POWRPLNT: Bushwick’s Digital Art “Collaboratory”

June 20, 2014 | Marina Galperina

A new collaborative art space has recently opened in Bushwick. Powrplnt provides free and donation-based digital art workshops open to everyone (ages 13-113), training participants in creative software like Photoshop and Ableton Live while working on projects.  

Powrplnt founder Angelina Dreem spoke frankly to ANIMAL about their mission, their projects and the gentrification of Brooklyn. Powrplnt’s next exhibit takes place on June 27th and will feature work created by students. This weekend, Powrplnt is offering an Intro to Illustrator workshop. 

What is Powrplnt about? What sort of projects are you anticipating in doing? Who can participate?

Powrplnt is a digital art work space, classroom and sharing space. I use “sharing” because it references the digital world that we are all a part of. The sharing will happen with gallery shows, “Inspiro-Sessions” and demos. My intention is to create a space where people can access and experiment with different digital production software without the inhibitions of cost.

Classes are free for teens and donation-based for adults. I don’t even want to call them classes, because I want to break down the teacher/student relationship, which is why the emphasis is on collaboration. Our summer schedule for teens covers digital photography, making “Beats Like Drake” and starting your own t-shirt company.

Powrplnt workshop. Photo courtesy Powrplnt.

I asked artists that were interested in sharing their process with teens to develop some “cool” way to package learning something kind of mundane like white balance into an artistic creation, something that will be shown at the end of the four weeks to all their peers and other artists. I really want to emphasis the artistic practice of digital creation, and to frame it as a viable path for getting jobs or making your own job.

The entire program is interest-driven. We provide the space, and anyone can bring their desire to the space. Volunteers are there during open hours to offer advice, guidance and to share their experience. We also collaborated with Brooklyn based start-up, Verticulture, to create a one of a kind aquaponic garden set up, combining tech innovation to natural processes.

We don’t wanna “help” anyone. We are a workspace for all creatives — a community computer lab, where we do all the shit we do alone but together. It’s all an experiment.

How did the idea of this space come about? Who is involved? 

I came up with the idea for a sort of “Collaboratory” years ago. I always knew that it would be a physical space that would facilitate intergenerational, multi-genre, limit-bending conversation. Since then, I’ve been a self-taught digital artist, simply because past the overhead of buying a computer and snagging software, you can create indefinitely and with the variety web platforms to share ideas — the possibility to connect with people, make things happen and gain attention happens really fast and can change your life! But I noticed that a lot of people aren’t a part of this conversation. Young people aren’t being taught Photoshop, which is a necessity as a creative professional! I really want to foster more creative thinkers, less robot workers. More dreemers and doers. And I really believe that access to the tools can change that.

So I met this guy named Anibal on Craigslist. He was driving to Detroit for DEMF and my friend and I needed a ride. He liked my idea. He has a music label and was really excited about the idea of teaching young people to remix and dj. We just started planning meetings and we spent two months hashing out the idea, incorporating, and moving forward to non-profit status. Now it’s real. I had been saving up money for the past two years to do something big, like start my own venue or shoe company or something. So I’ve been happily spending those savings and hoping that people will show their love for the concept via the Indiegogo, which goes to pay for this project and to start the next!

Powrplnt Indiegogo campaign video

As far as the artists shown during the opening of the space, are they going to be mentors? Will the facility double as an exhibition space?

I curated the opening to set an environment of inspiration. I wanted to show people what the digital art world trends are at the moment. I really wanted to create a spectrum of net art, tumblrcore, new media, and minimalism. The show included A video piece by Molly Soda dancing while singing karaoke, a video by Toronto-based Carrie Gates, a video wall by light artist Nitemind, a banner by Terrell Davis (the 16-year-old net art prodigy that had never seen his work printed before that show), a beautifully sensitive installation by Analisa Teachworth and a 3D render of Ivana Basic’s skin moving mesmerizingly through space on 4 computer screens.

Ivana Basic’s work on view at Powrplnt. Photo courtesy Powrplnt.

I wanted to curate artists that really work hard and have an authentic point of view. They are self-identifying technologists and digital artists that should be known as such. These artists aren’t mentoring per se, but their work is being seen by every young person and beginner that enters the space in hopes of creating something new. Our next exhibition is June 27th, we will be showing the work that is created by the students during their 4-week session.

Is this place in the same space as Fitness?

It was fitness gallery. Michael Potvin (formerly of Steel Drums, the late night party warehouse) took over the lease and the place was totally remodeled. Now the gallery and living quarters are separate and the dungeon of sin aka the basement is separated into artist studios. The new space is called Stream Gallery. POWRPLNT is in the gallery until August 5, then we are finding another more permanent (and larger) location, or maybe doing another temporary pop-up in Miami.

How can we help?

I thought you’d never ask! Donate to the Indiegogo! Volunteer during gallery/lab hours, propose a class, contact us to get involved. I want to create a space where any beginner can nurture an interest in computer based art making. So if you are someone that wants to teach, make some cash and be flexible.

How can people get inolved in the projects? When are you open?

Our hours are weekdays noon-ish to 3:00, then there is the teen session from 3:00-6:30, then we’re open again 7:00-10:00, with some later hours on select days.

