neighborhood: bed-stuy | space type: parties & art space | active since: 1993 | links: none (sorry!)
update December 2011: Rubulad is moving! After nine years in South Williamsburg and six in Bed-Stuy, this amazing space is hunting for a new home. And they’ve just completed a down-to-the-wire Kickstarter campaign, raising over $35k to help them on their way. It remains to be seen where they’ll go, but it’s clear this vital community will continue to grow and inspire creative culture for years to come.
Rubulad—along with House of Yes, the 123 Community Center, and a handful of others—is what inspired me to start this project in the first place. For fifteen years, Rubulad has been an incubator of creative art and culture in New York; it’s one of the oldest, longest-running paeans to cultural experimentation, wild beauty, art for the sake of art. The influence of the space on Brooklyn’s creative class is impossible to overstate.
Rubulad is a huge, stunning, two-floor warehouse on the Bed-Stuy / Crown Heights border, and is both notorious and revered for the massive themed parties they’ve been hosting for over a decade. The events include installation art, eclectic performances, film screenings, and musicians, and attract a diverse crown, the majority of whom dress up in elaborate costumes to fit the themes.
Remnants of every one of the parties still adorn every inch of visible space—the walls, ceilings, rooftop, furniture, backyard, and garden are teeming with a dizzying array of decorations, from framed shellacked jellybeans to glitter-painted stuffed animals to a giant birdcage with a carousel horse inside.
In addition to the parties, Rubulad has also been home to many more intimate events, like kids’ days, smaller music performances, benefit parties, and art shows. Grub, the bi-monthly freegan community dinner bottom-lined by In Our Hearts, was held here for years. Want to hear how it all began? Read through for my interview with Sari, one of Rubulad’s founders.
brooklyn spaces: When did you start doing this and why?
Sari: We’ve been going in different incarnations since ’93. It was started by four bands: Fly Ashtray, Uncle Wiggly, Smack Dab, and the Gamma Rays. Together we rented a huge place in South Williamsburg, back when things were cheap.
brooklyn spaces: Did you start right off throwing parties?
Sari: Well, we had this big space full of all these artists and musicians. And it felt a little flat to all the bands to just be playing in bars and not have any kind of control over the environment. We wanted to take a hand in that and say, “We’d like this band to play with these other performers, and then show these projections, and have a little play in between.” And we just invited the neighborhood in.
brooklyn spaces: What were some of the obstacles you faced when you left Williamsburg for this new space?
Sari: One obstacle was the neighborhood. It took a while for people to want to come to Bed-Stuy. It’s hard to imagine that now, but even five years ago, people were like, “What? The G train?! You’re kidding!” But things moved quickly.
brooklyn spaces: Let’s talk some more about the art and the artists.
Sari: I come at this as kind of a director of a show. My dream is to create a holistic piece of art, an experiential environment that many different people had a hand in. Our desire is to create work for people, and for people to get other work from having been here. The artists here have a chance to really evolve. We’re kind of family-oriented; lots of artists come back to do work here again and again, and so we get to see how they change and what happens to their art over several years. It’s really nice to give artists an opportunity for that growth, as opposed to just doing one show here, one show there.
brooklyn spaces: I read the interview you did with Nonsense NYC some years ago, where you talked about how for one party you needed sheets, and so you called all these hospitals to see if they would donate sheets.
Sari: We do have to hustle to get things, but you can have good adventures that way. That’s the part I like, the moment when you’re standing in a record store trying to find a square-dance caller or something else that you never thought you’d be doing.
brooklyn spaces: What have been some of your favorite party themes?
Sari: They always surprise you. You never really know when you pick a theme whether it’s gonna work. One of my favorite ones was Laundry Day. Who would have known that Laundry Day would turn out to be such a good theme? There’s a great picture floating around the internet of a girl playing music in roller curlers in front of the set of the laundry. And there was one party I really loved like ten years ago called Night of the Living Toys. That was really beautiful. If you look around the space, you can see remnants from them all.
brooklyn spaces: How do you find the artists? Or do they find you?
Sari: Gosh, a lot of them find us. If they’re supposed to be here, they somehow hear about us, even in Australia or something. There’s really a lot of good stuff out there, almost endless good stuff. It’s amazing all the stuff that people know how to do.
brooklyn spaces: Clearly this is a creative space for making and appreciating art. But there are people who just see it as a party house. What do you think about that?
Sari: Well, those people are really missing the point, because if that’s what we wanted, we would just have a bar. People who are just looking for a place to drink beer, I encourage them to go to a bar, there are many. It’s not like we’re against that, but our parties are meant to be experiential. The whole point is for people to experience art that they wouldn’t see in the commercial world, or listen to music that they wouldn’t hear on commercial radio. Not that I mean to disparage beer, and I don’t want to underestimate the importance of celebration, because that’s really important to us. We definitely want to encourage more celebration and to help people make more holidays. People need them! Life is sad sometimes.
brooklyn spaces: How do you think being in Brooklyn has affected Rubulad? Do you feel like what you’re doing and have done is specific to Brooklyn?
Sari: That’s an interesting question. I’m a New Yorker and I went to high school in Brooklyn, so I’ve gotten to see Brooklyn really change. It used to be that everyone in Brooklyn just wanted to get to the city, and they thought of themselves as bridge-and-tunnel people. They’d think, if you make it, you go to Manhattan. That’s really changed, Brooklyn has really become its own city. Manhattan has become a place where the money lives more than where the people live. Here in Brooklyn there’s more space for independent stuff to happen, and there’s a lot of help from a great community. There are so many other spaces, other people who are doing amazing things. There’s a lot of cross-pollination between different groups, and we work with many groups who do things that are so different than we do. What was the last part of that question?
brooklyn spaces: Do you feel like what you’re doing here is specific to Brooklyn?
Sari: Well, for years we thought that we were the only space like this in the world. We didn’t know that there were other Rubulads all over America and all over the world. I guess Burning Man was the first time we were like, “Holy shit, there are so many other people doing stuff!” The way we do things is specific to where we are, for sure, but we have connections to so many different kinds of spaces all over the place. I have a desire to live a life that doesn’t involve a certain kind of people, and I’ve been able to achieve that. I’m happy to never have to go to Midtown to work and live that sort of life. In New York that’s pretty hard to achieve, since it’s so expensive to live here. But there’s something about the grit of the struggle in Brooklyn that gives people a little added bite and energy. There’s so much going on right now, it’s a really good time around here, in Bushwick, Bed-Stuy. There are so many groups around that are really amazing, like the Groove Hoopers, or the Chicken Hut people. They’re like gutter-punk bike-jousters, and they throw a heck of a party. And we love Secret Project Robot. There’s so much going on in Brooklyn that we’re really excited about.
brooklyn spaces: Do you have any advice for creative people who are trying to figure out how to be involved in something like Rubulad?
Sari: There was a boy in here who once said in an interview, “Do art, be art, live art,” and that made me so happy. I want to encourage people to not be shy, to just make stuff and share it, because that’s what it’s for. I hope more people will make more spaces and do more weird theaters and galleries. If you decide to create your own thing and make it happen the way you want to, other people will enjoy it and join in.
Like this? Read about other underground performance & party spaces: Monster Island, Flux Factory, Gemini & Scorpio loft, The Lab (Electric Warehouse), Red Lotus Room, Big Sky Works, Newsonic, Gowanus Ballroom