Emily Simoness steps down from SPACE on Ryder Farm
Emily Simoness, the co-founder and executive director of SPACE on Ryder Farm, today announced her decision to step down from the executive leadership role in September 2021. Her decision marks the end of an 11-year run at the helm of the historic Brewster farm which has been in Simoness’ family for eight generations.
“It has become really clear to me in the past couple of years that I am at my best and at my happiest at the beginning, in the creating and visioning of something,” Simoness said. “After 11 years, SPACE is ready for a leader who will steward its next phase.”
Simoness founded SPACE on Ryder Farm in 2011, just two years after first visiting the property in the hopes of taking a picture of the ancestral farm that had loomed large in family folklore. She immediately fell in love with the property and started to envision creating something that would serve two distinct purposes: provide a place for artists to retreat to, and have those artists help rehabilitate the 127-acre farm’s buildings and property while visiting.
In the ensuing decade, Simoness, with the help of a small and passionate team, have grown SPACE from a passion project into one of the most sought-after artist residency programs in the country. Referring to the impact that Simoness has had on Ryder Farm, Michael Liguori, a founding member of SPACE’s board of directors said, “there’s a stark contrast between the first day Emily arrived and now. There was no other person who was going to show up and change it the way that she did.”
Under Simoness’ leadership, SPACE on Ryder Farm embarked on several ambitious initiatives designed to bring greater equity, diversity and access to the arts and agriculture communities. SPACE allocated fifty percent of its residency programs for people of color and other underrepresented voices in the arts. The internship program transitioned to a paid fellowship to give more opportunities to young people regardless of their socioeconomic background. After listening to feedback from female writers, SPACE developed a family residency program to help support working mothers who wanted the opportunity to work on their craft but were either unable or unwilling to be away from their children for an extended period of time. Within its CSA program, SPACE committed to donating fifty percent of its farmed produce to underserved communities in the local area.
“I’m really proud of that work, and I think there’s a lot more work to do. I feel like it’s work worth doing,” Simoness said.
Just as arts and agriculture programs at SPACE flourished through the past decade, the property itself underwent its own evolution. “I’m proud of how the farm has transformed. Of the dock on Peach Lake, the stage on the bowling green, and in the barn. The way the houses are kept. When you look at it in totality, it's enormous and satisfying,” Simoness said.
SPACE on Ryder Farm. Photo by Kate Eminger.
Investing in people
Liguori said a key to SPACE’s success has been the people Simoness has chosen to surround herself with. “She has an uncanny ability to find people who can help her get to wherever she needs to go,” he said, adding that her goals have always been centered in helping the organization to do good for other people.
“A lot of people believe that Emily gives time and space to artists and change makers, making them feel safe and supported to go and create their work,” said Allyson Davis, the chief operating officer of SPACE on Ryder Farm. “A lesser-known fact is that she does that for the people who work here, too.”
Six years ago Davis was living in Brooklyn and working as a stage manager. She knew nothing about working at a non-profit, but she knew she was looking a way to make a greater impact. Simoness hired Davis as a management associate, SPACE’s first employee. “She really saw something in me and gave me the time and space to figure out what I was good at and what I love, and she has continued to do that every year," Davis said. "My job looks nothing like it did when I started because I’ve been able to grow and change and morph.”
Emily Simoness on Ryder Farm. Photo by SPACE staff.
For Simoness, doing good for others has evolved from a personal mission to an ethos that embodies what it means to be part of the SPACE community. “I’m of course proud of the artists who have created work on the farm, but I think I am prouder of the feedback that we’ve gotten from so many artists about how their time at SPACE inspired them to slow down, to spend more time at meals, to really look across the table and have a conversation with the person who they were eating with. There’s a rhythm and value on process, on relationship, on community that we champion at the farm. It’s a way of being—with yourself and with other people—that is more nuanced than creating an amazing piece of art,” said Simoness.
For Davis, SPACE is a way of life, something that everyone who works there has bought into and believes in. “I think I’ve really learned what it actually means to care about someone, to be of service to someone,” Davis said. “Handwritten notes, flowers in bedrooms, Emily really gets the small stuff and has taught me how to value it. Those of us who have been around for a long time are excited and proud to keep that torch going.”
Giving herself time and space
When Simoness steps down in September, SPACE will bring on an interim executive director to serve while the search for a permanent executive director takes place. The search for a successor will commence within the next two months with the goal of filling the role by the first quarter of 2022.
Simoness explained that the decision to bring on an interim director was a strategic move rather than a stopgap measure. “It’s really hard to follow a founder. We don’t want a situation where someone is not set up for the kind of success that they deserve.”
As for Simoness’ next move, she is taking her own time and space to figure that out. “It’s not an overstatement to say that this has been my entire adult life,” she said. “It’s my identity; it’s how I am known. But I think it’s a really good exercise – what if I’m not that?”