With multiple shows, studio spaces, a residency program, and work shown both online and off, The Active Space at Curbs and Stoops gallery stands as a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of the Bushwick art community.

I met with the founder of Curbs and Stoops, Jeffery Pena, to get a tour of the space and to learn more about what is happening. Besides running the gallery, Pena is currently enrolled in the Masters of Architecture program at RISD and is an artist.


Ben Valentine (BV): What led you to start a project like this?

Jeffrey Pena (JP): I volunteered at The Luggage Store art gallery in San Francisco, which has a strong focus on community building through art. This gallery brings together a great group of artists, activists, poets and musicians to make an arts center that was a transformative force in the Tenderloin (a community that was notorious for its crack use). Our site started because the internet was an obvious platform for scaling the projects "on the cheap." There are also some other great people who brought some really important conversations to the street including Swoon, SpY, Candy Chang, and of course Banksy.

BV: Curbs and Stoops is a baby to Bushwick, opening the doors for the first time on Beat Nite. How have you been received?

JP: The Beat Nite show was amazing, especially for something that came together so quickly, but the people that came to see those exhibitions were really just the usual suspects. Bushwick Open Studios was more fulfilling. We are getting better at putting together exhibitions. Also, the Arts in Bushwick folks did a great job of providing the tools for the community to be involved and we got a much more diverse crowd – there was a genuine feeling that people were there to investigate the space, which is fantastic.

BV: Often there is a mystery surrounding how projects like these actually come about. How did Curbs and Stoops come together?

JP: After doing work online for about four years we realized that we had a lot of support for the project and had the desire to make it into a physical place. As luck had it, Ashley Zelinskie was renting a small studio in what was mostly a vacant building. Her landlord, David Welner, was waiting to make some key decisions on what to do with the space, and that created a window of opportunity for us to share our ideas about the art community that we wanted to help build. Thankfully, Welner was interested in some of our ideas for his feather factory at 566 Johnson Avenue.

The Active Space took on very generic branding because we want it duplicated without any secrets, which also suggest the kinds of communities that we want to build through art: active and adaptable. So we began simply as a small group of artists, curators, and writers who wanted to experiment with different platforms for sharing and exploring contemporary art. We hope with participation our system will emerge into something much more.

BV: What are your goals for the space?

JP: Our mission has always been to make art more accessible, and we mean that. The support of the community is what makes this kind of project sustainable and we really believe that you can build communities through art. We started this project as a small group but we are still developing an audience through a more emerging program that needs participants and feedback to function. We are currently developing different models for crowd-sourcing these changes, but we are very optimistic about Bushwick’s huge potential for change because of a creativity that really hits street level. Bushwick is already starting to reflect this potential, however, our area has some work to do before it can really welcome pedestrian activity.

The work we are doing for Curbs and Stoops doesn’t directly relate to our own artistic practice. Ashley is working in performance and new media as it relates to internet communities, and I am starting to delve into painting and installations based on theoretical urban scenarios. What ties our work back to the Curbs and Stoops ethos is the interest in reaching an audience that might otherwise miss it.

We are also not too happy about how much cultural worth is determined by market forces, so going open-source was the best way to push creativity further. Really I see the project as a necessary platform to present the kind of work that I want to make.

BV: Your website has an "Active Space" and an "Interactive Space." What are these and why have both?

JP: The Active Space is the physical community – at 566 Johnson – and the Interactive Space is on the internet. Technology leads the way in open-source development models, where projects consider their users as co-developers, much like Curbs and Stoops. This method prioritizes what the users want and has nothing to do with marketing or anything else that proprietary systems get hung up on. This is something that my friends at Reddit [a social news website where the users vote content up or down] know that most urban [property] developers forget. The power here is that we can already build communities online before bringing them into the physical world.

BV: What can we expect to see from Curbs and Stoops in the future?

JP: There are a lot of really exciting things brewing, but we really hope to hear from the community. We just started a Meetup community for anyone that is interested in what we are doing. We will be hosting several events including lectures, art projects, exhibitions, and more open-studio nights, at a smaller scale than our previous openings. Also, there is the potential of starting a makers-space or a hackers-space, which is exciting, but we still need to gather more support for many of the ventures that we are interested in.

Curbs and Stoops’ next show, Goodbye, Space Shuttle, opens July 29, 7-10pm.