waterfront museum

[I’m counting down to the release of the Brooklyn Spaces book by doing one mini-post per day, sharing teasers of some of the places you’ll find in it.]

neighborhood: coney island | space type: nonprofit museum | active since: 1985 | links: website, facebook, twitter

In 1985, David Sharps—a self-taught and then Paris-trained juggler and clown—bought the Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge No. 79 for $1. At the time, the 1914 cargo ship was sunk eight feet deep in the mudflats of Edgewater, NJ, and it took David two years to remove 300 tons of mud from the hull, restore the barge, and get her floating again.

pix by Alix Piorun

pix by Alix Piorun

By the mid-1980s, the barge had become a floating nonprofit museum. In addition to displays about maritime history and the story of this ship in particular, the Waterfront Museum is filled with artifacts—signboards, tools, lanterns, fittings, barrels, foghorns, bells—the majority of which has been donated by fans and enthusiasts.

The museum, which has been docked in Red Hook since 1994, also acts as a floating classroom and cultural programming venue. In twenty years it has brought hundreds of thousands of people to the waterfront, from school groups to tourists, for everything from circuses to lectures to weddings. The Red Hook community board has pointed to the Waterfront Museum as possibly the single most significant factor in bringing people to the neighborhood for the first time.


Want to learn more about the Waterfront Museum, and 49 other incredible Brooklyn Spaces? Buy the book!


pioneer works

space type: nonprofit, skillshare, gallery | neighborhood: red hook | active since: 2012 | links: website, facebook, twitter, wikipedia

Pioneer Works is huge. It’s around 27,000 square feet with 40-foot ceilings, which is just truly, absolutely enormous. The building dates back all the way to 1866, and for more than a century was home to Pioneer Iron Works, one of the largest machine manufacturers in the country.

Prominent Brooklyn artist Dustin Yellin bough the building in 2010. As he told the New York Times, “My crazy dream is to create a kind of utopian art center.” And Pioneer Works is something pretty close to that dream. The nonprofit has several elements, including a massive exhibition gallery and event space (one of the biggest in the city), classes and workshops, a science lab with a powerful photographic microscope, artist residencies, institutional residencies (currently the Clocktower Gallery), a radio show, and a modern art periodical called Intercourse Magazine.

all photos by Maximus Comissar

The events range from open studios to lectures (“How to Fake Your Own Death” is popular and recurring), from Hackathons to concerts, with musical acts like Spiritualized, Ariel Pink, and Omar Souleyman. And the classes are equally varied—some recent examples include “Physical Storytelling,” “The Alchemy of Light,” “From Tesla to the Transistor,” “Homebrew Kimchi,” “NY Theremin Society Workshop,” and “Lock-Picking and Open-Source Security.”

So get out to Red Hook and learn something! But first read the Q&A with David, Pioneer Works’ Director of Education.

brooklyn spaces: Tell me a bit about the history of this building.
David: Okay! I know this because we had a Red Hook history class here recently. It was built in 1866, then in 1871 it burned down, and it was rebuilt in 1872. It was originally Pioneer Iron Works, one of the biggest iron works in the country. After that it was a tobacco-drying warehouse. Then they were doing something manufacturing until the 1950s; whatever they were making was super heavy, so they had this system to move it all around in here, and rollers set into the floor to roll it out the door. And then since the 1960s it was used to store financial records. When Dustin bought it, there was no heat, no running water, minimal electricity. The windows were all bricked up, the floors were wrecked, the staircases were terrifying. It took about a year of heavy work to get it into shape.

brooklyn spaces: I love that uniquely artist vision of walking into a completely decrepit space and saying, “I can see what this is going to be.” It’s like that quote about sculptors, how they look for the piece within the marble and then let it out.
David: Exactly. Dustin was like, “All right, this building is my next piece of art.”

