MFTA hosts No Longer Empty’s Family Day fun

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We had an incredible time making sculptures and instruments with No Longer Empty at the Clock Tower in Long Island City on Saturday, March 9. The afternoon of art-making workshops focused on making trophies and instruments with a treasure trove of materials, including donations from Coach and Marc Jacobs from the MFTA warehouse. All ages were invited to experiment, create, and explore with a variety of materials. Check out what they made!

Don’t forget this Thursday, March 21 at MFTA from 6-8 pm: You are invited to FREE Third Thursday: Wind Mill Making with Gregory VandeHey, hang out and make some art!

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A New Kind of Improv Theater

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Seasoned MFTA shoppers know that meandering through our warehouse aisles leaves one susceptible to discovering unexpected treasures, a wandering imagination, and to thinking outside the box. In this particular case, we’re talking about the black box.

Nestled amidst the brick and concrete of the East Village, sits the green oasis of the community garden, Le Petit Versailles (LPV). Within LPV lies yet another safe haven, a temporary “cine-sculpture” called The Blue Balcony. Designed and built by the artist collective, Et al, The Blue Balcony is a movie theater that does not screen movies!  With the absence of actual film projections, Et Al has created a dream world, enhancing our sensory experiences through sound and light.

balcony on stilts

To produce the work, Et Al told us they relied on materials obtained from, MFTA, Build It Green! and a donation from Participant Inc, as well as gathering scrap lumber from construction sites. They told us “Because this was a work-in-progress we had no idea what it would look like before we made it, so a lot of the aesthetic design was inspired by materials found at MFTA.  This is especially true for the material used to make the ceiling and textures chosen in the design of the walls and floor.  Even the design of the control room features some unexpected components found at MFTA that fit perfectly with our vision for the space.”

balcony mood interior

french actress

Built on stilts, The Blue Balcony is a small yet magical theater that provides a cozy space for an audience to peer out the window that overlooks the garden, and also to be inspired by the sites within.  Drawing inspiration from the extravagant ornamentation of cinema palaces of the 1920’s, as well as The Versailles Gardens,  and Aesop’s fables, the Balcony is a decadent rendition of fantasy created to make the average citizen feel like royalty.

The moral of the story is…Never underestimate where a walk through the MFTA warehouse might take you!

labrynth of versailles

balcony seats

For more information: hours of operation/ Screening times

LPV is a public space located at 247 East Second Street between Avenue B & C

The Blue Balcony is open every day from 7:45 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. and in operation from March 4th- 31.  For additional screening times and special programs, please refer to the Balcony’s events calendar:

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Third Thursday: Wind Mill Making with Gregory VandeHey

DSC_0080Third Thursday Open Studio Workshop

Wind Mill Making with Gregory VandeHey

Every third Thursday of the month, Materials for the Arts hosts a free evening of artmaking and cocktails. This month come and make a personalized windmill with unusual supplies from MFTA warehouse, such as record albums, marble tiles, and discarded toys. Artist Gregory VandeHey will get you started on making your own windmill and then the art studio is yours.


Free. Thursday, March 21, 6-8 pm

Light refreshments will be served. The workshop is free and open to the public.

Click here to register; registration is required.

Materials for the Arts

33-00 Northern Boulevard, 3 Floor

Long Island City, NY 11101

Third Thursday open studio workshops are made possible by Friends of MFTA, the official nonprofit partner of Materials for the Arts.


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Farewell to Nat!

Nat Shelness

It’s almost daylight savings time! While we are happy to usher in spring and more hours of sunlight, we are sad to count down the hours before bidding adieu to our beloved MFTA Education Center Coordinator, Nat Shelness.

Nat plans to pursue a career in Education. He will be joining the NYC Teaching Fellows program, teaching eighth grade Earth Science in Brooklyn, before enrolling in a Master’s of Education program in NYC to become a full-time teacher.

Our Executive Director, Harriet Taub summed it up well: “Nat is an extraordinary young man and I am so pleased to have been a part of his early career. Over the almost two and a half years, he has continued to impress me with his drive, dedication and, smarts.  He is an inspiration to me and I will miss him sorely. However, we all look forward to seeing his career blossom and hope he comes back to see us often. ” We all concur.

dr seuss

As we send Nat out into the world, we try to keep the words of Theodor Seuss Geisel in mind: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!” We look forward to Nat’s ongoing participation with MFTA’s  professional development opportunities, and of course, properly filling out his worksheet on shopping days!

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Making Room for Creativity


CUP (Center for Urban Pedagogy), an MFTA member since 2005, is known for their “Urban Investigations” — experiential semester-long projects with public high school students, where they give students the tools to investigate their own communities and use art and design to create educational tools based on their research.


Using the city’s micro-unit competition (AKA adAPT NYC) as a launch pad, CUP’s current urban investigation, in collaboration with The Academy of Urban Planning, deals with the issue of housing size and how much space we need to live.


