Given the chance, most of us would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at Andy Warhol’s Factory parties, or checked out the Mudd Club when it was still around. Even now there is a generation of music fans who will only be able to read about shows at legendary DIY venues like 285 Kent or Death By Audio. But such is the nature of creative, DIY spaces. Whether they abide by all of the rules or fly under the radar of liquor laws and building codes, they are forever subject to the whims of development and the stamina of their founders, existing only temporarily in the evolution of New York. So when Oriana Leckert visited three of these spaces over the span of a weekend around six years ago—The House of Yes, the Bushwick Trailer Park, and 123 Community Space—she recognized that she was witnessing the work of some creative, adventurous spirits that would not be around forever.
“When I saw those three completely diverse and just completely over-the-top insane spaces, I said, ‘This is crazy. These spaces are so incredible, how is nobody making a record of what’s going on here today? This is more than just, ‘We threw a party and put out some streamers.’”
Since then, Leckert has become the unofficial record keeper of Brooklyn’s creative, and often fleeting spaces that house parties, art shows, aerialists, collectives and concerts, both on her site, brooklyn-spaces.com, and in her new book, Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture and Creativity, which was released yesterday.
When people stumble upon records of art movements past, said Leckert, “People lose their shit. These archives of incredible, creative movements and moments, when they get found, everybody is so excited because you want to know, ‘What did it feel like then? What did it look like? What did it sound like? Why were these people doing this?’…I wanted to make a cultural record of a moment in time that I thought was important.”
Leckert’s research began by getting emails from Nonsense NYC and Gemini & Scorpio that are filled with happenings at these creative spaces. Then she began keeping a calendar of events of her own. “If I started hearing a name of a space over and over, I figured that was the space that I wanted to get to,” she said. And while she has a “secret list of 500 spaces, every space I’ve ever heard of with notes about who’s running it and who they know,” she focused on 50 for her book, filled with colorful photographs of places you may be familiar with in name only. Spaces like Rubulad, which now throws roving art parties since it has been evicted from its last longstanding home in Bed-Stuy. Some are on their second or third incarnations, like The Muse. Some have since shuttered, like Death by Audio. The book also includes places that you would not expect to find, such as a communal lab called Genspace in downtown Brooklyn and Industry City Distillery. But all exemplify the collaborative, innovative spirit that has become synonymous with Brooklyn over the past 20 years.
“What I tried to use to guide myself was that I wanted all the spaces to be at the intersection of creativity and community,” said Leckert. “I think that the community aspect is massively important. Even if you think aerial performances are stupid or these wild burner art parties are frivolous and privileged and unnecessary, there are people for whom finding these communities is like a revelation, like this is the thing that they were seeking. Whether those people are partiers or foodies or art critics, there’s such a broad spectrum of passion projects that people come here to do and to find.”
One of the spaces very close to Leckert’s heart is the Gowanus Ballroom, where she’ll be holding her official book party on May 30.
“It’s an incredibly cool, historic building—it was once a canon ball factory” said Leckert. “It’s helmed by a wonderful, crazy person, Josh Young, who’s got an amazing backstory himself and is just one of the most interesting fellows you will ever meet. It pays the bills by being a working metal shop, and their fabricators weld everything from weird stuff that protesters use, to fancy banisters for Calvin Klein, to metal sculptures that the New York City Parks Department puts on public streets. Also, every couple of months, they push all the machines under a curtain and set up these massive multimedia art and creative performance parties.”
Those were some of the first art parties that Leckert experienced, so it’s fitting that she’ll be throwing one herself there, complete with three bands, four different acrobatic performances, a wall of photographs from her book, and a fire-shooting saxophone player–all for a suggested donation of $10.
“How many places in Brooklyn can you just have somebody shooting flames out of an instrument and have that be A-Ok?” she asks. “I love that space because it makes me feel like any insane thing you can think of you can make happen.”