A Brooklyn Art Fabrication Venue Opens Its Doors to the Public

In the warehouse of what used to be the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Station power plant, small children toyed with pottery and even learned how to solder alongside the pros on Saturday, June 15.

As part of a “Community Art Day,” the nonprofit Powerhouse Arts opened its doors to all of Brooklyn for free for the first time since its debut last year. Usually a space for art fabrication, the 170,000-square-foot venue has long wanted to draw in locals of all artistic abilities, including young children. The event is part of a broader outreach effort by Powerhouse Arts to fulfill its mission to foster a space for “artistic practices vital to the wellbeing of artists and the communities to which they belong.”

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“I’m hoping this sparks creative joy in everyone at any age, even if you’re like someone who hasn’t touched art in, like, 50 years,” artist Jenn Williams, director of Learning and Engagement for Powerhouse Arts, told Hyperallergic at the event. 

Williams had recently finished a ceramics program with 75 high schoolers. Part of the value in connecting these students to Powerhouse Arts, she said, is showing them how they can make art into a career. 

“Here, you’re like, ‘Oh, these are actual fabricators making work, having a job, being employed,’” Williams said. 

The outreach day took about a year to plan, involving forming collaborations with other arts groups in Brooklyn. 

On the first and second floors, nine Brooklyn College MFA students displayed their paintings and sculptures in a curated thesis exhibition titled Meant to Hold.

Climbing up to the third floor, the widest space of the building, participants engaged with various arts interest groups and interactive crafts at tables set up in a circular fashion. At one of the stands, a “hacker collective” called NYC Resistor showed community members how to manipulate everyday objects creatively. Woody Poulard, an NYC Resistor member manning the soldering table, clarified that the collective’s name comes from the way in which real hackers “[use] something with its not-intended purpose.”

The group meets a couple of times a week, providing anyone who wants to join a free space to use hefty equipment including 3-D printers, soldering irons, and laser cutters. 

“We live in New York City. Not everyone has a 1,000-square-foot space to hold tools or to be able to use them, like a big table to cut fabric, if that’s what you want to do,” Poulard said.

Poulard, alongside NYC Resistor colleague Gene Radin, showed participants how to solder or join two pieces of wire together using a soldering iron. The pair demonstrated on lamp plugs, “hacking” them for creative purposes. 

At another table, representatives from New York City’s Civic Engagement Commission passed out ballots to anyone over the age of 11. As part of an initiative called “The People’s Money,” New York City residents can vote in a participatory budgeting process to allocate $150,000 to a program of their choice. An art therapy program meant to reduce violence and promote expression was among the options on the ballot.

Kelly Autry, a professional puppeteer and actor, was tasked with operating one of two giant yellow puppets, brought to the event as part of the New York City’s Engagement Commission campaign. 

The duo of puppets, nicknamed “Sunny puppets,” look like giant yellow versions of the small mannequins used by artists to draw figures. A team of three operates the legs and arms of the puppets to make the pair dance.

At other stations, participants crafted their own ceramic objects, screenprinted clothing, and created prints on paper. Luther Davis, Powerhouse’s print shop director, said the community day celebrates a longstanding tradition of artistry in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, even as the neighborhood changes. 

“The spaces in Gowanus are slowly being turned into condominiums,” Luther said. “Ten years ago they were all one-story artists’ studios, machine shops … people making things.” 

Now the arts ecosystem looks different, though it hasn’t gone anywhere. 

“Part of the art ecosystem is the fabricators, and so is Powerhouse,” Luther said. 

Source: Hyperallergic.com

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