Creating a cultural sanctuary in Red Hook, by Micah B. Rubin

The Pioneer Works Center for Arts and Innovation strives to build a thriving, inclusive community. Through classes, artist residency, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and other initiatives, Pioneer Works has created an incubator for creative exploration in the heart of Red Hook.

Noted artist Dustin Yellin is the brainchild behind the impressive Pioneer Works.

Noted artist Dustin Yellin is the brainchild behind the impressive Pioneer Works.

In mid April, Pioneer Works hosted its first annual Hack Red Hook workshop. The “hackathon” brought together nearly 100 students, artists, developers and tech junkies – including the Red Hook Initiative’s Digital Stewards who provided logistical support – for 24 hours of learning and self exploration through technology.

With the goal of creating apps to improve Red Hook resident’s lives, hackathon participants unveiled 12 apps. Of note: a community bulletin board for residents to share neighborhood information (especially in emergencies); an app that tracks street conditions and a low-cost DIY security system that alerts users if someone breaks into their property.

For Pioneer Works, technology and science are as much a part of the arts as the more traditional mediums of paint and sculpture.

Every year, Pioneer Works offers year-long residencies to emerging artists, scientists and innovators. They receive a workspace and access to Pioneer Works 3-D printer, recording studio, physics lab, metal shop, wood shop, digital and film darkroom, and a soon-to-be added observatory.

“People come in here and all the sudden they have a whole new sense of what is possible,” says Dustin Yellin, the artist who founded Pioneer Works and serves as its director. Yellin discovered Red Hook in the 1990s and also lives and works in the neighborhood. “[Pioneer Works] has been a dream for a very long time, almost 20 years,” Yellin says.

Pioneer Works began in 2011 when Yellin purchased the Pioneer Iron Works building. Originally built in 1866 (and later rebuilt after a fire in 1881), the building served as an ironworks factory until the end of World War I. It was a defunct storage facility, one of the parcels owned by Time Moving, when Yellin purchased it. Converting the space took time and energy, but the result is a cathedral to the arts with 40-foot ceilings, cascades of light with exposed bricks and beams.

“The architecture of the space is an incredible lens for the energy of the people in the space,” Yellin says. “It creates a natural sense of community and [is] so inspiring. You almost feel like you’re in some sort of holy place.”

Pioneer Works' courtyard is used for many events.

Pioneer Works’ courtyard is used for many events.

Pioneer Works hasn’t only set up a creative environment, but also seeks to demystify the creation process itself, says Dave Sheinkopf, Pioneer Works’ Director of Education.

Rotating exhibitions
In their main space, Pioneer Works hosts rotating exhibitions. “If you go to a show at a museum, you see art but don’t see [the creative] process. [Pioneer Works] is very much a museum of process. Not only do you get to see art that’s finished, but you get to see how it’s made, “ Yellin says.

This includes visiting the studios of the art and science residents, and also through participating in the classes. “Classes are priced a lot less then other classes in the city. We want to set ourselves apart by making them really accessible,” Sheinkopf says.

Pioneer Works began offering classes two years ago and now has nearly 30 instructors and an ever-growing curriculum. Have a great idea for a class? They are always open to new class ideas, Sheinkopf says.

“There are so many people taking the classes,” Yellin says. “We really have a better turnout then we ever imagined.”

Interested in making your own miso (think Japanese soup)? Sign up for “Miso: Preparation, Fermentation and Health” ($40) a class about everything miso: history, heath benefits, the fermentation process and how to make it yourself.

Maybe you’re a shutterbug? Take the “Bobble Cap Tintypes” ($85) workshop and learn to make your own tintype – think sepia-toned photos from the old west printed on metal – the first widespread photographic process.

For example, Pioneer Works also offers multiple classes on leatherworking. Learn to make a hand-made bag in “Crafting a Hand-Stitched Leather Bag” ($885) or the secrets of master European leather workers in “Traditional European Leatherwork & Handstitching” ($155).

Many classes discussing technology are also offered at Pioneer Works. “Technology is lost to most people … by learning the process of something, you can pursue it on your own and – in the case of technology – have a lot more power over your world,” Sheinkopf says.
Like hacking a DSLR to unlock hidden features. In “Hack Your Canon SLR” ($70) instructors will teach students to enable “magical” features on your camera using a simple and free firmware update.

“Electronic Voices” ($35) explores the phenomenon of sound and current and historical recording techniques. Students also recreate experiments conducted by early recording pioneers through building a makeshift phonograph and a MacGyver-styled speaker out of a post-it note, a wire and a magnet.

Looking for love? “The Science of Romantic Relationships” ($25) explores how the originally radical idea people should marry for love hasn’t quite worked out as expected. With only a third of marriages happy and enduring, the class discusses the emerging science of why love can be so tough and what science says about a successful quest for love.

And these are only shortlist of available classes.

Right now, Pioneer Works is developing long-term classes that will last between 6 and 8 weeks and a gap-year program for post high school and pre-college students.

“There are so many kids who get out of high school and don’t have an idea of what they’re doing yet. I think this [program] would help give them some focus and expose them to the incredible people that could mentor them before college,” Yellin says.

In continuing with its multidisciplinary leanings, Pioneer Works is developing a publishing arm. It currently publishes Intercourse, a biannual magazine discussing art, science and culture and published its first book “Settlements” in 2013.

Pop up restaurants to come
In addition to the rotating exhibits, Pioneer Works hosts concerts and lectures and this summer, pop up restaurants will set up shop in their 20,000 square foot garden and sculpture park.

Yellin is excited about all the great things happening at Pioneer Works and especially the effects the collaborations and classes are having on the community. “They have a whole new sense of what is possible,” he says.

Pioneer Works is located at 159 Pioneer Street (between Imlay and Conover Streets). (718) 5967-3001 Hours: Wed. – Sun., 12 pm-6 pm when exhibits are up or events happening, otherwise by appointment.


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