The experiment that is Waterloo is coming along nicely.
These endeavors are multifaceted in what they represent, providing for instance a model for a different kind of approach to “development.” Rather than the traditional American model of bulldozing and “gentrifying,” Northeast Shores Community Development Corporation has taken a very different path, underwriting those who repurpose existing architectures and seek to become members of existing communities. This kind of model doesn’t just pay lip service to the benefits of a creative economy, it actually goes there, putting real skin in the game by providing the dollars to make it happen. The goal is to invigorate an area ripe with untapped resources, to seed revivals of the sort seen in places like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Wilkinsburg, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh.
On the ground, of course, such enterprises require energy, the will to do and most importantly, the personal courage to see it through. The women manning the helms of Praxis and Brick, Jessica Pinsky and Valerie Grossman, are nothing if not courageous. It takes a lot to venture into an uncertain future risking both personal financial security and potentially years of one’s life for something that might not pan out. It is the very definition of faith to “go there” and both women readily acknowledge that some part of this faith comes from the success of Zygote and the leadership model provided by such trail blazers as Bellamy Printz and Liz Maugans. With its shared studio and community-centric programs, Zygote, pointed the way for two young artists daunted by the challenges of making a career in a field that was still reeling from the financial crisis.
Founded in 1996, Zygote pioneered a diverse set of approaches to funding. In addition to the traditional routes of donors, grants, and art sales, Zygote’s leadership understands that its community is its true wealth. Modest fees for studio access and more importantly, supporting artists as much as the organization asks artists to support it, made Zygote one of the most dynamic and successful non-profits operating. Artists working with Zygote are fiercely loyal to the organization and are willing to contribute not just in terms of money and art donations, but also in terms of sweat equity, literally getting their hands dirty to help make projects like Ink House a reality. It is an incredibly stable model as well, and while other organizations have struggled in the wake of the financial crisis, Zygote had the reserves not just to survive, but to grow while simultaneously cultivating a solid base of artists deeply committed to the Zygote project of sustaining printmaking as a “vital contemporary” practice.
Following Zygote’s lead—Praxis, Brick, and Zygote’s spin off, Ink House —represent a paradigm shift on numerous levels but significantly they provide an accessible “art world” that makes room for all kinds of creativity. They achieve the ends somewhat ham-handedly approached by the requirement found in so many grant applications to “demonstrate public value” by providing a haven for the unmediated art experience, privileging the tactile, material – physical aspects of artistic practice. The aesthetics of the hand come to the fore offering an antidote for the ubiquitous screen. Their greatest benefit is that they offer, not just for a few art elites, but to a diverse spectrum of willing participants, the means of being present, being here now. Our anxious age desperately needs this – the contemporary individual desperately needs this – for it is impossible to not be present in the act of making and equally this act of making, of touching, of seeing, holds at bay the nagging anxieties of contemporary lives lived largely through (and mediated by) the screen.
Make the trip to Waterloo.
Lane Cooper, an Associate Professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art and practicing artist, holds an MFA in Painting. View more articles by Lane Cooper.