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Scott Lauer

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Meet the man behind the Open House New York festival, which took over 85 different locations...

By Mark Mavrigian

Eighty-five sites of architectural note opened to the public free of charge—many for the first time—as part of a new event called Open House New York. Inspired by similar tours in London, Toronto and Sydney, Scott Lauer founded a nonprofit to coordinate the New York version, which spans across all five boroughs. We spoke to Lauer about starting the event and working with the diverse list of venues.

How did you get interested in starting Open House New York?

I was living in London from 1990 to 1998 and attended the first London Open House and began volunteering in subsequent years and watched it grow from a tiny grass roots organization which featured 30-odd sites to one of the largest public events on the London calendar including more than 500 sites and engaging 360,000 people in issues I care about.

How long have you been putting together the event?

A lot of last year was taken up in organization-building. And it's no small job to attract institutional support and funding. We were always looking at sites and working on our site list. [We were] speaking with architects and historians and educators about possible places to include in our event.

What was the biggest challenge of working with 85 venues?

We aimed for 50 sites so we're absolutely ecstatic that we have 85, plus or minus. But—surprise, surprise—the biggest challenge was fund-raising. And we are a new arts organization mounting an incredibly ambitious citywide event in our first time out with a tiny staff and very little money and we've had to make every dollar count for ten. We've been fortunate enough to have literally hundreds of advisors and volunteers work with us on areas ranging from incorporation, legal aspects, Web design, fund-raising and development, event planning—so we've really tapped into the talents of many wonderful people to take short cuts and try to get things right on the first go-round.

Was it hard to get venues to participate?

Most of the site owners and building owners that we approached got it—they understood that this is a great event for the city. We did have logistical support from two organizations in particular, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation—and we're proud to include a number of park sites in this year’s event—and a related organization called the Historic House Trust, and we have a number of their sites in our event as well. In addition, we have a couple of city sites—a tour that takes you through City Hall and the newly renovated Tweed Courthouse and Gracie Mansion.

How do you plan to control the crowds at the more popular sites?

We've worked very closely with the mayor's office to develop a plan for that—they do have security in place naturally already—they are providing staff and we are providing volunteers to all of our sites who have requested that we provide volunteers.

Where will you be during all of the tours?

I'm still trying to figure this out. Running around, glued to my cell phone no doubt.

Posted 10.08.03
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