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Con Artist Collective: Making Artistry Available To All

Walking around the Lower East Side of Manhattan can make you feel a little claustrophobic. The streets are small and full of parked cars. The very old buildings seem to close in around you as they rise just high enough to block the sun for most of the day in the tight streets. And you are constantly dodging other people walking on the tight sidewalks.

The area is always crowded with pedestrians because you can find just about any type of store or shop in this compact neighborhood. There are bars and restaurants aplenty. You also have bodegas, banks, bakeries boutique clothing stores, chocolatiers, gyms, surplus stores, grocery stores, leather shops, fabric shops and on and on it goes. Not to mention that just about all of these businesses are on the ground floors of apartment buildings.

So, as you are bustling through this eclectic neighborhood, it is easy to walk right past the small storefront window of the Con Artist Collective at 119 Ludlow St. The façade of unadorned white concrete does not draw the eye or invite casual passersby to stop in and poke around. It’s easy to walk down the street several times and not even notice that it is there, unless there is a gallery opening going on. Then, like me the first time I noticed the place, you might think to yourself “Why are there so many people outside that abandoned store?”

The unassuming look, though, is perfect for Con Artist Collective. It doesn’t need to draw pedestrians in because it isn’t a retail store. Their main purpose isn’t to sell art. It’s to provide a place for art to happen. The owner, Brian Shevlin, has created a playground where artists can come and create whenever the mood strikes. Although there is a small gallery in the front of the building, Con Artist Collective is first and foremost a group workspace with resources available to all of its members. And anyone can become a member of the collective for as little as $5 a month.

Con Artist Collective has supplies and space for painters, sculptors, photographers and everything in between. Their silkscreen press, communal computers and 3D printers allow the artistic mind all kinds of outlets for expression. And their incredibly affordable plans allow anyone access to the workspace and all the available resources hourly, daily, weekly or 24/7 monthly.

Brian Shevlin started the workspace for his friends. He was renting an apartment at 119 Ludlow Street in early 2010. He noticed there wasn’t a lot of affordable group workspace in New York City for artists. So he rented the basement of the building to provide a place for the artists he knew to and work on their projects together. The idea blossomed, the space grew and Con Artist Collective became a haven for collaborative creativity.

I spoke with two members who were in the basement working on paintings on a Saturday afternoon. Linda Vigdor has been a member for about two months. She normally does her artwork at home but she had some vacation time at her job and decided to use the communal work space at Con Artist. She said it was a good way to get out of her apartment to meet and work with other artists and that it was much easier to make a mess here than in her living room.

Bree Chapin (@BreeMakesArt) has been a member since 2013. She was not traditionally trained in any art medium. It was just a hobby she enjoyed at home. She became a member to learn more and further explore her own creativity. When she started coming to Con Artist she just dabbled in painting but since becoming a member she has enjoyed working in many different mediums because so much is available to her here.

The Gallery is open six days a week for the public to experience the work created by the members. The shows are changed every week so there is always something new to see. There are often group shows where many members create pieces based on a theme. At the recent “Super Dollar” show artists drew pictures, colored in or wrote messages on dollar bills displaying a variety of styles and invoking different emotions about capitalism, patriotism, religion and art.

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