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  • In the fall of 2012, Nasrene Haj and Mila Pinigin formed the Creators Collective. At the time Haj and Pinigin, who had recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, were interested in creating a collaborative space in which other artistic individuals could come together to network, generate discussion and develop projects and events which challenged the status quo. In the two years since the Creators Collective was founded, Jeremie Gluckman joined the organization as Research Director while Haj has remained at the helm guiding the Creators Collective forward, always seeking out new and innovative ways to engage the arts on a micro and macro scale.

    I spoke with Haj who is the Director and Co-Founder of the Creators Collective, about what it is like being a working artist in Brooklyn today, what challenges she faced starting an organization, and what changes she has seen in the Brooklyn arts community having grown up here

    Anni Irish:
    How was the Creators Collective formed? And what was your intent for this organization?

    Nasrene Haj: I founded The Creators Collective with one of my best friends from college, Mila Pinigin. One evening, while studying abroad in Italy our junior year, we were having dinner and started throwing around ideas for projects we’d like to work on together. We thought about how amazing it would be to create a small collective in Brooklyn that would engage these various projects with other friends and community members. A few months after graduating from college, we came up with a name for our collective and began organizing our first event, 3 to 1. Our tag line sums up our original intent for this organization. “providing space and resources for interdisciplinary collaborations in unique spaces.” However, over the past couple years this has become more complex.

    A.I.: What is your relationship to art?

    N.H.: I studied dance growing up, and really loved to choreograph. I took advantage of any opportunity to create dance works and perform them in front of an audience. I thought that was what I wanted to do professionally – dance and choreograph However, when I got to college, my relationship to dance and art shifted and I began exploring other disciplines such as drawing, painting and poetry. My senior year of college, I returned to dance and incorporated all of these artistic interests in the works I created that year. I also always enjoyed working in arts administration, so once I graduated, I knew my interest in the arts was broader. This is something that I paid close attention when was deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally both with the Creators Collective and otherwise.

    photo 2 Photo credit: Nicole Malagodi

    A.I.: How has your interdisciplinary approach as a dancer and working artist been incorporated into the collective?

    N.H.: For my senior dance piece, I supplemented my choreography with live vocals layered over a monologue from an Italian film and designed the costumes based on the same color scheme I was exploring in my paintings. Seeing the complexity of this final work, paired with the collaborative nature of creating something that crossed disciplines, I experienced a fulfillment I’d never felt before when making art. In that moment, I felt a deeper appreciation for working with other artists. Professionally that realization has since contributed to the projects I’ve developed for The Creators Collective and the way I work with other members who join me in executing projects.

    A.I.: What have been some of your approaches in getting local businesses and artists involved in your organization?

    N.H.: My goal for the Creators Collective is to build a community of people. Whether they are individual artists, other collectives or local businesses, who are looking for an outlet or are open to working with others to support the arts in their community. I try to engage others through bartering offers. For example if a local business were to donate their space to us for an evening, the Creators Collective would then offer to expand their online and local presence through advertising their business on our online platforms and bringing a physical audience to their space. With artists, we are offering them a permanent spot in our online artist registry and following their participation in a Creators Collective event, we provide them with a video and photo from the project that they can use for their own publicity and archiving. On our end, we are able to utilize these relationships to execute programs and events that foster the presence and value of the Creators Collective in the Brooklyn arts community.

    A.I.: How has your work with organizations such as Alvin Ailey and BRIC helped you to develop CC and the kinds of projects you want to be involved in?

    N.H.: Working at Alvin Ailey and BRIC has given me the opportunity to learn how larger non-profit organizations operate and has provided me with countless networking opportunities. There have been many people who I have worked with in one context who have later participated in a Creators Collective project or supported one of our programs or events. Through this outside work, I have also found clarity in the type of organization that I want the Creators Collective to grow into.

    A.I.: As a Brooklyn native, and someone who came through the school system here what are some of the changes you have seen regarding the arts on a local level i.e. in public schools and on a larger scale?

