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

micro museum

neighborhood: downtown brooklyn | space type: art & events | active since: 1986 | links: website, blog, twitter

I found out about the Micro Museum by accident—I was checking the directions to go somewhere else in the neighborhood, and Micro Museum showed up on the Google Map. What lovely serendipity! The tiny exhibition space on busy Smith Street is intimate and aesthetically innovative, and I spent a while examining and experiencing the art and interactive installations.

Micro Museum, founded by Kathleen and William Laziza, has been around for twenty-five years. This “living arts center” is, according to their website, “dedicated to interactive, media, visual, and performing arts.” It’s a 501(c)3 nonprofit, a Registered Trademark, a Registered Charity for the State of New York, and a founding member of the Brooklyn Cultural Circuit. It’s open every Saturday from 12–7 and only costs $2. I highly recommend stopping by.

Q&A with Kathleen Laziza, Micro Museum’s founder

brooklyn spaces: Tell me a little bit about the museum.
Kathleen: This is our twenty-fifth year on Smith Street, which is pretty fantastic. We do curated programming, classes, media art, performance art, visual art, live events, all kinds of fun things. Our current program is called “Above & Beyond,” and it features exclusively the work of myself and my husband—we’re the founders of the museum. It’s the first time we’ve ever had fully our own exhibit, and it’s been a wonderful mix of extremely fun and extremely scary. The exhibit runs until December 2013, and every few months we’ll add another installation or series of paintings or assemblages or video tapes or whatever. And we invite everyone to come, because it really is for kids of all ages, it has interactive art and things that you can manipulate and manage and experience, and it’s also got visual art and media art, too.

brooklyn spaces: How do you select the art you’re going to exhibit?
Kathleen: We usually have themes, and sometimes we work with guest curators. In 2006 I did a very famous show with Juliette Pelletier from Reflect Arts, called “Circus Surreal.” We did a whole year of curating for it and we ended up selecting forty works, and we had all kinds of live events and media. It was fabulous. In 2007 we chose “Spectrum” as our theme, so all of the shows were focused on a color. We did a program called “Big Ideas”—which was pretty esoteric, I have to admit, looking back. Once we pick a theme, we do national calls for art, but we’re really very community-minded. We often show the same artists again and again, because a lot of what Micro Museum does is create an environment where an artist can grow. There’s a long arc to the development of an artist, and you don’t make a masterpiece every single time, so you need to be in a world that gives you a chance. Was every piece that we’ve ever selected the most amazing, incredible, brilliant work ever? No. But they were often great stepping stones for the industry at large, and some of our artists went on to get accolades and do fabulous shows all over the place. We try to be as inclusive as possible, but we do have an edge to what we show. It would be rare that we’d do a watercolor show; it would be like a watercolor show on acid, you know? There would be some kind of a twist.

brooklyn spaces: I’d like to talk about your relationship with the community, and with Brooklyn in general.
Kathleen: We’ve been here twenty-five years, so we were here before anything. We were here when it was actually dangerous, when there were arsons and murders and mayhem, so we feel very integral to the development of Smith Street. Micro Museum was trendy, because art in general is always trendy, and we were a classic case of going to the edge of where we could afford to be, and the artists came to us. Then eventually the big national chains started to move in, and it really changed the character of the block. Which didn’t really mean a lot to us in the sense that we would have to re-identify, it just meant that we were in a different kind of situation. In the late nineties I went to Columbia University’s Arts Leadership Institute to find out how art works in a commercial environment, and they basically predicted what would happen, although of course I didn’t believe them. They said that Micro Museum would have to work against erasure at a certain point, because everyone around us would become very successful and  would forget why they had customers in the first place, why people were showing up from all over the globe. But we’ve always been kind to artists looking for a friendly environment where they could create and be comfortable creating.


Like this? Read about more art galleries: Concrete Utopia, Wondering Around WanderingInvisible Dog, 950 Hart, Ugly Art Room, Central Booking

proteus gowanus

neighborhood: gowanus | space type: museum & events | active since: summer 2005 | links: websitefacebook

The first time I went to Proteus Gowanus, I couldn’t find it. I walked around and around the block, checking and re-checking the address, and getting more and more confused. Finally I peered down a dubious-looking alley just around the corner from where it should have been, and sure enough, there was light spilling from a doorway halfway down. So, word to the wise: Proteus Gowanus is a little bit hidden, but it’s there.

Housed in a box-making factory from the 1900s, Proteus Gowanus is a multipurpose art space with a lot going on. It includes an art gallery with rotating and permanent exhibits, a micro-museum, a library, a reading and study room, an event space, and a collaborative nonprofit boutique of unique publications and “protean objects.” Proteus Gowanus has a broad scope, but all of its disparate parts come together to make a varied, fascinating whole.

Among their exhibits and projects:

  • The Observatory Room, an interdisciplinary event space that hosts discussions, film screenings, and lectures on a wide range of topics, from Parisian brothels to Italian medical museums to Haitian voodoo to American cartoons. (I’ve been to three Observatory events, and they’ve all been amazing.)
  • Morbid Anatomy, an outgrowth of the blog by the same name, featuring a collection of books, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts relating to anatomical art, cabinets of curiosity, the history of medicine, death and mortality, memorial practice, arcane media, and other topics.
  • Hall of the Gowanus, a micro-museum of local curiosities, including old Gowanus maps, pressed flowers from the region, a Gowanus historical timeline, and much more.

Hall of the Gowanus

  • The Fixers Collective, an idea that grew out of an exhibit in the gallery, which encourages people to bring in something broken, which the collective members make a collaborative effort to restore, mend, repurpose, or enhance.
  • The Reanimation Library, an almost whimsical permanent collection of outdated, worn, or discarded books.

Reanimation Library

  • Proteotypes, which extends some of Proteus Gowanus’s shows and exhibitions into the field of printed matter.
  • dedicated to assembling apparently incongruous ideas or forms to construct surprising yet meaningful compounds and dialogues.
  • The Writhing Society, a weekly class/salon dedicated to constrained writing.
  • A study hall and writers space in all galleries and reading rooms. (Membership only $50/mo!)

(photos from the Proteus Gowanus Facebook page)


Like this? Read about other micro-museums: City Reliquary, Micro Museum