Wafting trees and sleepy brownstones line Carroll Gardens’s Huntington Street just before it meets the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway
and descends progressively into dump-hood.
A combo Sunoco gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts lies at the end of the street – cars zoom above on the BQE next to a resplendent Dunkin’ sign – and across from it stands the Donut District, a span of three scrappy but ambitious artist- and designer-run galleries: Primetime, Know More Games and 247365.
My first visit to the Donut District was in February on the occasion of the Neoteny group exhibition at 247365, featuring up-and-comers BFFA3AE, Debo Eilers, Lisa Jo & Amy Yao and Jared Madere, curated by artist Josh Kline. That week’s cold snap didn’t prevent the galleries from overflowing with twenty- and thirty-somethings, the crowd spilling outside and keeping warm with convivial nips of whiskey. As compared to standard artist-run gallery fare in other deep-Brooklyn locales such as Bushwick, the Donut District crowd are a bit older and, perhaps consequently (and thankfully), take themselves a bit less seriously. (It’s OK to paste Miley Cyrus photos on the wall here, and no one’s going to give you a half-hour undergrad- thesis spiel on the topic.) “It would be a much, much different space if we did this in Bushwick,” 247365 cofounder Jesse Greenberg says to me in a recent onsite interview. The gallery’s name is said “twenty-four-seven-three-sixty-five”, as in every hour of every day of the year, speaking to the shared ambition of district cohorts to make running a gallery a sustainable, cost- effective practice, albeit an omnipresent social and professional commitment. While the Donut District galleries enjoy cheap rent, and all involved live in or around Carroll Gardens, they have jobs and actual art or design careers in addition to running their respective spaces.
It’s OK to paste Miley Cyrus photos on the wall here, and no one’s going to give you a half-hour undergrad-thesis spiel on the topic
Donut District began with Primetime, a nonprofit and the smallest space of the three, which opened in February 2010 after five months of renovations. While Primetime is now run by designers Scarlett Boulting, Gary Fogelson, Meredith James and Ryan Waller, 12 artists initially split the costs of the space and divided its schedule into distinct months, during which one of the crew would take over the space, similar to a time-share format. The following year saw Primetime institute a pay-to-play system in which artists could apply to pay $100-a-week to rent the space, which continued until early spring 2012, when a successful Kickstarter campaign transformed the space into a donor-funded initiative. Jacques Louis Vidal, an original Primetime member, founded Know More Games with Brian Faucette and Miles Huston in July 2011 after a veterinary clinic next door to Primetime went out of business. Artists Greenberg and MacGregor Harp started 247365 in November 2012 in the other half of the abandoned clinic storefront on a tip from friends at Know More Games. Since then, the Donut District has initiated a handful of shared opening nights and events such as a Fourth of July party with a dunk tank. Both 247365 and Know More Games are currently hosting a group exhibition of black-and-white drawings, featuring work by about 75 artists, curated by another artist, Brian Belott.
My earlier allusions to Bushwick art spaces weren’t to draw similarities between the two locales, but rather meant to highlight the rarity of comparably mature artist-run spaces in New York – remember the late 2000s, when the term ‘pop-up’ was coined (and then consequently overused to death)? Be it the rebound of the real estate market, continued financial hard-luck of Gen-Y’ers or the proclivity of New York City to run on pretension, permanent project spaces and artist-run galleries remain few and far between in the Big Apple. Due to some real-estate luck and ingenuity, we’re fortunate to have the Donut District – but hopefully this recession reversal won’t mean they’re the last ones standing.
This article was first published in the November 2013 issue.