    N.H.: When I was in high school in the mid 2000’s, the arts always felt like an afterthought. There was not enough support from the administration to back up what these teachers and students were capable of and interested in exploring together. Luckily, there was amazing organization where I studied dance, so I wasn’t relying on the public school system for arts education. Unfortunately, most students didn’t have this same opportunity I had.

    I can’t speak fully to the current state of the arts in public schools, as my only interaction with a public high school has been through the Creators Collective’s film making residency, Not So Silent Films that I organized for the 2013-2014 academic school year at the high school I attended in Brooklyn. I have had many conversations with the classroom teacher, an amazing educator and inspiring woman, Clare Bauman, students we worked with in the classroom, and the teens and professional artists who are participating in the Collective Storytelling. Everyone seems to feel the same as I did growing up–which is that arts education still seems to be an after thought and that there needs to be more accessibility for students to engage with the arts both in school and in their local community.

    On a larger scale, I think the arts are continuously becoming a huge part of the culture of Brooklyn and have contributed to the growth of certain neighborhoods and the borough overall. Unfortunately, opportunities in the arts for youth do not seem to be increasing at the same rate as the overall growth of the arts in Brooklyn. Being part of such a vibrant artistic community is something that that public schools in this borough could deeply benefit from; for example, bringing in skilled teaching artists and community members to bridge the gap between in school and public arts education.

    photo 1 Photo Credit: Nicole Malagodi

    AI: How would you characterize the state of the arts in Brooklyn today?

    N.H.: I believe that the arts in Brooklyn have grown in a very public and accessible way. I notice a lot more site-specific work being developed and performed and I think there is an increasingly communal appreciation for art as it becomes more accessible in neighborhoods across the borough. But, I have also noticed that as community-based and interactive as the arts in Brooklyn may be, I feel a sense of separation at times, quite simply due to the nature of working with the same people on many projects and interacting within the same few neighborhoods. Finding myself falling into similar patterns, I decided that I wanted to build a platform for Brooklyn collectives to connect–initially online through the Creators Collective website and a list serve email platform for space and resource exchange, and eventually through collective meet-ups. We’re calling it the Alliance of Brooklyn Collectives (ABC).

    A.I.: What is next for the Creators Collective?

    N.H.: In addition to the Alliance of Brooklyn Collectives, we are expanding the Collective Storytelling program to include a writing and photography residency to take place in a public high school in Brooklyn this fall and we will also continue to develop the writing and performance component, offering a second teen writing workshop followed by more opportunities for professional and young artists to connect and create collaboratively. We are also brainstorming a few more ideas that will extend Creators Collective programs into different cities and towns, hopefully launching in the next year or two.

    In the very near future, we will showcase the current stage of Collective Storytelling on August 10th and 13th, with an open rehearsal for those interested in exploring our method of developing this collaborative performance work and a work-in-progress viewing in Prospect Park of what we’ve created this summer.

    For more information about this project and many others the Creators Collective are involved in check out their website.

    –Anni Irish

  • Definition of the word HOME- -n- the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered; adv-deep; to the heart ♥ ; v. to navigate toward a point by means of coordinates other than those given by altitudes.

    H.O.M.E. – as an acronym it can be interpreted as wherever you call home. Some might say it’s “wherever you lay your head at night” and that definition may or may not be odds with the dictionary, but it may still be correct. The word HOME has many meanings to many people.
    Hence the title of our film, H.O.M.E., as an acronym


    This is where the genesis began. To feature the themes of individuals in New York City who are experiencing urban alienation through an immigrant perspective.  Throughout this writing process we decided that eliminating one of the previously planned 3  stories would create a stronger body for the script that would allow the 2 stories to complement each other to still retain the idea that these are not stand alone accounts but a multitude that would convey the essence behind the themes of the film.  Hence the synopsis

    H.O.M.E. is a feature film about the human condition, comprised of 2 different but related stories involving characters who have intimate and meaningful encounters through the lens of a disconnected and alienating city. Set in New York City, the characters in these stories find themselves in an internal struggle with their environment and proceed to navigate through their path of understanding.