Dustin Yellin sculpture

brooklyn space: How did you become involved?
David: I was teaching high school and really wanted to quit, so when Dustin presented me the opportunity to start a teaching program here, I thought I’d give it a shot. So we started, and it went really well in the summer, and then it went really well in the fall, and then Hurricane Sandy happened, and it just totally knocked us out. This whole building was like shoulder-deep in water. We tried to keep doing classes even though we had very little power and no heat—I bubbled in the classroom, like in ET, just encased it in plastic curtains, and we put in as many heaters as we could without blowing the circuits, but it was still so, so cold. We didn’t get heat until March, so that’s when we finally started doing classes again. Since then, we’ve just been growing and growing and growing.

brooklyn spaces: How would you classify the different kinds of classes offered here?
David: They’re pretty different, but it’s basically stuff that’s either really new or really old. We do cutting-edge stuff like microcontrollers and 3D printing and upgrading the firmware in your camera; those are for artists, designers, software developers, to demystify the process of new technologies that everyone wants to know how to use. And then we do old stuff, like paper marbling, or wet-plate or tintype photography, which is Civil War era. It’s to a similar aim as the newer stuff: giving artists a new vocabulary and a specialized practice.

brooklyn spaces: Do you come up with an idea for a class and then go out and find a teacher? Or do people bring you ideas?
David: Both. The lock-picking class, which is super popular, came about because I saw a lock-picking tent at Maker Faire—although tracking down someone who picks locks for a living was really hard. Then on the other hand, a woman came by the other day who wants to do a bread-baking class. We were like, “But we have no ovens, we have no flat surfaces, we don’t have anything.” And she was like, “It’s okay, we can make it work. How about we cook the bread on sticks over a fire?” We’ll try basically anything if it seems cool and the teacher seems competent.

brooklyn spaces: There seems to be a strong movement in Brooklyn for these kinds of classes and skillshares, as evidenced by the extreme popularity of places like 3rd Ward and Brooklyn Brainery. Why do you think that is? Do people just want to have more hobbies?
David: I think it’s deeper than that. Demystifying processes is so enabling. There’s a huge movement of open-source hardware and software in the tech world, and I think part of that is because we’re so controlled by the companies that make the technology we use. The fact that you can’t just open an iPhone and replace the battery is a conscious choice on their part. It’s not because oh you might do it wrong; it’s to keep you under their control. The open-source movement puts the power back in the hands of the individuals, and I think people are used to that idea now, so by applying that model to education, we’re unlocking it a bit. And I think it’s going to continue to grow.

brooklyn spaces: With so many choices, do you think they’re beginning to overlap? What makes Pioneer Works’ offerings unique?
David: I mean, maybe there’s some overlap with what 3rd Ward was doing, but we have something that they didn’t have.
brooklyn spaces: Integrity?
David: Oh yeah, well there’s that. But also we’re a nonprofit and they were a for-profit, which makes a huge difference. We’re an arts institution; it’s just a very different kind of space. Plus we have the nicest building. Once people come here once, it’s not hard to get them to come back.

brooklyn spaces: Do you think being in Red Hook has had an influence on how the space has developed?
David: Sure. There’s such a strong community here, and a real neighborhood feel, like I’ve never experienced anywhere else in New York. We’re trying to find ways to use this space as more of a community center. At the end of April we did a twenty-four-hour hackathon that was Red Hook themed. Business owners from the neighborhood gave us challenges, and all the tech people competed to make apps to address those issues. Pizza Moto catered the event. I love those guys—after the flood they came down to Van Brunt Street when nobody had any power and just started cooking pizzas for free, out on the street under the police lights.

brooklyn spaces: What are some of your future goals for the space?
David: We’re building a lot of relationships with terrific groups like Invisible Dog and Generally Assembly and Fractured Atlas. We don’t know what we’re going to do with them yet, but we’re kicking around ideas. We’re also starting to collaborate in a bunch of ways with Brooklyn Museum, which is perfect because they want to be linked to a gallery and we want to be linked to an institution. Obviously we don’t want to be a museum, but the way they’re organized and the integrity they have, I think it’s a really great model for us.


