Since launching Chashama 17 years ago out of her father Douglas Durst’s building on 44th Street in Times Square, Anita Durst has helped locate affordable or free studio and gallery space for hundreds of artists in all five boroughs. With a portfolio of 17 spaces, donated by the likes of Rockrose Development and New York City, Chashama currently manages an estimated $2 million in real estate. On the eve of the group’s Gala Monday, Mr. Durst’s eldest daughter spoke to The Commercial Observer about lessons learned from her famous family, what’s in store for her arts program in the upcoming months, and how dad helped her land a role on the sitcom 30 Rock.
The Commercial Observer: What is your relationship with real estate? Do you consider yourself an artist or a broker?
Ms. Durst: Well, my family is in real estate. Right now we’re the third generation running the real estate company, and I lived with my grandfather [Seymour Durst] in the old York Library, and he had a collection on New York of maps, books and memorabilia dating back to the 1800s. Through living with him and going on walks with him—and him pointing out buildings to me and us taking pictures, and me attending my father’s meetings—I’ve learned a lot about real estate.
You attended Durst Organization meetings? How old were you?
When I was about 25, I would go to his meetings. The meetings were in what would become known as the Condé Nast building, at 4 Times Square, and they were meeting with the Condé Nast people and really just negotiating the lease terms.
Were there lessons you learned while sitting in on those meetings?
I was interested in understanding the business world and to see how transactions are negotiated.
Chashama’s annual gala is on Monday. Do real estate professionals show up?
Our gala has had people from the real estate industry, the entertainment industry, lawyers, accountants … so a mix—and many different kinds of artists, as well.
With Chashama, are you involved during negotiations with the building owners?
When we do the letters of agreement we have a standard contract, but some of them change it, you know, like they want their … We just got a space on 26th Street and 10th Avenue, at 303 10th Avenue. And [the owner] wants us to put the windows back if we leave and they don’t rent out the space. So, it’s small little things like that.
Are they tough negotiators, or do they support the arts?
Well, they want to ensure that we can’t stay there forever, so those things are very, very set. But, no, they’re not really tough. I think they understand, and our letter of agreement is very straightforward and very clear. We’ve been working on it to make it clean.
What is the benefit for building owners to handing over free space to artists?
Well, it helps market it and enliven the neighborhood because when you have a dark block you don’t really want to move your business there if you don’t see anything happening there, any energy. And when you have something there, it really produces a feeling of, of new energy.