LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture
LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture is a program of the 14th Street Y that uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of art, dialogue and study.
Part of LABA is the House of Study, a NYC-based artist fellowship program in which approximately 10 culture-makers–a mix of visual artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors and others–are brought together to study classic Jewish texts in a non-religious, open-minded setting.
The fellows use the study to inspire work, which is featured here and in our series of LABAlive events and performances. Every year LABA focuses its study around a theme. Previous themes include PARADISE, EROS, BLUEPRINT, EAT, MOTHER, TIME, BEAUTY, OTHER, LIFE + DEATH, HUMOR, CHOSEN, and BROKEN. This year’s theme is TABOO.
Our goal at LABA is to present Judaism’s rich literary and intellectual tradition in a free and creative setting, so that these stories and ideas spark new thought and art. The creative output from our House of Study pushes the boundaries of what Jewish art can be and what Jewish texts can teach.
In 2014, LABA was named one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in North America by the Slingshot Guide, and also received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.
In 2020, LABA was one of 5 organizations to receive inaugural funding from the newly created CANVAS, working to support the 21st Century Jewish Cultural Renaissance.Visit LABAJournal
CURRENT AND UPCOMING THEMES
The LABA theme for 2023 is TABOO.
Clean. Dirty. Sacred. Profane. Okay. Not okay. We moderns like to think we are better than this. That we see beyond these moral categories and inhabit a muddied middle ground, an infinite gray area, in which life, people, things, are complicated. But the reality is we are no less a stranger to the concept of taboo than our ancient ancestors, whose understanding of life took shape through an articulation of boundaries. We are, always and forever, people who do and people who don’t.
From the moment Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, there has never been, and never will be, human psychology or collective existence without taboos. We need them to know what to say yes to and no to. And, equally important, we need them to have something to transgress. Taboos are a central component of the Jewish psyche and the artist’s psyche. These boundaries and borders illuminate truths, foment desire, and articulate fear and shame. They are the bridges between the subconscious and conscious, which make them some of the sharpest tools we have in our meaning-making toolkits.
Next year at LABA we will dive into the mysteries and power of TABOO in the ancient Jewish canon, unpacking and debating this human impulse and tapping into the ways in which it can fuel our creativity. Most importantly, we’ll have a great time talking, eating, drinking, learning, and laughing in the lush, fertile, free-flowing, romantic, super-serious, and endlessly playful environment of LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture.
The LABA theme for 2024 is NIGHT
What only comes out at NIGHT.
NIGHT, in the Jewish imagination, is both a matter of time and a state of mind.
Our days begin at night, the arrival of three stars is our first sign of tomorrow. Our calendar is lunar, our months and years obsessively coordinated with the waxing and waning of the moon. Our festivals are backlit by the orb at its fullest.
Night is more than a time marker, however. It is also a paradoxical psychological state, when urges are too messy, too irrational, and too wild for the day to emerge, whether through dreams or behaviors or habits or the thoughts that only voice themselves at three in the morning. Night is obscurity, but it is also clarity. Night is freedom, but it is also sometimes cruelty. Only in darkness can some truths be revealed. The cosmos began with night, and from night the very atoms humming our bodies arrived. We can never know ourselves fully, as a person or a people, without a deep understanding of night.
This year at LABA we will explore the theme of NIGHT in the ancient Jewish canon. We will look at how and why NIGHT anchors us, liberates us, terrifies us through a study of evocative stories from the Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, Zohar and more. We will study how the separation of day and night marks the beginning of the world, the way dreams inform reality, what night does to the mind and soul, and epic, history-changing nights in Jewish cultural history.
We will also consider the role of NIGHT in the life of culture-makers, and the ways in which culture-makers are the “NIGHTS” of people—truth-tellers, tricksters, beauty-makers, and deep-sea subconscious divers.
Most importantly, we’ll have a great time talking, eating, drinking, learning, and laughing in the lush, fertile, free-flowing, romantic, super-serious, and endlessly playful environment of LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture.
We invite you to point your flashlight towards uncharted territories–places you might cherish, wish to destroy, or both– and propose new work inspired by what night brings up in you. All mediums accepted, and the strange and unconventional are always welcome.
This LABA season runs from January to December 2024, with summer months focused on developing your LABA project.
Applications are open, and will close on Sunday October 15 at 11:55 PM.
Interviews with finalists will be in person on November 2–6.
Seeking NYC-based artists and culture-makers from any creative field to dive into the mysteries and power of NIGHT in the ancient Jewish canon, unpacking and debating this human impulse and tapping into the ways in which it can fuel our creativity.
This LABA season runs January to December 2024, with summer months focused on developing your LABA project. Learn More
From incubated projects to details on current and past fellows, see all that LABA has to offer on their main website.Learn More About LABA
Meet the 2022 LABA Fellows
Every year LABA selects a group of ten fellows to join us for a yearlong study of classical Jewish texts centered around a theme. The current year’s theme is BROKEN.Meet the 2022 LABA Fellows