Like this? Read about more skillshares: Brooklyn Brainery, Exapno, Time’s Up, Ger-Nis Culinary Center, Lifelabs, UrbanGlass, 3rd Ward

clockworks puppet studio

space type: theatre | neighborhood: red hook | active: 2011–2012 | links: website, blog

Photo from Monthly Brand

The Clockworks Puppet Theatre is in trouble. If they don’t receive a miracle in the form of a cash influx very very soon, the theatre will have to close its doors. It’s the same sad story, and one of the reasons I started this site: rents are rising, landlords are greedy, and the first casualties are always the artists—the very people who made the neighborhood an exciting place to be, and the reason for the soaring housing costs. Clockworks is an amazing, incredibly unique space that offers a home for experimental performance in a city going increasingly monocultural, and it would be such a shame to see them go.

photo by me

There’s one final performance of Das Wonderkammer Puppet Kabarett—Save the Clockworks Edition tonight (9/29), which I very strongly encourage you all to see, as it may be your last chance. If you have the means to donate to the cause, get in touch with Jonny Clockworks to help save an incredible piece of Brooklyn creativity from extinction. If they can keep their doors open for the next couple of months, Jonny promises a whole slew of amazing offerings, including a month of Halloween celebrations, more kids’ workshops, plenty of cabarets, and on and on. Help if you can!

Photo from Jonny Clockworks' Picassa

A bit more about the space:

The Cosmic Bicycle Theatre was started in Boston in 1989 by Jonny Clockworks, a puppeteer, director, and experimental musician. In 1995 he moved into a space in the East Village, on East 12th St., right across from Old Devil Moon. They were the only ones on the block, and Jonny says they formed a kind alliance, with the restaurant feeding him some nights when he was less than flush. In 1999 Jonny was forced out due to skyrocketing rents, and after several years of a nomadic existence, he moved the whole shebang to Red Hook in 2011, opening both the Cosmic Bicycle Theatre and the Clockworks Experimental Puppetry Studio.

Jonny Clockworks, photo by Hannah Egan for Brooklyn Daily

The new space was conceived as a home for experimental puppet shows and performances at night, and during the day a workshop space for children’s activities. The theatre has incredible events, such as the recurring Das Wonderkammer Puppet Kabarett, Kidz Vaudeville matinees, Junior Puppet Master workshops, and Halloween Hell Kabarett, as well as single events like Netherworld and a collaboration with Norah Jones set to her album Little Broken Hearts.

Photo from Jonny Clockworks' Picassa


Like this? Read about more theatres: Bushwick Starr, Chez Bushwick, South Oxford Space, UnionDocs, Spectacle Theatre

pickett furniture (pier 41 workshop)

space type: coworking maker space | neighborhood: red hook | active since: 2010 | links: website, facebook, twitter, tumblr

Pickett Furniture is huge. The massive coworking space—in an old import / export warehouse right on the water—is home to a dozen woodworking companies, a couple of industrial designers and prototypers, and the screenprinting company Lunacy Design. In addition to “machine alley,” the vast corridor filled with all manner of industrial saws and giant sanders and other baffling tools, there are individual “bays” for each company, finishing rooms, a full photo studio, and offices. It’s an incredible space.

The whole thing is presided over by Jeremy, owner of Pickett and landlord to all the other small companies. He told us to arrive in the early evening so we could catch the sunset over the water from his window, which was excellent advice. In fact, I kept getting distracted during the interview by all the ships floating in and out of view, as well as the great weird music Jeremy played for me (an eighties record called “Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat“) on the incredible stereo console he built himself.

