide a few thoughts on how Zannah accomplished her vision.
(After the jump)

Q: What were your most memorable moments as the Cultural Affairs Director?
A: No singular moment, but some highlights would be:

Q: What were your most challenging moments?
A: Maybe eating those bugs! Or was it sticking with my train of thought when that translator kept interrupting me?

Q: Do you feel artists are having a tougher and tougher time staying in Dumbo?
A: As far as working studios, I know a lot of artists who work in Dumbo and don’t know too many who’ve moved their studios out of Dumbo in the past few years, but that’s just anecdotal. Artists in so many disciplines are represented in Dumbo in growing numbers and ways now that Dumbo is so much of a cultural district – artists perform at the festivals and local venues like St Ann’s Warehouse and Galapagos Art Space. Artists exhibit at local galleries, fairs and festivals. I have a friend who actually practices his music under the bridge as the trains roll by and then there are all the studio programs like NY Studio School’s, Smack Mellon’s and Sharpe’s.

Here are the comments made by those who have worked with Zannah over the years in Dumbo. Thanks to the many people who provided these comments. (Please email me at dumbonyc@gmail.com of you’d like to add others).

“Zannah has made great accomplishments and spirit as she has brought many great businesses, galleries to the neighborhood and was key in creating a sense of community.” ~Elodie Mailliet, Director of Photography, Contour by Getty Images and Board Member, Dumbo Arts Festival

“Zannah’s role at Two Trees – and Two Trees even having a role for someone as important and pivotal as Zannah – was a unique and wonderful vision to add to the neighborhood. She helped all of us, the neighborhood cultural groups, the artists, the digital folks, the designers – and the audience – all feel like we were part of something bigger, and she helped us understand how deeply interwoven we actually are, and this enabled us to work more closely as a community and to feel that community as people, as valued participants in each others lives. Zannah’s special talent was her ability to turn enthusiasm into action, and to jump start relationships and weave community fabric that will last for years and years to come.” ~Robert Elmes, Director, Galapagos Art Space

“Zannah has been an integral part of DUMBO culture for a very long time, starting with St. Ann’s Warehouse over 10 years ago. Her day-to-day presence (and that of her dog, Django) will be greatly missed. Though, I’m sure we will still spot her wonderful bright red hair at many a DUMBO event for years to come. I can’t wait to see what exciting projects she lends her tenacity and talents to next.” ~Bill Updegraff, Marketing Director, St. Ann’s Warehouse

“Since her earlier days as General Manager at St. Ann’s Warehouse, and through her four-year tenure at Two Trees, Zannah has been a steady and supportive presence in the DUMBO arts scene. She will be missed, though I have a feeling and I hope we’ll be seeing her around.” ~Jan Larsen, Founder, Jan Larsen Art

“It was a pleasure working with Zannah. She is a person with great insight and always worked with Gleason’s Gym to mix the art of boxing with the cultural affairs of DUMBO.” ~Bruce Silverglade, owner of Gleason’s Gym

“Zannah Mass has been wonderful as the Cultural Affairs Director. We at Bose Pacia admire and greatly appreciate all of her efforts in organizing the art events in DUMBO. We wish her well on her future endeavors.” ~Stacie Cheung, Gallery Manager at Bose Pacia

“Zannah has been an invaluable support for the artists and galleries of DUMBO. She has a rare combination of qualities – appreciation, understanding and the ability to listen! We would like to thank her for being a supportive organizer and a great ally!” ~Anna Cosentino and Steve Butcher, owners/curators, spring

“Zannah was always very involved with the gallery from coming by at openings to promptly replying to emails. It was obvious that she enjoyed her job and that made working with her a pleasure.” ~Alex Wixon, Director, Amos Eno Gallery

“The vision, commitment and energy that Zannah Mass displayed in her advocacy of DUMBO was without a doubt a key factor in our decision to locate the Klompching Gallery in this neighbourhood. Her continued championing and support of DUMBO and its cultural businesses, over the course of the past 3+ years has, in our view, been key to the growing success of DUMBO’s arts/cultural landscape”. ~Debra Klomp Ching, Owner/Director, Klompching Gallery

“In the spring of 2010 I had the great pleasure of meeting Zannah Mass. Energy, dedication and an unprecedented attention to detail are All traits that have helped dumbo continue its journey as a world class creative neighborhood.” ~Karen Dalzell, President and Founder, Dalzell Productions and co-producer of Dumbo Arts Festival

“Zannah was a great supporter of Smack Mellon and was always willing to help us out in any way she could. She had great determination which she used to bring all the arts organizations together to work as a group. She galvanized our forces to make DUMBO a real cultural destination on the First Thursday of every month. We will miss her energy and commitment.” ~Suzanne Kim, Director of Exhibitions, Smack Mellon

“I was dazzled by Two Trees’ innovative investment in the cultural life of Dumbo, which was amplified and given life when I met Zannah. Her deep knowledge of the neighborhood and who’s doing what and why was informative, but more than that her passion was inspiring. Whenever we need an example of how the arts can weave into the fabric of a city I’ll call on Zannah. In return, all Zannah required was total commitment from her friends and tenants in the area! I remember the one occasion that VII failed to open on First Thursday because Zannah’s phone call to me as she stood at our locked door is burned into my memory. We didn’t miss it again… For her vitality, energy and welcome into a new neighborhood and into an arts laboratory I truly thank Zannah – we’ll miss her and I hope that we can collectively maintain the momentum that she created.” ~Stephen Mayes, Managing Director, VII Photo

{Builder’s bridge to the arts, 14Apr2007, Brooklyn Paper}
{‘Mass’ exodus! Zannah out as the Walentases’ cultural ambassador, 21Feb2011, Brooklyn Paper}

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