It’s a good idea to follow our Twitter @powrplnt for updates. Every Saturday, we have an amazingly curated pop-up shop called Brooklyn Swag. It’s a project developed by Hanny Ahern for Powrplnt. The shop will be open and she will lead small workshops for young designers on how to develop a brand, find markets, and share their fashion. The shop is open noon-7pm and has really great dead-stock sunglasses, t-shirts by Whatever21, laser cut jewelry and more.

What else do you do?

I do a lot of things, but this is my baby right now. I host a party called Club Yes at Le Bain on Wednesdays, which is my party girl outlet. I try to stay balanced because being a ladypreneur is all about finding ritual among the chaos. I take photos and make videos. This is def my heart though. Social practice is the medium that I really thrive in.

Angelina Dreem 

How are you in touch with other community organizations? Can you comment directly on the gentrification of Brooklyn?

I have been friends with the main mama, Jazz, for a few years now. She is doing an amazing job at connecting the DIY venues that want to offer more community projects like Silent Barn, The Living Gallery, and Arts in Bushwick, with her group of kids, one who is her son. She is a force! The youth group is called Educated Little Monsters, they are incredible rappers, and creatives. Powrplnt is collaborating with them on a music video that the kids will direct, shoot and edit themselves.

E.L.M. performing at Powrplnt opening. Photo: ANIMALNewYork

For the Powrplnt sessions, I emailed schools, and the ones that wrote me back had me come in and talk a little bit. I was really nervous at first but by the third school it was really fun! Kids want to learn! Especially in this pop-centric society, they want to know how to be creators of pop culture, how to make their own music, t-shirts, tumblrs and videos. They have a lot to say, and I really think that their voice is an important one to highlight when we talk about gentrification. I want to give them the avenue for expression. I am not even sure what they will say, but I know that they are idealistic enough to believe in the possibility of a peaceful Bushwick.

Gentrification is a plot of real estate moguls. I think we all need to turn against them and tell them that neighborhoods aren’t disposable. The arts community is already getting forced out of Bushwick with landlords raising rent at exorbitant rates and then replacing empty lots with visual assaults of “modern” glue-and-go architecture. I have been aware of gentrification for a while, from my schooling on economics in Seattle and seeing my favorite places get bulldozed so that “yuppies” can move in. It’s not a white people vs. everyone else issue — its class warfare and as someone whose pay stubs are reflective of a growing instability, we need to target the real threats to any true cultural landscape.

I understand completely the argument that “everything changes” or “nothing is permanent in NYC.” Those are all true, but what they fail to point fingers at is the greed that is influencing and the rate at which these neighborhoods are turning into consumerist and flat environments for sleeping, eating, drinking, and commuting to work. Bushwick has a cultural fabric that made me fall in love with it five years ago. I want Powrplnt to be a space where people can access options, where they can communicate grievances and break down the wall of us vs. them. I named it Powrplnt because I want seed bombs of empowered young people planted all around these areas where artists have created cultural hubs, to tap into the ability of art to communicate better than a community board meeting could.

Powrplnt pop-up shop. Photo courtesy Powrplnt.

How have you seen Bushwick change since you’ve been living and working here?

Bushwick is a playground. The first venture that I helped develop here was Body Actualized. Nowhere else in the USA could a place like Body Actualized have been opened, and thrive. We revamped a warehouse, made it our own, threw psychedelic raves at night and hosted yoga with live music in the morning. The mix of receding industry has opened up a whole world of young entrepreneurial ventures. It’s exciting! But its also offensive when people just pop in with a ton of investment money and open another reclaimed wood bar. It’s just not creative. And if the neighborhood stops taking risks and fostering creativity, then the last domino will fall and all the bodegas will shut down, a Whole Foods will open on Flushing Ave and then what? What memory does the landscape hold and who is responsible for documenting the stories?

Everything changes. I just wonder where the families go to gossip when the barber shop gets turned into an art gallery. I hope to collaborate with neighbors on a video project that will ponder this question.

How important is computer literacy? Why should young artists have access to software and see new ways of working within digital art?

Digital is the medium of communication for our world today. We share more ideas digitally. We correspond, interact, influence and fall in love digitally. Statistics show that young people have access to the internet most only through a smart-phone. Tablets are cool. But everyone that has one remembers the first time they pirated Photoshop or Ableton Live. It is so powerful! It cures boredom, depression, loneliness, creative ruts — all from the comfort of your power outlet. We take a lot of what we do as artists today for granted. If I didn’t have a laptop to use Photoshop, I wouldn’t have been able to create a mock up mood board of Powrplnt. I wouldn’t have been able to make fliers to express exactly the aesthetic that I wanted to represent. I wouldn’t have been been able to make the Indiegogo video to pay for it all! Our society is  highly image-based and digital. Why not start kids young on basic Photoshop if their future is predicted to be contextualized by 3D-printers, experiential avatars and Google Glass apps? Digital is the tool and art is the context. With Powrplnt, we are packaging something powerful within a trendy exterior, making it palatable, accessible and unique.

Powrplnt is located at 1196 Myrtle in Bushwick and is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas.