The Artists’ Television Network Collection

To: Collections Supporting Television & Film Studies

In the 1960s, New York City’s SoHo district had more video artists per square block than the rest of the country put together. In 1976 exhibition facilities like the Kitchen, Global Village, and Anthology Film Archives joined with a number of individuals to organize Cable SoHo in an attempt to place video art on Manhattan Cable Television. Later that year, the Artists’ Television Network (ATN) was incorporated. Supported through funding from the New York Council of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, ATN commissioned artists to create works for television cablecasting. The non-profit corporation provided production and post-production facilities, and paid expenses incurred during production.

Laurie Anderson, Gregory Battcock, John Cage, Douglas Davis, Jean Dupuy, and a host of others, were among the initial artists whose works were produced by ATN. While video art is most often confined to the exhibition arena, the Artists Television Network was committed to the development of “television” as an artistic medium and to the distribution of contemporary arts programming to a broad-based television viewing audience. Through SoHo Television and the Live Show, ATN presented regular weekly telecasts of programs composed of original, innovative works by visual and performing artists on Manhattan Cable from 1978-1983. In 1988, these tapes were donated to the University of Iowa. A small cross-section of these ground breaking productions is currently being distributed through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Video Data Bank.

Produced in SoHo mainly in the latter half of the 1970′s, these videotapes give testimony to the best of experimental video art — in dance, theatre, music and the visual arts. Artists associated with the video art produced by ATN include Laurie Anderson, Gregory Battcock, John Cage, Douglas Davis, Jean Dupuy, and many others. Video exhibition which took place in artists’ lofts, galleries, and alternative spaces in SoHo and elsewhere, needed to create a larger audience, an exhibition outlet of its own In 1976 several cable facilities joined with a number of individuals to organize Cable SoHo, with the goal of placing video art on Manhattan Cable Television.

Of the individuals involved in organizing this effort — video artist and painter Jaime Davidovich, video artist and journalist Douglas Davis, and Jude Quintiere, director of music at New York City’s Pacifica station WBAI –Davidovich was especially enthusiastic about cable’s potential as a medium of art and artists, and its ability to bring the artists’ work into people’s homes. For the artists it meant the integration of the working concept of art-making as unbounded, highly individual expression with the rigid time-space and necessarily cooperative structure of television. The programs were allowed to include artists’ work in any medium, as long as the presentation was conceived as television. The result was the production of artists’ television which focused on live performances, lectures, seminars, screenings, video art, theatre works, contemporary music compositions, street events, and two-way interaction.

Programming started on December 9, 1976, and continued to run on Manhattan Cable’s Public Access Channels until early 1977, with Davidovich as executive producer. In late 1976 the Artists’ Television Network was incorporated. The original consortium of independent organizations and individuals comprising Cable SoHo was replaced through an active board of unaffiliated individuals, along with representation from many of the former organizations. Davidovich became president of ATN. ATN commissioned artists to create work for videotape, and provided production and post-production facilities. The new corporation did all programming under the name of SoHo Television, a Project of The Artists’ Television Network. The series was featured, beginning in April 1978, on Manhattan Cable’s Premiere Channel IO as part of its TAKE IO presentation of special programming and classic films, and was shown on Teleprompter’s Cable Television Channel 10 at the same time. It became a vital outlet for independently produced artists’ video work and its dissemination to a broad television audience. Thus, ATN programmed and aired a regularly scheduled series of tapes about avant-garde art on cable.

Of particular interest to ATN’s founder, Davidovich, was The Live! Show, presented once a week on Manhattan Cable’s channel J. This program became the live cablecast show of the avant-garde, a variety program which featured news, art performances, live phone-ins, guest appearances by notables in the field of video art and every aspect of the New York avant-garde scene. Part of The Live! Show was Davidovich himself, as Dr. Videovich, with his cure for television addiction, Videokitsch Commercials, and the Video Gift Shop. The Iowa collection contains over sixty tapes of The Live! Show, among many others. In 1984 regular programming produced by ATN came to an end and the activities of ATN were discontinued.