Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014
This article on Hyperallergic directed me to a blog post by Robert Boyd about a really interesting arts nonprofit, Pioneerworks Center for Art and Innovation. Based in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Center is dedicated to
“…the creation, synthesis and discussion of art, science and education…the Center gathers artists, scientists and creative thinkers to collaborate outside the boundaries of traditional institutions where specialization often limits the application of ideas across disciplines.”
The Center is housed in a former ironwork factory. The author of the blog post notes two points of interest about Pioneerworks: first, the broad range of services they offer. They seem to do everything: classes, exhibitions, residencies, lectures, and performances. They even have their own magazine, “Intercourse”, which is published twice a year. I was really enthused about an arts organization that makes such a varied use of its space.
However, I also really liked the fact that Boyd didn’t just congratulate Pioneerworks on their extensive use of the space- he also examined the history of the space in relation to its current usage. The blog post is titled ‘Creatives in a Post-Industrial Society’. Boyd points out that Pioneerworks lists around 19 employees on its site, although it isn’t clear if these are all full time, part time, or on a volunteer basis. He compares this number to the amount of workers that were probably employed at Pioneer in its time as a factory.
Not too long ago, the hope of cities was the “creative class,” as convincingly theorized in Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class. But the bloom is off that rose, as we’ve seen in the recent recession. Creative people don’t get paid much and are as likely to be exploited now as ever. And we’ll never need as many creative people as we once needed factory workers. Those guys stamping out boxes for Nilla Wafers in Beacon and fabricating boilers at Pioneer Iron Works were contributing to an economy that brought more people up from poverty than any other ever did (at least, until China’s recent economic opening).
Boyd also references the growing trend of repurposed factory spaces in America. As a steeltown native, I’ve definitely seen this firsthand and I’m really interested in researching this ‘repurposing’ further. It made me think about Andrew’s class about owning/renting a venue: I think it’s a great use of space that encourages its residents to work creatively, as opposed to working carefully in a very expensive building.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved Pioneer Works. Their exhibits, their cool magazine Intercourse, their residencies all seem great. It certainly seems like a better use of the facility than the storage space it was just prior to its becoming an art space. But the conversion of defunct factory spaces into art spaces is a powerful metaphor for the conversion of U.S. cities from places where thousands of people made stuff to places where a few hundred creatives toil, typically for low wages.
Honestly, I haven’t read Florida’s book, and I’m not sure if I fully follow Boyd’s scrutiny of Pioneerwork’s small staff as opposed to the factory’s large worker base. Though it’s the same building, it houses a different organization with a different mission, and it needs a different number of people to achieve that mission. “Making stuff” requires a different number of people when the “stuff” is not mass produced.
I do like his attention to the history of the space, and how he’s connecting the purpose of the space to the changes in society and class structure. I definitely want to read more about this to understand it further.