TOPAZ ARTS was founded in 2000 by artists Todd Richmond and Paz Tanjuaquio. Stemming from their collaborative vision, TOPAZ ARTS was formed to provide a multi-use space and creative development center. Here’s how it all began…

In 1993, artistic collaborators Paz Tanjuaquio and Todd Richmond found themselves in a snowstorm hauling an oversized light sculpture to a dance studio. They were rehearsing their first project together, a dance called Displaced Garden that was a solo for Tanjuaquio with a light sculpture created by Richmond. While transporting their sculpture and music equipment to studio rentals around Manhattan, they started dreaming of creating a space designed for their interdisciplinary approach to artmaking.

In the years that followed, the two never lost sight of their long-term goal to found a multi-use space. During the creation of their first piece evening-length work Strange Fruit and Other Secret in 1999, the artists were awarded with several residencies worldwide to develop the work. The nurturing environments that they experienced at these artist residencies helped shape their vision for an arts space. Their concept was to find a place like a retreat within New York City and searched for several years looking at spaces and buildings citywide.

Richmond and Tanjuaquio sought space for several years. As artists, they were increasingly aware of the scarcity of space and creative time needed to create and develop work. There were even fewer spaces conducive to interdisciplinary work, and the collaborators dreamed of creating a space that would fill the gap. They began their building search in lower Manhattan, then to NYC’s more affordable outer boroughs, looking for a large building in a quiet neighborhood, where artists could concentrate in a retreat-like setting. Honing in on Queens after visiting the Isamu Noguchi Museum and inspired by this oasis in an industrial area.

On one of their building hunts in 2000, Richmond drove by a warehouse on 39th Avenue in Woodside, Queens. “I just thought to myself: this is perfect!” says Richmond. “Why aren’t places like this ever for sale?” Two weeks later he drove by again, and this time there was a For Sale sign posted outside the building. “I jumped out of my car, called the number on my cell phone, and the owner came right out. When he heard that I wanted the building for an arts space, he said, ‘That’s it, you’re going to have it.’”

Finally, in October 2000, they were able to acquire the warehouse that became the TOPAZ ARTS center. TOPAZ was built on the belief and support of the founders’ families. Todd’s father, Dr. Owen Richmond, a physicist and humanitarian who shares artists’ curiosity for the unknown, a one-time contribution enabled the purchase of the property. Before his death in 2001, it was his wish that Todd and Paz realize their dream of building a space for creation, coining the term TOPAZ by combining their names. TOPAZ ARTS is guided by his philosophy of exploration and creative collaboration.

With the acquisition of the raw warehouse space, the difficult process of administrative and construction work began. TOPAZ was forged from the founders’ sweat equity. Richmond and Tanjuaquio faced the bulk of these tasks, working with donated materials as they became available. They gutted the building and installed a sprung dance floor with radiant heat. The floor was completed in March 2001, just in time for them to create their first piece in the new space; their work TWELVE premiered at Performance Space 122 in May 2001. Since then, TOPAZ ARTS has pioneered a viable area for an artist space with an ever-growing number of dancers, choreographers and artists locally and internationally who have come to TOPAZ ARTS to rehearse and create work. As an artist-run space, affordability has been a fundamental concern since its inception, TOPAZ has supported the creation of countless works of art and a community of artists.

Throughout the process, TOPAZ ARTS, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization on September 29, 2000. Learning the process of incorporating and grantseeking through the many resources available in NYC, such as The Foundation Center and Support Center for Nonprofit Management.

TOPAZ ARTS was built with courage and determination. Taking risks and making the most of available resources, using our own skills and expertise – we learned by doing.