Teaching artist, Chat Travieso explained the investigative process to us, which entails having the students interview a number of people including an architect, a sociologist, affordable housing advocates, a real-estate developer, and a representative from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Through these different perspectives they become informed about the city’s changing population and what should be done about housing size.


Valeria Mogilevich, CUP’s Program Director told us the project objectives were not actually seeking out solutions to space issues. The goal is for the students to research how much space one needs to live. They then use design and art to break down what they learned and explain it to others “…in a really accessible…funny, and weird…way. The visual element is how the students process the information they gathered from all the interviews conducted and how they make that information understandable to others…the creative process is at the absolute center of their investigation.”


Collage was the medium chosen to represent this exploration of viewpoints and themes. Supplied with a wide array of materials from MFTA like magazines, construction paper, wallpaper, posters, old architectural plans, and textured paper, Travieso told us “all these different materials combined made for some quirky illustrations…and allowed for the students to make really saturated and fun collages.”


Regarding the mayor’s competition, HPD (Housing Preservation Development) Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua said “Remarkable things can be accomplished when thinking carefully about how people live …” At MFTA we know remarkable things can happen when children are given the freedom to explore through creativity.

To see slide show and article about the actual competition click here

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Recycling Materials, Reinventing a Genre

Photos by Carrie Leonard, 2013

Photos by Carrie Leonard, 2013

Rather than throw them away, skincare manufacturer L’Occitane donated remnants of their recent NYC window displays to MFTA — faux trees, eight feet tall, made out of wood and cardboard, with plastic leaves and some real branches.

No one knows better than we do just how much one company’s trash is an MFTA group’s treasure. This time, Stolen Chair Theater Company got the last laugh. Appropriating the trees and other materials found in our LIC warehouse, Stolen Chair put on a production of The Man Who Laughs, in what was called by the Huffington Post “A remarkable achievement… captivating…inspired stagecraft.  A triumph of stylized acting and directorial artistry.” Shirley Levy, Chief of Staff at The Department of Cultural Affairs, recently saw the show and had this to say: “From the expressive silent acting to the inventive gray-scale set design, Stolen Chair’s production transported the audience to an old cinema and treated them to a feast for the eyes and the heart.”


In addition to spotting the trees which he re-purposed for the show, Set Designer, Michael Minahan, told us: “The casters we found at MFTA allowed the scenery to move quickly and gracefully between sets – this is only one example of how our technical achievement couldn’t have been possible without your organization.  As an emerging set designer in NYC, my work is dependent on MFTA time and again and I’m grateful for it.”

About the Show: Freely inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, equal parts horror, comedy, and romance, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is a “live silent film,” performed in grayscale with live music, about a man whose face has been carved into a permanent smile and his desperate quest for the world to take him seriously. Hugo’s character of Gwynplaine, “the laughing man” inspired the creation of Batman’s infamous nemesis, The Joker.

Photos by Carrie Leonard, 2013

Photos by Carrie Leonard, 2013

About STOLEN CHAIR: Named best “genre-bending theatre” by New York Press, Stolen Chair is a theatre laboratory dedicated to the creation of playfully intellectual, wickedly irreverent, and exuberantly athletic original works. Proudly plundering the pop culture of the past half millennium, Stolen Chair’s aesthetically promiscuous work recycles and reinvents old genres and stories to discover new ways to challenge and delight contemporary audiences. Pioneer of the Community Supported Theatre movement, Stolen Chair is supported, in part, by the Nancy Quinn Fund and by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Harriet Taub, MFTA’s Executive Director said, “Even after 14 years, I still get a thrill when I hear how our materials have helped dress a set, create costumes or furnish an office or classroom.   While it is almost impossible to attend every play, dance performance or gallery show, we love to see photos or video from our groups.  Keep sending them to us!”

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Salvaged Sounds Jam Session with Louie Miranda

Louie Miranda making an instrument

Louie showing a reuse string instrument (complete with amp)

The coolest place to be in NYC last night was not the rink at Rock Center or the Ear Bar in Tribeca. It was the art studio at Materials for the Arts for our monthly Third Thursday open studio. Last night, under the melodious hand of Lou Miranda, 25 folks from all walks of life joined together  for this free two hour musical instrumental making workshop.  

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Preparing materials for Salvaged Sound Instrument

Everyone learned how to turn rubber bands into violin strings, discarded aluminum bins into xylophones, and Styrofoam crates into amps. Attendees were excited to use beads, spools, nails, and other odds and ends to create their instruments. After an hour of assembling rain sticks from cardboard tubes and percussion instruments from hollow vessels, the group was ready to jam. With Louie leading the way, participants beat and strummed through a series of songs. From Deep Purple to the Beatles, everyone joined in as Louie played his guitar and sang.

Reuse/Upcycle instrument making

Reuse/Upcycle instrument making

New visitors to Materials for the Arts got the chance to tour our warehouse, and then returned to their instruments to participate in a musical medley. By the end of the night, everyone was pumped and  thrilled to have been part of the fun that was the Salvaged Sounds jam night with Louie Miranda and the MFTA team. Check out our video clip below and get swept away in the fun.


