Suzanne Fiol, the visionary artist behind the Issue Project Room, a world-renowned hub for experimental music that was based in Gowanus, died on Monday after a long battle with cancer. She was 49.
“We are grief-stricken by Suzanne’s passing, yet inspired by her vision and strength, and will devote ourselves to fulfilling her vision with the strength we draw from our memories of her,” the six-year-old arts center said in a statement on Tuesday. “Programming will continue this week in honor of Suzanne, and we welcome you all to come and share your memories.”
Such memories will no doubt include nights when Tom Verlaine of the band Television performed solo, trying out more personal, more experimental work; or last year’s “Week of Noise” curated by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, among other triumphs.
“We lost a lot of creative space [in the city] — the Cooler went under, Tonic went under, but Suzanne provided a space for creative art that challenged and pushed the limits,” Sonic Youth co-founder Lee Ranaldo told The Brooklyn Paper. “She was an incredibly dynamic and creative mover and shaker.”
But Ranaldo said the vibe at Issue Project Room went beyond the music.
“They’d cook a meal, everyone would eat together,” he said. “It was very European the way she cultivated community. She was fully committed to seeing so many people who she came across in her experience. She was a whirlwind of ideas and energy.”
Though not a musician, Fiol was a photographer who got her start in the business side of the art world at galleries in Manhattan, said Zannah Mass, the cultural affairs director for Two Trees Management, a real estate company that had given Issue Project Room a 20-year lease on a new theater at 110 Livingston St. in Downtown.
“She created a home for all these musicians who wanted a place to feel comfortable with experimentation,” said Mass. “Issue Project Room was a major player in a movement that’s very avant garde,” Mass added. “Artists need places to experiment. She nurtured that.”
Issue Project Room started in 2003 in that other borough, but Fiol engineered the move to Brooklyn, first to Carroll Gardens, but eventually to a fourth-floor walkup building in Gowanus before landing the deal with Mass’s company that will create a new theater by next year.
Her importance to the borough’s underground artistic scene was so vast that it was not missed by that most mainstream of music fans, Borough President Markowitz, who called Fiol “the heart and soul and extraordinary visionary behind Issue Project Room, a symbol of the forward-thinking culture that makes Brooklyn the creative capital of New York City.”
He said that the 110 Livingston St. theater would become the “Carnegie Hall of the avant garde.”
That would be a fitting tribute to a woman who was “more committed to culture in New York than anyone I know,” Ranaldo said.
Fiol is survived by a daughter, Sarah; her sister Nancy; and her parents Lawrence and Arlene Perlstein. A memorial service is being planned.