    The basis for the film was now ready for execution. In that , I narrowed in on the 1st story which is based on an article I read in the New York Times by Kirk Semple who documented a young man with Aspergers Syndrome whom went missing in the NYC subways for several weeks . I decided on this for our 1st story and started to pull together a crew of talented artists to begin this process.  1st priority was approaching a talented actor to play the role of the young man with Aspergers Syndrome. This we were lucky to find in the the emerging actor , Jeremy Ray Valdez whom I’d seen from his award winning performance in La Mission and for whom I had an “in” to meet him in LA to discuss the role  with the help of Giselle Rodriguez.

    Here’s an early image from the film’s sketchbook.

    Degi Hari



  • Having finished up a great school year, including the amazing Humanities Prep Student Music Showcase, our summer programs have hit the ground running.  A new music enrichment program was launched with the Upper West Side JCC for K-4th graders four days a week, and AFP is hosting a summer music program at Humanities Preparatory Academy.

    Since the bulk of my work with AFP involves school programs, in addition to AFP’s summer Jazz program for older kids, Frank, Allyson and I are always looking for opportunities to contribute to the rest of the community through workshops during the summer. This summer, I have been going to 97th Street four mornings a week to introduce music to students enrolled in the JCC’s Summer Enrichment Program. The program is for under-served kindergarteners through 5th graders, and boy, do we have a good time! I bring my guitar, and a bunch of drums and percussion instruments for everyone, including the teen tutors in the class, to play. Before we get to jamming, I show everyone how to clap in time and count out measures. We play rhythm games and try to follow each other, and the kids get to make up their own rhythms, first on the whiteboard, then on the instruments. It is amazing how quickly kids will pick up the basic concepts that are the foundation of reading and playing music in the context of a game. On my second day, the class I had worked with on the first day marched into the other class ten minutes before the end of class with their own homemade shakers that they had made as a project in crafts class that day! One student, Tyberius, even brought his own electric guitar and amplifier to school and asked to be allowed to participate in the music class for another grade. This little boy was honestly one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever met in my life. He told me he wants to be famous, so I told him “Famous wants to be you, Tyberias, you are entertainment itself!”

    AFP is hosting a summer music instruction program, held in the music classroom at Humanities Preparatory Academy, which is offered to AFP current and former music students who have excelled, and are seeking more advanced instruction in music theory, guitar, piano, voice, bass, and drums. The last session focused on the song “At Last”, made famous by Etta James. We first worked out the chords on the piano, choosing chord inversions that take advantage of the piano’s layout, but also discussing the character and function of each chord in the progression, then we translated that progression to the bass, arpeggiating each of the chords in eight notes, then dropping out every other note to make a walking bassline from the chord tones. Next, we found the chords on the guitar, again finding inversions that make use of the unique voice of the guitar. Once everyone was comfortable with their parts, I played the drum-set, while we played through the progression slowly, then faster. Again, I’m blown away by how quickly we went from counting keys on the piano and building chords, to manifesting a simple jazz ensemble. I’m looking forward to the next session, where we’ll start to explore melodies and soloing.

    That’s all for now! Enjoy these pics from some of AFP’s classes and workshops


  • Recently I saw the Kara Walker installation “A Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby” which was on display at the former Domino Sugar Factory through July 6th. The event was organized by Creative Time, an arts based nonprofit that has commissioned various large scale public art projects with many artists within New York and internationally since 1974. The full title of the piece, “A Subtlety Or The Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” has poetic undertones and underscores many of the complex issues that Walker is driving at within the installation.

    On a recent weekend, I made the trek to Williamsburg to see Walker’s installation. When I arrived at the Kent Street waterfront where the Domino Sugar factory is located, I was astounded by the amount of people in line. It extend down the street for almost an entire block. I took my place in the back of line with only my sunglasses to shield me from the hot summer sun and waited. As the line continued to grow, several volunteers for Creative Time emerged to help answer questions and to hand out releases to sign to enter the factory. The line progressed and soon I was in the factory.