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Art and reuse at CCNS Glenwood Senior Center

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Janelle St. Hill, Program Manager at Catholic Charities Neighborhood ServicesGlenwood Senior Center, recently sent us pictures of some fantastic projects created by local seniors. An MFTA recipient since 2009, the center offers a variety of resources to seniors in Brooklyn’s Glenwood neighborhood, from low-cost meals and counseling services, to dance and art classes, to performances and parties.


The center’s knitting and crocheting class created a vibrant, tactile tapestry from burlap bags and fabric. The seniors cut the fabric into strips and sewed it onto the burlap bag. The intricate stitching was no easy feat – the project took a year to complete!

Art exhibit3

Janelle also sent pictures of a project from this past summer. As part of a pilot program with the Brooklyn Arts Council, the center was able to have a ceramics teacher come in  and teach seniors how to shape clay and fire a kiln. These colorful cups are a result of that class. Glenwood Center also hosted an art exhibition that included tiles and frames from Material for the Arts.

Cups in pile

Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos, Janelle!

If you would like to share a recent project, please send photos and a brief description to Elizabeth Masella.

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Olek – The End Is Far


Olek installing a crocheted dress at MFTA (August 2012)

Olek, the artist who crocheted the Charging Bull sculpture in the Financial District, presents The End Is Far, a solo exhibition at Johnathan Levine Gallery opening February 23 and on view for one month. Olek described the exhibition as “my most challenging and involving show…Pink, gold and silver, skulls, skeletons, bottles, grapes and mermaids will welcome you.” Having crocheted a parking meter, a Volkswagen Beetle, and bicycles, we can’t wait to see what she’s created.

The crocheted environment before it was installed

The crocheted environment before it was installed

Visitors to the warehouse can check out Olek’s work, including a crochet environment installation and two dresses created from MFTA trim and salvaged materials, which she has generously loaned to inspire recipients and students.

The End Is Far, a solo exhibition by Olek at Jonathan Levine Gallery, will be on view from February 23 to March 23. The gallery is located on the 9th floor of 529 West 20th Street in Manhattan.

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DIY with Harriet Taub

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Harriet Taub, MFTA’s Executive Director

Nowadays it’s easy to find DIY goods and community driven art collectives on any number of social media sites and in trendy boutiques. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, DIY appeared in the form of Better Homes & Gardens and Urban Mechanic, and later it was the punk movement’s push for  self-empowerment. What you may not know, is that in the 80’s, it was Bumblewear! Est. 1986, Bumblewear was Harriet Taub, MFTA’s Executive Director, children’s clothing company.

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A contact sheet featuring Harriet and Karen’s kids modelling the Bumblewear line

Some of you may see Harriet on any given day, rolling up her sleeves and stocking bins or pushing shopping carts in our warehouse. Committed to reuse and recycle, and of course, the arts, Harriet has been at MFTA for almost 15 years! She’s seen MFTA move from the gentrified Chelsea Market to our current LIC location.  Moreover, since the birth of Bumblewear, she’s seen an industry transform from a limited number of kids brands to the explosion of a market that ranges from mass produced and corporate owned to the unique one-of-a-kinds found on Etsy.


A contact sheet featuring Harriet and Karen’s kids modelling the Bumblewear line

When Bumblewear began Harriet had just become a first time mom to Sarah. She told us it wasn’t easy to find cool kids’ clothing back then.  (We concur, as evident in some of our own baby pictures, and perhaps you do too, dear readers! ) Having sewed since childhood (taught by her father Irving), Harriet decided to literally take matters into her own hands and make her own kids’ clothes! At a time when the market wasn’t about kids clothes looking cool, and there was only pink and blue, Harriet introduced black turtlenecks, animal prints and baggy pants. Sharp, fierce and cutting edge, Sarah (and later Jacob) were redefining hip.  When asked about what they factored  in when designing the line, Harriet said, plain and simple–  we added what we would like to wear– natural fibers (no polyester); comfort (elastic waists); oversized (longer lifespan/ longevity—you roll up the sleeves and the kids grow into it). Not surprisingly, when out on the street, the clothes stopped people in their tracks! Thus began the commercial production of Bumblewear.


When asked about where she went for customers, Harriet told us you “start with your friends and neighbors”. Given the way MFTA started, we know very well how true that is! Bumblewear sales began with moms from a Manhattan playgroup eventually making it to a trade show (pre-Javits),and onto the swanky fashion racks of Fred Siegel of California. When sales took off, Harriet was joined by her NYU classmate Karen Feuer who is now the principal of PS 110M, an MFTA recipient and an inspiring and creative leader.  Eventually, unable to compete with overseas manufacturers, Bumblewear was bought out by a larger company. Harriet still gets a buzz from being around all the wonderful fabrics and trims that are regularly donated to MFTA.  Although these days – she is an observer only – she leaves the clothing and costume making to the talented recipients who walk through our doors every week.

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In our LIC warehouse: A pair of Bumblewear leopard print pants, featured on a dressmaker form donated by Harriet.

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