brooklyn spaces: What’s the craziest thing you’ve built lately?
Jeremy: Probably this stereo console. There’s a company in Chicago called ECP Audio, they build high-end equipment for the audiophile community out of tubes, and I’ve been doing their casework for the last few years. Last summer we started talking about doing one of those old fifties-style retro stereo consoles but with audiophile equipment. We created the tube amp together, the tube phono stage, the speakers, and the digital stage, so you can stream your iTunes from anywhere in the room. I also worked with Planet 10 Hi-Fi on the speaker design. The really great thing about the console is it’s only got a five-watt amp. Modern stereos, they all have are like 5,000 watts of power. The really muddy way to create sound is to give it a lot of power but not pay attention to the circuitry or any of the parts and components, which are usually all solid-state. So we took the Pickett Furniture philosophy of really simple furniture and applied it to the electronics, and we were able to create something that outperforms just about any modern stereo.

brooklyn spaces: What are some other crazy things you’ve built?
Jeremy: There are a lot of things that were hard but don’t look it, like the chair you’re sitting on. It looks like an art project, but it’s incredibly comfortable, which took a lot of trial and error. These stools weren’t hard to build, but the wood is from the Staten Island Underground Railroad, so that’s pretty crazy.
brooklyn spaces: Whoa.
Jeremy: Yeah, a friend of mine has a carriage house in Staten Island, which was a safe house in the Underground Railroad, and these black locust trees in her backyard were part of it too. They had little markings in the bark that indicated “danger,” “safe house,” whatever. The trees fell down in a big storm a few years ago, so I went out there and brought back as much as I could.

brooklyn spaces: Does that kind of thing happen a lot?
Jeremy: We do try to be very conscious of the materials and processes we use, and we like to be able to tell the story of our wood, from where it grew up to where it was harvested and reused. The oak for the coffee table we’re building right now came down from the John Jay Homestead property up in Westchester, and it’s the same story: these 230-year-old trees fell down in a storm. I used to be in the music business, and I toured Japan quite a bit, so getting exposed to shintoism and the Japanese way of life has really shaped my business. We try not to waste. A lot of our furniture is made out of solid, local woods, and everything’s hand-cut and assembled here. There’s a book called The Art of Japanese Joinery that’s like our bible.
brooklyn spaces: Is it okay to share the name of the book? I don’t want to give away your secrets.
Jeremy: Oh, it’s fine, it’s totally unprofitable to do it this way. But we want to make products that will have a really long lifespan, heirloom pieces that will be auctioned at Christie’s or bequeathed in people’s wills. We think that’s one of the best ways to be green, to create products that won’t wind up in a landfill. People in mixed-use neighborhoods usually don’t like manufacturers, they feel like it decreases property values, pollutes the water, the land and air. But I want to be able to make and manufacture our products here, in the neighborhood where I live, and the only way to do that is to be a good steward of the neighborhood. We donate our sawdust to community gardens for mulching, we sponsor a night at Red Hook Flicks film series, we really try to let people know that we value the neighborhood and aren’t a threat. There are a lot of areas, like Gowanus and Greenpoint, that were plagued by industries that didn’t care what they did to the neighborhood. The factories were owned by people who lived somewhere else, and they trashed the neighborhood and then left.

brooklyn spaces: And we’re still cleaning up their messes.
Jeremy: Right. We try to do things carefully, and hopefully that comes through in the furniture, hopefully people who seek out our pieces would rather have a something built by a local craftsman than something made by Ikea robots in a far-off factoryland. My family ancestry is a long line of craftsman, weavers and woodworkers. So there’s a lineage I want to honor.

brooklyn spaces: What are your goals for the future of the space?
Jeremy: I just want this to be a place where small companies can continue to work and manufacture. This is such an expensive city, but by all of us pulling together, we can afford to do it. And it’s really nice having other people in the shop and seeing other projects. It adds a real energy and perpetual motion.

brooklyn spaces: Does being in Red Hook impact your business?
Jeremy: Oh, I love it here. We share this building with Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, which is amazing because the smell always comes in. There’s other great businesses in the neighborhood, like Stumptown Coffee, Baked, Red Hook Lobster Pound. The Dustin Yellin galleries just opened up in an old record storage warehouse. The Red Hook Crit is out here. Often small tours come through; yesterday like fifty people came by with Open House New York, and once in a while Made in Brooklyn brings groups in. There’s very little housing in Red Hook, so you get to know lots of people in the neighborhood. It really feels like a village, and everybody partakes in activities as a village. It’s a fantastic community. Once you find this place, you never want to leave it.

