Ridgewood art center provides free space for locals and intellectually disabled

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

This may start off like Williamsburg — but it ain’t.

An arts center in Ridgewood is applying for a liquor license. Okay, sounds like Williamsburg so far.

But while it wants to serve alcohol for its weekend music shows, the owners also want to make more money so that they can continue to offer free services on weekdays to the local community — especially the intellectually disabled.

“The basic logic behind this place is we’re here in the community and the community needs space so we give them space,” said Sam Hillmer, one of the owners of the venue Trans Pecos. “We believe that we can be the new model for new art spaces opening up in the community.”

Every Tuesday afternoon, The Downtown Electric band can be found practicing its music set. The group is made up of six intellectually disabled people who have been practicing in the space since Trans Pecos opened in December 2013.

“Our own facility is overcrowded and it’s not conducive to creativity,” said Taryn Harris, a worker for AHRC who supervises the group’s trip from their office in downtown Brooklyn to the venue in Ridgewood. “They’d be in a dark room. Next to a copy machine. But here it’s wonderful. It’s big and we can all make as much noise as we want to.”

On Monday, another group from the same organization that provides services for handicapped people, AHRC, uses the business to hold art programs for the intellectually disabled.

On top of providing equipment and room for the group to practice their hip-hop music, Hillmer is also putting together a large exhibition at the end of the summer that will showcase the group’s music and costumes that Christian Joy — who designs the costumes for Karen O, the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — is helping them design for the band’s live performance.

When AHRC isn’t using the building, several afterschool kids programs use the venue for reading programs during the week.

Harris, who is a Certified Safety Professional, explains that some days the venue gets too hot, causing them to have to cut the band’s practice short. But with the liquor license, Hillmer said there will be enough money to install an air conditioner and make the venue more tolerable for AHRC and other community groups.

The venue also houses a record label, Northern Spy, and a coffee shop is in the process of being built in the front of the building.

Hillmer and the other owner, Justin Todd Patrick, applied for a liquor license with the State Liquor Authority last week and they are also seeking the approval of Community Board 5.

Even with the intellectually disabled groups using the venue, which is equipped with expensive sound systems and a backyard for recreation, Hillmer believes that the venue is not doing enough for the community. With the help of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office, they are looking for other community organizations that would like to take advantage of the free space.

For Hillmer, “space is a commodity” in New York City and most art venues in New York City that set up in low rent neighborhoods don’t allow the locals to use the venue.

“If you do that without any degree of responsibility to the community then it’s shortsighted and irresponsible,” Hillmer said. “It’s a shame that so many spaces are dark during the day and it’s as simple as opening up your doors. We seek to not be in two different worlds.”