    When I entered the space, I was overcome by a smell—a pungent, sticky and sweet aroma that seemed to fill the factory. The overwhelming odor was present partly because of the materials Walker used and the build up of molasses on the walls from years of production. As I walked further into the space, I encountered the first part of the installation: fifteen cast sculptures of young boys that were placed throughout the factory floor. Standing at five feet tall, these resin and sugar cast boys are depicted carrying large baskets or bunches of bananas and are reminiscent of the figurines one might buy as a souvenir in a roadside shop. The cast sugar boys show physical signs of being left out in the open for weeks– some had formed a sugar puddle around them while others had parts of their baskets and banana bunches shifting from their original location
    1APhoto Credit: Creative Time

    Against the backdrop of these sculptures, the sugar woman towers over the sculpture measuring 35.5 feet high by 26 feet wide and 75.5 feet long. The figure is naked, crouched on all fours with her exposed, elongated limbs commanding the factory space. Around the sculpture is trail of sugar which traces the outline of her body. She is beautiful, fantastical, and jarring. It is evocative of the larger meta-commentary Walker is making on the history of the sugar trade but also trudges up issues surrounding race and sexuality. The imagery and subject matter are no stranger to Walker’s work who is best known for her wall installations which use black paper silhouettes that explore race, gender, sexuality, identity and the history of slavery. “A Subtlety” is Walker’s most ambitious work to date and does not back down in the sociocultural issues it is raising.
    walker4Photo Credit: Creative Time

    It is a powerful statement that has been able to engage various communities from the greater New York City area and beyond. From the Domino Sugar factory who donated the sugar for the work, to many volunteers who have come out each weekend to lend a hand in help others enjoy Walker’s work; there are many levels to kind of labor involved in the creation of this work, the labor of the sugar trade and those who have come to view the installation.

    Photo Credit: Creative Time Photo Credit: Creative Time

    One of the volunteers I encountered that day was Shelton Roberts, a retired Domino factory worker who had come back to his former place of employment to help out with Walker’s exhibition. Roberts who worked at the factory from 1984 to 2004, held various position within the corporation. His jobs included being a wash station operator and forklift operator to overseeing the maintenance of the plant in various capacities. When Roberts came across the call for volunteers for the Walker installation he jumped at the chance to help out. Roberts said, “As a volunteer for the Walker installation, it has made me laugh and cry at times. The exhibit is so powerful and it really gives the public to treat to see the work. It also gives them a chance to learn about the sugar refinery process”.

    While Roberts is right that Walker’s installation does involve the sugar refinery process, it also serves as a commentary on the history of sugar, the consumption it and what the implications of this are on a larger social scale. While sugar is no longer a luxury, it is through the overwhelming consumption of it that has sparked debates around health, poverty and how it is disproportionally effecting the poor. When you are faced with 80 tons of sugar in a former sugary refinery plant the reality of this conversation becomes illustrated in a new way. In many ways this is exactly what Walker intended for the work to do: to spark imagination, conversation, and debate around an everyday commodity that often is taken for granted. However, as Walker reminds us, the history of sugar and those involved in it, is nothing but complicated.

    –Anni Irish

  • Within recent years, Brooklyn has become a place that many artists have flocked to. One such artist is Dianna Carlin, who has been active within the Brooklyn arts scene since 2000. Carlin who is better known as Lola Star, has become a local celebrity through her popular Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Disco. Dreamland Roller Disco first opened in 2010 and combined Carlin’s love of rollerskating and the glamor of Coney Island for a wide audience to enjoy. However, the skating rink sadly closed in 2010.

    After four years of searching for new location, Dreamland recently reopened in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Rink. Each Friday Lola Star will host themed skating parties in the new location. This week’s party will be based on the 1980 film “Xanadu” staring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck. With more dance parties on the horizon, Carlin is “excited” to have Dreamland up and running again. The skate parties are scheduled to go through the end of August but Carlin hopes to offer more parties in fall and winter months.

    Lola Star in Prospect Park's Lakeside Rink Photo Credit: Lola Star

    Lola Star in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Rink Photo Credit: Lola Star

    I recently spoke with Carlin about how she got the name Lola Star, how she has adapted to the changing face of Brooklyn and what role community activism has played within her work. Carlin got the nickname because, “I use to skate around my parent’s basement listening to Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ on repeat and dreamed of being a rollerskating star. My parents would yell downstairs ‘What are you doing down there Lola?’” This was in reference to the song’s main character, a showgirl named Lola. The nickname became a part of Carlin’s artistic alter ego and she would eventually name her Coney Island boutique after it.

