Can the model of the tech incubator be applied to spawn innovation at the crossroads of art and technology?

Putting smart people and mentors together in a shared facility has been the magic formula for incubators in the tech entrepreneurship landscape. Can this model be copied and pasted to spark innovation where creativity and code intertwine?

The New Museum in New York City is giving it a shot. Next door to their eight-level, SANAA-designed sculptural home rising over the Bowery sits a traditional brick warehouse with some non-traditional tenants.  Welcome to NEW INC, the first museum-led cultural incubator.

NewInc Building

Photo credit: New Museum.

New Museum Director Lisa Phillips and Deputy Director Karen Wong worked “secretly and quietly” for more than a year on the project, which fulfills the museum’s mission of being a destination for new art and new ideas.

In February, NEW INC began accepting applications. For a full-time membership fee of $600/month or a part-time fee of $350/month, artists, entrepreneurs, designers, and coders (preferably all of them) can access 11,000-square-feet of dedicated workspace, labs, social areas, kitchen, and event space. The goal is get the right mix of profiles and see what happens when they work together in close proximity.

Julia Kaganskiy (@juliaxgulia) was tapped to lead NEW INC. Named one of Fast Company‘s Most Influential Women in Technology, she has said of the project, “We are looking for inspiring ideas, strong sense of purpose and vision, an impressive body of previous work and a proven ability to execute their ideas, diversity both in terms of skillsets and areas of expertise, as well as gender and racial diversity.”

While developing the concept for NEW INC, Kaganskiy looked at various places around NYC and abroad, from incubators like Y Combinator (Mountain View, CA) and Betaworks to co-working spaces like General Assembly and the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford to media labs like the ones at MIT, NYU, and at the University of Bristol, UK.

How do you know where the magic will happen?

There is precedent. NEW Inc. shares some of the spirit of places like MEx on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, “a cooperative of creative professionals” who share office space and common areas.

MEx was the dream of Al Attara, who bought the building—a former bank— 35 years ago and imagined a 45,000-square-foot shared place where artists, architects, and designers would work side by side.


Image credit:

When you open the doors to MEx, you see raw materials, storage space, a woodshop, cables, soldering irons, and more. Chaos or creative freedom? Take the elevator to the seventh floor and keep going passed the architecture and urban design levels and the space reserved for female authors.

There, Jen Lusker and James Patten are both standing on a metal frame testing the balance on an interactive installation they are producing for SXSW.

At SXSW 2014

SXSW attendees test the platform. Image credit:

Behind them, the set designer of the underground theater Queen of the Night is working, and the folks from the bio lab are hosting a molecular kitchen workshop.

“Working in close proximity with a group of like-minded individuals produces a highly supportive atmosphere where creative energy is reciprocated and there is a ready exchange of ideas,” Lusker says.

What about San Francisco and Silicon Valley – the birthplace of innovation?

The Bay Area is flooded with actual and proposed tech incubators and co-working spaces, some of them literally floating. So far, though, none have really embraced an interdisciplinary approach.

But after much discussion in the city of San Francisco around gentrification, high rents, Google buses and glasses, and the growing gap between the tech and art communities, the first constructive discussions have started. Creative, cross-discipline thinking seems to be the clear path forward.

Technology has been a part of the creative process for some time, especially in the Bay Area. But now it’s also sneaking into residencies and collaborative spaces. Everyone is jumping in and looking for the right model. That’s a good thing.

LACMA launched an Art+Technology Lab. Zero1 hosts a residency program, as does Facebook and Autodesk. CODAME gives artists up for adoption, while Google offered DevArt and Google Art Project.

And Gray Area just announced that their new location in the Mission District of San Francisco will host the first art and tech co-working space in the city. This is big. We hope for many more models and NEW INC style spaces bridging art and tech and spawning innovation at the crossroads.

swissnex San Francisco participates very actively in this ongoing conversation. We are currently plotting new ideas of our own behind the scenes. With many years of experience at the intersections of art, technology, education, and science we are convinced in the interdisciplinary approach to problem solving.

Contribute to the conversation

Artup and ArtPractical hosts an event on March 25 to discuss ‘Re-Engineering Art and Tech in the Bay Area’ with Julia Kaganskiy from the New Museum. Contribute to the current discussion here.

Main image credit: NewInc