Castle Braid at 114 Troutman Street Hosts an Urban Arts Fest
New York is a city of gentrification. It lives, breathes, experiences cycles of investment and disinvestment, neighborhoods named and renamed and renamed again, and dramatic demographic shifts that all seem to happen overnight. The Lower East Side. Greenwich Village. Greenpoint/Williamsburg. Long Island City. And now, Bushwick: As the textbook definition of gentrification reads, first come the artists, then the developers, and then everyone else, and such is the case in this North Brooklyn neighborhood.
In a New York Times article published in March of this year, Jason Irwin, who runs a Bushwick art gallery Privateer, commented that, “out here, it’s really about art and about artists…It’s more of a grass-roots kind of thing, of getting back to the basics, of finding good work and putting it up, without the ulterior agenda of selling it.”
Though it would appear, just six months later, it is Bushwick itself that may be for sale. Enter Castle Braid, the brand new development at 114 Troutman Street, the 146-unit apartment building that kicked off its grand opening in mid-September with a month-long art show installed and curated by the Brooklyn Artillery. Throughout the month, Castle Braid, which is being marketed as an artist community equipped with recording studios, a woodshop, classrooms, a library and practice spaces for musicians, has and will host parties and feature live musical acts, film screenings and special performances. Each vacant unit—of which there are at least 125—has also been converted into a temporary gallery space decorated with selected works of artists participating in the Brooklyn Artillery festival, the majority of whom are either associated with the Williamsburg Gallery Association, Greenpoint Open Studios or Chez Bushwick. In addition, special events overlap with the Artillery exhibition, such as the Mark Batty Publishing-sponsored Urban Arts Fest, which went down last Saturday from mid-afternoon until the wee hours of the morning, and saw graffiti writers spray paint murals in the compound’s courtyard; skateboarders do kick-flips on their custom boards; art, book, jewelry and craft vendors set up shop in the communal garage and various musical acts perform beneath a covered tent, shielding them from the day’s scattered showers.
Mark Batty Publishing, or MBP, is a long-time proprietor of street art and culture, and a well-known publisher of high design and urban art books.
“We were looking for a way to platform the community we’ve been advancing from the conception of our company,” said MBP Public Relations Manager Adri Cowan. “We wanted to provide a showcase for the artists and subjects we cover in our books. And it worked out great: Castle Braid has a great space and we have a great event. It was a serendipitous collaboration! At first, people were skeptical of the building, but now they’re psyched…it offers community, and incorporates the culture. It’s breathing with it!”
Similarly, Leia Doran, the creative director of the Brooklyn Artillery and the program director of the Williamsburg Gallery Association, was thrilled to work with Castle Braid, and believes it to be a positive addition to the neighborhood, as well as a productive way to grow and foster the arts community in Bushwick.
“I believe that this is what they say it will be—an artist community,” Doran said. “It gives us a chance to transform the concept of a new apartment building. It doesn’t have to be blight, but it can also maintain its identity. It’s our artists, our musicians, and it’s not about sales. Because c’mon, we’re in Bushwick!”
It may not be about sales, but it is about rentals. Though the shows themselves were not designed as a means to sell the art on display, some neighborhood residents, community members, attendees and participating artists believe that the festival itself was more of a marketing tool for Castle Braid than a showcase for the artists involved, and that the concept of using an “urban arts fair” as a draw is counterintuitive, as most traditional forms of street art are meant to be on the street, in a public space. Mania, one of the graffiti writers who painted a mural on the courtyard wall, was not aware that he would be decorating a vacant apartment building when he signed on to be a part of the festival, and expressed reservations about the privatization of an inherently public art form.
“This really isn’t something I’m a fan of,” he said. “I’m proud to be painting with these other artists, but I don’t know if I am proud to be promoting a corporate condo building. I mean, this is street art, and putting it in an apartment building compromises the meaning of it.”
The developer of Castle Braid, Mayer Schwartz, is relatively well-known in Bushwick, and launched a similar project several years ago called The Opera House, a converted apartment building that serves as an artist community. However, there is some serious speculation as to whether Castle Braid will be able to live up to that legacy, or if it is, after all, just going to be another luxury apartment building in Bushwick. Some believe that Schwartz is attempting to piggyback on the recent arts movement in Bushwick, and ultimately commodify it, brand it and sell it.
“Obviously, it makes sense why artists would take advantage of the space and resources offered by Castle Braid, and there is some great work in the shows. I don’t think the artists are to blame for the feeling of inauthenticity,” said Laura Braslow, one of the founders of Arts in Bushwick, an all-volunteer organization that prides itself on making strides not only to build a true artist community by bolstering creative partnerships between artists living in Bushwick, but also forge relationships with local community organizations in order to promote responsible and even development in the area. “But it’s clear when you walk in the door that this is about marketing apartments, not the art itself, and the local arts community that is being presented as an “amenity” to potential renters. People who are attracted to something like an “Urban Arts Fest” are generally savvy enough to recognize when they walk into Castle Braid, that what initially interested them—a sense of creative community coming together to produce and exhibit art work—is not what’s happening. They are attempting to utilize the markers of the arts community as a marketing tool.”
In one of the makeshift gallery rooms the newest branch of the North Brooklyn arts scene, Greenpoint Open Studios, set up shop. In the center of the room sits a gigantic paper tee-pee, filled with confetti. Visitors are invited inside, to sit and play amidst the scrap.
“What should we call this thing?” asked artist Carolin Wood to GOS Co-organizer Elaine Matthias.
“Maybe sublet? Or, Home Sweet Home! Or, Collapse and Construct? Oh, I know, Down by the Waterfront!”
Whatever its name may be, the exhibition, which deals with shelter, housing and the idea of home, was appropriate here.
“Our work deals with housing, and brings a sub-layer of commentary to the conversation about the socio-economic structure in these neighborhoods,” Matthais said. “There is a duality to have to deal with regarding the gentrification of this space.”
Rebecca Sherman, the third Greenpoint artist involved in the installation chimed in, explaining that, “As an artist I really appreciate what they are doing and I love the people involved in this,” she said. “But as an artist, I could never afford to live here. Artists don’t typically move into luxury condos.”