New York City is famous for being one of the most artistically active and culturally diverse cities in all the world, yet--somewhat surprisingly--certain communities lack artistic institutions such as galleries, theaters, museums, workshops, and other such creative establishments and opportunities. The Inwood section of Manhattan is a prime example of a neighborhood that lacks artistic venues despite having many creative and driven individuals residing within it.

Noting this disparity, Aaron Simms decided to create Inwood Art Works; a non-profit organization that is dedicated to bringing all forms of art to Inwood residents.

Serving as the Executive Producer of the organization, Aaron is making the most of a pop-up gallery space that he has secured through November of 2017. A photography exhibition focusing on local artists is scheduled for October but, even after the lease on the space expires, the organization will live on to present a full season of programming in 2018. Its third-annual “Inwood Film Festival” will commence in March of 2018 and other opportunities for visual artists and performers--via the “Back Porch Show”--occur on a rolling basis. Best of all, most shows are priced very affordably or are free.

In a recent and exclusive interview, Aaron discussed Inwood Art Works and his aspirations for the organization’s future.

Establishing a non-profit organization

Meagan Meehan (MM): What prompted the development of Inwood Art Works and what was the process of establishing the organization like?

Aaron Simms (AS): Inwood, and Northern Manhattan for that matter, is a neighborhood rich with incredibly talented professional artists, but the local economy does not support professional artists.

It also offers no professional entertainment opportunities for local residents, and there are no cinemas, galleries, or playhouses in Inwood or within 100 blocks of the neighborhood! Therefore, I founded Inwood Art Works non-profit organization in 2016 to counter this culture. Our mission is to create professional performing arts and curate visual art exhibitions in Inwood and its surrounding community.

The roots of the organization began six seasons ago with the “Back Porch Show” which is a variety show that I produced literally on the back porch of my place. It was created to champion local artists and cultivate local audiences. This was followed by the launch of the Inwood Film Festival which showcased and celebrated Inwood community filmmakers through the moving image. The film festival has sold out every screening in its two years of existence, with submissions for the third coming up October 1, 2017. Our pop-up Inwood Art Works Gallery is the latest program to support the work of our local visual artists.

MM: You are currently in a "pop-up" location, so how long do you expect to stay there and do you hope to find a permanent residence?

AS: We’ll be there for two months, October and November. Yes, we hope to one day have a permanent space.

MM: You have a photography show coming up, so why did you focus on that medium and what can visitors expect from the show?

AS: Inwood has an incredible pool of amazing professional photographers and it was important to create a first-class exhibition of photography that showcased the talents of the neighborhood, as well as those whose work connects to the community. Visitors can expect to see an amazing show that reflects as great a diversity of perspectives as the neighborhood itself.

MM: Are you planning to run any other visual arts shows at the gallery in the near future?

AS: Yes, join our mailing list via our website by Googling “Inwood Art Works” for news about the next exhibition and fundraising auction at the gallery in November.

Performances, arts, and community

MM: You also produce plays and other live events, so what kinds of work do you most seek from a content/genre standpoint?

AS: To me, content is king, so it has to be great work. However, you also have to be able to recognize potential and have a taste for talent. If it’s relevant, it is even more appealing. My greatest hope is the work stirs and resonates with me personally, that it has something to say, and is about a topic, or cause, I fiercely believe in.

MM: You also are welcoming to performance artists including singers, puppeteers, comedians, and magicians, right? So, which acts have been the most memorable?

AS: Right, if you’ve seen them all you can find a moment that stays with you from each of them.

I really love hearing audience members trade stories with each other about the different films they saw at the film festival or acts they’ve witnessed on the back porch. It usually ends with, “oh, you should have seen it!”

MM: You also run a film festival, so what sorts of films do you seek and typically how long or short must the films be?

AS: We have two film programs, the Inwood Film Festival and Film Works Alfresco and each are unique programs. The film festival is by submission only by Inwood community residents, and its surrounding community, or by those who shot films in the neighborhood. It features Short Shorts (around five minutes), Long Shorts (films less than twenty-five minutes), and Feature Films.

“Alfresco” is curated by myself to bring culturally relevant programming to Inwood. It presents mostly feature films, and it is the only free outdoor English and Spanish language cinema series in New York City.

MM: Of all the movies that you have screened, have any stood out in particular?

AS: None overshadows another. What stands out is the reaction from the audiences to specific films we’ve screened. Watching films started out as a communal activity before television took hold. I loved the rolling laughter we received this summer from “Gold Diggers of 1933” as much as the intense and respectful silence that came from the documentary, “Los Sures.” We also welcome animation and gave an award for animation at the inaugural Inwood Film Festival.

MM: What kinds of feedback have you gotten from people who have attended your events and exhibitions?

AS: Very favorable, I’d say, as they keep coming back.

MM: How do you envision Inwood Art Works evolving over the next ten years?

AS: I would love for Inwood Art Works to have a permanent dedicated space in Inwood as the neighborhood’s cultural arts hub, hopefully as soon as possible. However, as we grow, I’d like us to offer professional film, stage, and visual arts programming on a consistent basis. That’s the vision for the organization.

MM: What do you think the city can do to help foster the arts and is there anything about the community of Inwood that you wish more people knew about?

AS: The city can allocate more funding to the arts, but specifically it needs to focus on investing and providing space and capital funds to small arts organizations.

I want people to know that Inwood is a vibrant community full of raw potential for professional arts and culture. But most importantly, it is a true neighborhood full of great people. You can see some of their work at our upcoming show “Focus on Photography” which is running from October 5 to October 29 at 4857 Broadway—“The Stack.”