Behind the List
Listings Project is My ArtBy Stephanie Diamond
January 15, 2021
I had no plans to start a business when I sent an email to my friends, almost eighteen years ago, asking for housing leads. I was an artist, after all, not a business person. It was 2003, and I was in graduate school at NYU and living in Queens, an hour away from campus. I was desperate to move back to Manhattan. But even after I’d found an amazing rent-stabilized studio in the West Village, people kept sending me housing leads, and as a social practice artist, it was second nature for me to keep sharing them.
Social practice art is a way of making art that focuses on community engagement and interactions. In many ways, I’ve been a social practice artist since I was a child. As a teenager growing up in New York City, I took pictures of absolutely everything and everyone around me, and I always printed out copies for my subjects. For me, art was always about sharing, connecting and community-building. When I learned the term “social practice art” in graduate school, I felt like I had come home. I finally had the language to describe my work.
As a social practice artist, I am interested in creating with a community as opposed to for an audience, and my art projects reflect that. Some of my favorites include a slumber party for artists, a crowdsourced cookbook and a six-hour dance performance in a museum. My work has been exhibited at MoMA, Studio Museum in Harlem, Queens Museum of Art, Mass MOCA and Project Row Houses to name a few. My longest-lasting art project, though, is Listings Project.
Given my deep desire to collaborate and cultivate community, it felt natural to keep collecting housing leads and sending them out to friends and acquaintances who needed a place to live. Slowly, more and more people began reaching out to share their spaces or to ask to be on my “list.” After a few months, I got an email from my dear friend and artist, Sanford Biggers. It was a simple request. “I’m renting my apartment,” he wrote, “Can you send this out to your amazing list.” Up until that moment, I hadn’t thought much about what I was doing. I was just doing what came naturally to me: connecting people. But Sanford’s notes sparked something for me. I felt like he was reflecting back to me the impact my work was having. His email made me realize that I am creating a vast and vibrant community. My email list could bring people together.
Moments like that, of connection and support from the artists I have had the privilege to know and work with, have helped build Listings Project into what it is today. In the beginning it was just me copying and pasting listings into a word document and sending them out. But over the years we grew slowly but steadily, almost entirely through word of mouth. Now there are six of us on the core Listings Project team, and we consult with many more talented individuals who help us take care of our community. Every week we share hundreds of listings—not just living space, but art studio spaces and opportunities, too— and we have listers in all fifty states and over a hundred countries.
When I was in graduate school studying art education, I never thought that I would one day make social practice art at the intersection of real estate and technology. But at Listings Project we have redefined what it means to have a sustainable art practice and a creative business. Along the way, I have developed a deep appreciation for the creative aspects of business-building; artists have a lot to learn from business people, business people have a lot to learn from artists, too.
It’s been almost nineteen years now since I first dashed off an email to my friends asking for apartment leads. It is with a sense of amazement that I reflect upon how far we’ve come. It is a joy to see that Listings Project, the unexpected expression of my impulse to connect people, has become a way for thousands of people to find the space they need to flourish, thrive and do their own creative work.
Feature Image by Dondre Stuetley
Stephanie Diamond is the founder and CEO of Listings Project. She is also a social practice artist and a certified 5Rhythms dance teacher. You can learn more about her work at www.stephaniediamond.com.