    After Carlin graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in fine art, she moved to Brooklyn. Although she studied oil panting in college, Carlin had always had an interest in screen printing and had been an entrepreneur from a young age. Carlin said, “I was always an entrepreneur. For example, when I was a kid and first learned how to french braid, I made a catalog of the different styles and sold them to my neighbors for a quarter. When my parents gave me a weaving loom, I wove blankets for my friends’ Cabbage Patch dolls. I was always trying to make and sell things.”

    People have fun at the first Lola Star Roller Dance Party on 7/11/14. Photo Credit: Lola Star

    People have fun at the first Lola Star Roller Dance Party on 7/11/14. Photo Credit: Lola Star

    Carlin’s “make and sell things” attitude continued through high school as well. As a teenager, she began to design t-shirts and sell them. Carlin said “I learned to screen print in high school in art class and really enjoyed it. In the summer between high school and college, I opened my first store, The Groovy Rainbow Planet. At the time, I was selling t shirts at raves, clubs and other venues within the electronic music community around Detroit.”

    When Carlin moved to Brooklyn after college, she became fascinated by the history of Coney Island and what it had become. After spending a lot of them there, Carlin noticed “there wasn’t a cute place to buy a Coney Island t shirt.” With her background in screen printing, and prior business successes, Carlin set out yet again to start a new enterprise which specialized in Coney Island themed clothing. Today, Carlin has two shops located on Coney Island’s boardwalk and plans to open a third shop in Williamsburg in the fall.

    Currently, Carlin works out of her production studio in Sunset Park where she makes many of the products she sells. Like Sunset Park, Coney Island has undergone many periods of change. In 2008, after yet another effort to develop the historic Coney Island amusement district, Carlin intervened with the help of others to form Save Coney Island, a non profit dedicated to stopping the development of the area. Although more changes have come in recent years Carlin said, When I first opened my store in Coney Island 14 years ago, I had no idea it was on the cusp of change and resurgence. Since then, it has been a wild roller coaster of change. With Echelon closing and the city rezoning Coney Island, there has been even more developments which have come about.” Through Carlin’s efforts and genuine investment in the Coney Island community, she has helped to make Coney Island a better place in her own way.

    Carlin hard at work in her Sunset Park studio.

    Carlin hard at work in her Sunset Park studio.

    However as a working artist and female business owner in Brooklyn, Carlin has faced many obstacles, “My experience of being an artist in Brooklyn has been really positive. I think Brooklyn in general is really supportive of the arts. Although, I faced a lot of challenges as a female business owner in Coney Island. When I first opened my store, I was met with lot of opposition because I am a woman and was not from Brooklyn.” Although Carlin faced a lot of challenges in the beginning, she has overcome them and is now strong than ever.

    Lola and her sidekick, Shimmer.

    Lola and her sidekick, Shimmer.

    As an artistic individual with a unique vision, Carlin has continued to work on the kinds of projects she is passionate about. And she has done this a community she feels a part of. Carlin said “From starting Save Coney Island, I learned I was extremely passionate about community in general. I see it as a larger component of my art and creativity and it is something that has become a huge part of who I am.” Carlin realizes the importance that community ties have and this has been demonstrated within her work in the Save Coney Island organization as well as being active within animal rights by fostering dogs who are in need of a home. She has also organized free weekly Yoga classes that take place on beach at Coney Island. Currently, Carlin is busy writing a book about her adventures which will have illustrations while also adding to her growing number of products in her boutiques. It is Carlin’s enthusiasm and genuine love for the Coney Island community and it’s history, which will help keep her involved in it for decades to come.

    Lola Star’s fantastic skate parties take place from 8-10 PM on Friday nights in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Rink. Admissions is $15 which includes skate rentals and a list of the party themes can be found here

    –Anni Irish