Together with new neighbors and old friends from back in the city Thundercut are steadily creating a cultural festival built around one of their first loves: Street Art.
The Street Art couple known as Thundercut are not the first Brooklyn artists to head to Beacon, New York, a picturesque phoenix on the Hudson River 59 miles north of Grand Central Station. Kalene Rivers and Dan Weise are just two of the most visionary and fun to talk with.
Once a town known for it’s hat making, Beacon (pop. 16,000) had a reputation as a sketchy drug and crime ridden place when Dan and Kalene were growing up in the Hudson Valley during the 80s and 90s. When the Dia Arts Foundation (also of Dia:Chelsea in Manhattan) renovated a 34,000 sf former factory in Beacon to create Dia:Beacon and to house a collection of Warhol paintings, hulking Richard Serra sculptures, and fluorescent Dan Flavin monuments, among other post 1960 art, interest grew in the town and an artist community largely from New York began to blossom. Many of the original artists who had brought a bohemian caché to rundown neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Red Hook in Brooklyn relocated to Beacon as their neighborhoods blanded in the mid 2000s. Much like those original artist enclaves, Beacon has become home to artist collectives, house parties, and experimentation.
While DIA was an important catalyst when it opened in 2003, Dan says the new residents brought a creative community that grew organically in it’s own direction.
“The people that have moved here have a very DIY spirit and have created something very special that continues to reinvent itself each year,” says Dan. In addition to Dan and Kalene opening their own gallery, Open Space, which shows fine art by many friends and artists in the street art scene, they recount inititiatives by neighbors who organize live concerts, have annual open studio events, host drawing nights at home, and began non-art related groups like soccer and ping pong clubs. Open Space itself has hosted a series of comedy nights that play to packed houses.
Says Dan, “If someone sees something missing in the community, they try to make it happen.”
Begun as a place to house their graphic design business, Open Space took root as a gallery and a community gathering spot. Explains Kalene, “We are both very passionate about giving something back to the community, from bringing new artists to show in the gallery, to organizing events like Electric Windows, these are things that we think are great and we are excited to share them with the town.”
Which brings us to the third year of Electric Windows, a project that fills the eyes of a moribund electric blanket factory with new canvasses painted live on the street by artists while the public mills about. Now in it’s third year, with thirty artists, three buildings and live performances, EW is organized with their neighbors Jon Miles, Jeff Ashey and Nicole Romano. With support from the mayor, a grant from the county arts council, donations from businesses of supplies and money, and even neighbors who are opening their homes to house the visiting artists, Electric Windows is thoroughly a community celebrating the creative spirit and the talent of Street Artists. The artists are traveling from Australia, Portland, San Francisco, St Louis, Milwaukee, New Jersey, and of course, Brooklyn without compensation and are all doing it for the love of the project.
Brooklyn Street Art: How did the Electric Windows project first develop?
Dan Weise: The Electric Windows building is what we see when we look out of the windows of Open Space. It is a beautiful turn-of-the-century factory building which, when we first got the space, still had the partially broken glass windows in the frames. It was a postcard for urban decay and having just moved up from Brooklyn, felt like home. Shortly after we opened the gallery, the owner removed all the glass and installed grey plywood window protection in its place. This was far from an improvement in our opinion, so we started discussing what could be done to bring life back to the building. This is when we began seriously talking about the idea of “Electric Windows”.
Our neighbors at the time, an art store named Burlock Home, really loved the idea and were on board to help make it happen. The four of us teamed up and put the whole project together in three months.
BSA: This year features 3 buildings, instead of one. Do you have enough artists?
Kalene Rivers: We are excited about expanding the project to include more locations in the same area and all surfaces are accounted for. Everyday we think about how lucky we are to know so many incredibly talented artists and we just keep meeting more and more. Not only are they talented but they are amazing friends willing to donate their time and talents to events like Electric Windows for the love of making art and supporting positive projects.
BSA: Street Art is normally associated with large metropolitan areas. How does Beacon fit in to the equation?
Dan: Historically, Beacon was a town of manufacturing and the evidence still remains. There are some really phenomenal factories here in town, some vacant, some in the process of renovations and others like the Nabisco Factory, which now houses DIA, have been transformed into something new. I think this helps bring a bit of an urban feel to a quaint little upstate town. Also, when we moved up here we realized that not many people even knew about Street Art. This being the something that we are both very passionate about we wanted to open the gallery and share this world with people beyond the Bronx. Open Space Gallery was formed, Electric Windows was conceived, and slowly the infiltration has begun!
BSA: Would you say most of these artists are Street Artists? Or are there also graffiti artists, fine artists….
Kalene: I would say that most of the artists are Street Artists but there certainly is a good group of graffiti and fine artists in the mix. Of course the first people we think to invite to the project are friends. Being involved in the Street Art scene for seven years means that these are the people we know best. However, it is wonderful to work with a variety of people from different backgrounds. The artists have to be able to paint big and fast so our selection of qualified participants is pretty limited to a certain kind of artist.
BSA: What’s your favorite part of the event?
Dan: Well, after we stress out for months planning and trying to take care of all the details, it is great to look up and see it all in action. Music filling the air, fumes wafting by, people admiring the amazing murals being created, children laughing and dancing. That is when it feels like it has all been worth it. But the event is just the beginning once the crowds leave and the art has been installed the projects gives back to the community, to visitors and to us each and every day.
Returning Artists for Electric Windows: Buxtonia, BoogieRez, Chris Stain, Depoe, Elbow Toe, Mr Kiji, Michael De Feo, Peat Wollaeger, Rick Price, Ron English
New Artists for 2010: Big Foot, Cern, Chor Boogie, Chris Yormick, Elia Gurna, Erick Otto, Eugene Good, Faust, Gaia, Joe Iurato, Kid Zoom, Logan Hicks, Lotem & Aviv, Paper Monster, Ryan Bubnis, Ryan Williams, Skewville, Thundercut
This year’s event, which includes two days of preparation by the artists, a one-day exhibition and street fair, music and dancing by M*POWER ELITE TEAM, live screen printing by Buxtonia, and an Open Space after-party, is expected to draw approximately 5,000 people to Beacon’s Main Street corridor.
The line-up of live music at ELECTRIC WINDOWS includes: Ben Neill, Aabaraki, Hart Costa, DJ Birds in the Building, DJ Bobby Collins, DJ Krisis, Dr. Ambassador, Gold Monkey, and Scambler Seequill.