sunset off the pier


Like this? Read about more makers: Twig Terrariums, Ugly Duckling Presse, Metropolis Soap, Gowanus Print Lab, A Wrecked Tangle Press, Breuckelen Distilling, Arch P&D, Bushwick Print Lab

screwball spaces

neighborhood: red hook | space type: art studios | active since: 2008 | links: website

When I went to the Jerkhaus, I couldn’t believe that a rough-and-tumble punk house was behind the door of a lovely, clean Sunset Park brownstone. And when I got to the address I’d written down for Screwball Spaces, I really couldn’t believe that there could be studio space for over 150 artists on the bottom floor of a massive storage building. But there is!

There are nearly 100 studios at Screwball, along with a ceramics lab, a spray room, a roof deck, and the Sweet Lorraine Gallery, which features a new solo show each month by one of Screwball’s artists. Screwball has two annual group events: a holiday art fair featuring work by all the artists in the space, where nearly everything is under $500, and an open studios weekend.


Ward Yoshimoto's studio

Q&A with Josh Marks, Screwball’s founder

brooklyn spaces: How did you pick the artists? Do you have any sort of overarching artistic vision?
Josh: It’s completely open. This is a business, and I need to keep my spaces filled, so as long as they’re artists and they’ve got the money, they can stay. There’s no curatorial process, no slide selection, there’s not even a questionnaire.

brooklyn spaces: How do you decide who to feature in the gallery each month?
Josh: I send out a call once a year, and the first twelve people to apply get shows. It’s their space and they can do what they like in it. We’ve had two people who’ve curated shows, but most people do solo shows.

ceramics studio

brooklyn spaces: Have you had a favorite show so far?
Josh: Mine! No, they’ve all been great. Mostly I do it to promote the community; this way everybody gets to see what the other artists are doing.

brooklyn spaces: Is the gallery open to the public?
Josh: It’s by appointment only. Because of the nature of the building, I can’t leave it unlocked, and anyway, we don’t get a great deal of foot traffic way out here.

Dave Marin's solo show

brooklyn spaces: What made you pick this neighborhood?
Josh: It was the building. I saw the space and pretty much fell in love with it. The ceilings are high enough, but not too high; it’s in the middle of the building, so we don’t have leaking issues, roof issues. I ran a space like this on 9th Street since 2005, and this building is just so much better. It’s a terrific space for what I want to do.

ceramic art

brooklyn spaces: What are your goals for the future of the space?
Josh: I’d like to keep it going, keep it a good place to be, and keep people making art.

brooklyn spaces: Do you have any advice for other people trying to start a similar project?
Josh: Don’t. It’s too fickle. On both sides: dealing with landlords can be a nightmare, and then dealing with artists can be a nightmare. So if you don’t have the ability to do both, at least half this job’s going to drive you nuts.


brooklyn spaces: Does it drive you nuts?
Josh: Sometimes. For example, last month our heat went out. I don’t know if you know this, but if you call National Grid to report a gas leak, they come and shut your gas off. Which actually makes it even harder, because if there’s a leak and you don’t have gas going to it, you can’t use your sense of smell. It took three weeks and five visits by National Grid to get the gas back on. It got to the point where it was like 50º in some of the studios, and paints won’t work at that temperature. And I’m just helpless in that situation. It was awful. I lost two tenants because of it.

brooklyn spaces: But overall you like doing this?
Josh: Oh, yeah. My goal was to make a place that I wanted to be in and have a good community around me, and it’s worked out great. The artists are really great people. I like dealing with artists, I understand artists, I am artists. This is a great space, and people enjoy being here, so that’s all I can really ask for. That and enough money that I can do this without having to get another job.


