Forest Hills woman works to create a community art bus

Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

A small business in Forest Hills is going mobile.

Tiffany Pierce, a North Carolina native, first moved to the neighborhood in 2011, shortly before giving birth to her son, Liam. Seeking a sense of community in her new hometown, the mom and educator called upon her background in the arts to foster connections.

“I threw [Liam] an art party at 2 months old,” Pierce told QNS. “He slept through the whole thing.”

Despite her infant son’s disinterest, Pierce, a Spelman College and Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, noticed that many of the parents in attendance enjoyed the experience and spoke about a need for a community art space. Shortly thereafter, she established The Art Lab Studio while working full time for the city’s School Construction Authority and Department of Education.

Using an “art-on-a-cart” approach, Pierce brings her art lessons via red wagon to local parks and facilities or to local businesses in coordination with owners. Currently, she offers classes for children and adults during the week at shops including Red Pipe Cafe and Cippolina.

Photo courtesy of Pierce
Photo courtesy of Pierce

Still, the arts educator sees a demand for more.

“Parents are wanting more access to the studio,” Pierce said. “We really need a space that’s dedicated to the visual arts.”

For years, the business owner has scoped the neighborhood for an affordable brick-and-mortar location. Facing incredibly high price tags, Pierce did what she does best: get creative.

Her next stop to bring creative programming to the borough comes in the form of an “art bus,” a traveling studio that will bring arts education directly into local communities. She plans to launch a Kickstarter to make the project reality in June or July.

“This art bus is to connect the community — especially new parents — to one another. To come out of Facebook and connect,” she said.

With the bus, Pierce plans to drive to New York City neighborhoods and offer classes, playgroups, open studios and art parties to residents, as well as programming for schools. She has already approached local principals and educators and taken to local parks, where she offers free art lessons in exchange for feedback.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, Pierce said.

Forest Hills art bus (2)

“We will be in different locations: not only in Forest Hills, but in the other boroughs, as well,” she said. “But Forest Hills has my heart. I live here and I’ve done a lot of work here.”

Resourcefulness has been key in the business owner’s success. Pierce grew up in public housing in North Carolina and attended community college before moving on to Spelman College. She is the first in her family to attend college and operate her own business.

“I’ve always been resourceful and able to connect with the community,” she said.

Pierce currently home schools Liam, who, since his art party at 2 months old, has developed a love for the arts. The 7-year-old is her “greatest motivation” to make a difference.

Despite the rent hurdle, Pierce still hopes to someday open her own studio on Austin Street.

“I really believe that you attract what you want,” Pierce said. “I really want this to happen.”

Learn more about The Art Table Studio and the art bus initiative by visiting Pierce’s website.

Forest Hills art bus (1)

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