Brooklyn artists exchange arts education for church studio space
My Dead Ponies needed a place to play. The band’s lead singer Angela Salazar thought the neglected Haggerty Building on the corner of Montrose and Graham Avenues might be the ideal rehearsal space.
Owned by Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary’s Church, the building—once a residence hall for the friars and later an institution for mentally challenged adults—had been shuttered for several years. But after Salazar contacted parish directors, the two parties created a venue to help other Brooklyn-based artists find a cheap place to perform their craft.
The Trinity Project, an East Williamsburg-based art collective offering local bands an affordable rehearsal space, joined forces with Saints Joseph and Dominic parish school at Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary’s Church. The goal was to develop an exchange of space and service to save what neither group could afford: the arts.
“We are essentially squatting with permission here, through the benevolence of the church,” said Salazar, 31, of Brooklyn, a founding member of The Trinity Project. “And the exchange is that the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn gets free arts education that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
To Jason Andrew, owner of Storefront Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the union of charity, volunteerism and young artists made perfect sense.
“Artists and low income families are exactly the same,” Andrew said. “They are both trying to fight for their space and their time and they are both trying to make a living.”
According to Salazar, studio rental rates in Brooklyn can reach $1,000 per month; Trinity Project artists pay just $70 per month to use the facilities, helping out with building maintenance and classroom education in exchange for low rent.
“When I tell people it’s a private, Catholic school, they all assume, ‘Oh, a really nice school,’ said Megan Tefft, co-founder of The Trinity project. “But this school has as little or less funding than any public school in the city.”
Depleted funding has left the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn cutting corners to keep its schools open.
“Many neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn schools had to close, mainly because of a drop in enrollment and the cost of running a parish school,” said Friar Timothy Dore, a minister at Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary’s. The funding crisis also left the school with little flexibility in their budget, which meant zero dollars for the arts.
Tefft worked with Principal Evette Ngadi to incorporate arts education at the school, and some even artists work one-on-one with students.
“Last semester it was ‘Whatever it is that you do, teach that to the kids,’” Tefft said. “We want this semester to be more curriculum-based.”
The art initiative is selective in accepting artists, who must reapply each year for a maximum two-year residence and commit to volunteer service.
“We are looking for a certain level of artistry, a quality of art,” Salazar said, “But also a commitment to community involvement.”
Trinity Project’s April Spring Clean Up, scheduled for Saturdays throughout the month of April, will give volunteers who don’t work in the classroom an opportunity to contribute. The event will include assisting with building repairs and community fundraising efforts to buy school art supplies.
For the chance at some cheap, collaborative space to create their work, neighborhood artists seem willing to put in a little elbow grease.
“The more entrenched we become with that space, the more the community is just as important as my time in the studio,” said Kerry Cox, a 26-year old visual artist from Brooklyn. “And I think it has really nurtured my work.”