Like this? Read about more art studios: Trinity ProjectArch P&D, Invisible Dog, Monster Island

books through bars

neighborhood: red hook | space type: nonprofit | active since: 1996 | links: website, facebook

Books Through Bars is a all-volunteer collective started by the Nightcrawlers Anarchist Black Cross, and the group’s single goal is to donate free books to the incarcerated. Prisoners write in with requests, and three nights a week, during packing sessions, volunteers scour the bulging shelves of donated books to fill those requests. The group attracts a diverse variety of volunteers—from hipsters to activists to teachers—all of whom are united under the belief that literacy and access to reading material is a human right. Currently housed in the basement of Freebird Books, BTB has been in several previous donated spaces, including a NYCANH building and ABC No Rio before that. Their only cost is postage, and they hold lots of events, like movie screenings, game nights, and music and art shows, to raise funds to cover that expense.

Last summer I volunteered at BTB about once a week. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience, with a consistent, tangible feeling of accomplishment every time you find a book that you know is just what a particular person is looking for. So go help out this terrific organization! Donate some books, volunteer at a packing session, or have fun at an event. But first, check out my interview with collective members Joe and Danny.

brooklyn spaces: How do the prisoners find out about the organization?
Joe: Word of mouth spreads really easily. People in prison are kind of starved for companionship, you know?

brooklyn spaces: Do you get a lot of strange letters?
Danny: Some of the strangest are not from prisoners but from prison officials. We recently had Freud for Beginners rejected by the state of California because it “depicts nudity in such a way as to create the appearance that sexual conduct is imminent.”

brooklyn spaces: Do you get a lot of return letters from the prisoners? Do people write back to say thanks for the books?
Joe: Yeah, we get thank you letters all the time. I often write letters to people that I slip into the books. There was someone I wrote to—I’m a Satanist, and so is he, and I sent him all these Satanic books. And as a thank you, he sent me an ink imprint of his hand with the Sigil of Baphomet on it, and it had flecks of his blood, saliva, and semen. It’s framed and hanging on my wall.
Danny: I have one of his drawings on my wall too.
Joe: Another guy I developed a correspondence with, I ended up calling the prison for him to get him medical treatment he’s been denied, and I’ve even spoken to his mother. He got out recently, and he called to thank me for everything I did. I think it’s really unfortunate for the incarcerated when the human element gets lost.

brooklyn spaces: What are the most common types of books requested?
Danny: A lot of African American history, Spanish dictionaries, educational stuff, like math and science.

brooklyn spaces: I remember one letter asking for books on fixing cars, and I thought that was so heartbreaking. I’m sure the prisoners probably have no access to cars.
Joe: The ones that make me cry are the ones that are barely legible, where you can tell this person has a child’s reading level, and it’ll be like, “Please send books on dinosaurs.” Like putting this person in a cage is doing the world so much fucking good, right? These folks have no access to real literature. I do a debate program in Rikers with the youth, which was started by a Books Through Bars member, and I’ve seen the libraries there. There’s basically shitty pulp and the bible, and that’s it. And this is New York, I can only imagine how bad it is elsewhere.

brooklyn spaces: I know BTB wasn’t always in Brooklyn, but do you think Brooklyn has influenced the space in any way? Do you feel like being in Brooklyn is a good fit?
Danny: It wasn’t Brooklyn for the sake of Brooklyn. After we left the NYCAH space, we had two options, and both happened to be in Brooklyn.
Joe: There’s a lot of gentrifying scum and hipsters around Brooklyn, and I guess that’s why it’s good to have this here, because the wealthy and liberal-leaning youth are all about Brooklyn. As someone who’s from Brooklyn—one of the last people from Brooklyn who’s in Brooklyn—it makes me a little angry, but hopefully if this article gets out and people read it, the privileged scum who see fit to displace the members of my community might come down to volunteer, or, better yet, give us some of their parents’ fucking money.


Like this? Read about more activism: #OccupyWallStreet art showBushwick City Farms, The IlluminatorBrooklyn Free Store, Trees Not Trash, Time’s Up