When Castle Braid opened last September on the site of a former ribbon factory on Troutman Street, the residential complex for creatives provoked Bushwick’s cynical side. Could an artistic community be manufactured and packaged in luxury accomodations, or was it more likely that luxury condos were being dressed in the trappings of the Brooklyn art scene?
Half a year later, after converting the 144 units from doomed condos to attractive rentals with a little help from the State, the building is just a few tenants away from full capacity. In the eyes of its target market, at least, the case has been made. Now that they have sold Castle Braid to renters, the team are turning to the thornier task of selling it to the rest of Bushwick. Their tool of outreach is the Artillery, a program of classes, events and workshops sharing a little bit of the alt-art-school ambition of 3rd Ward. These will be complementary perks for residents but also open to the public, if at a small ticket price.
The first draft of the Artillery was a one-off art festival in September, when Williamsburg and Bushwick artists were invited to deck out empty units with their work. Now the festival is back to stay, launching as an ongoing program last Saturday. The Castle’s creative and marketing teams went all out with a full afternoon and evening of free events to bring in the outside world.
To a first time visitor – of which there were many – the Castle presented a conflicted identity, walking a difficult line between warehouse-dwelling Bushwick art collective and the sort of all-inclusive lifestyle community more familiar to the state of Florida. The one side was cultivated not only through sheer attitude but also through the idiom of colorful freehand scrawlings on walls and windows, the basic gesture of irreverence employed in communal lofts and squats the world over. This did jump out amid condo-standard slate walls and designer furniture, but the idiom’s anarchic power has perhaps worn thin with its repetition everywhere from dorm rooms to Trader Joe’s. These funky touches did little to hide the necessary functions and excesses of the complex as a luxury apartment building – the exercise room and bocce court and conspicuously large dogs on the leash – which reminded outsiders that this was home to some of the most expensive rentals in Bushwick, and always begged the fundamental question: do artists really live here?
By way of evidence Saturday’s agenda presented some creations of residents and friends, dipping into film, fashion, music, comedy, and installation. The pair of film screenings played on the the building and its inhabitants and conveyed a certain clubbishness, albeit a self-aware one. A series of (non-resident) comedians who dropped in gave it a good try, somehow all settling on pot-smoking jokes as the proper material, but failed to rise above expectations (with the exception of harp-strumming David Cope, who took an awkward room and wrapped it around his little finger).
The real showpiece of the evening was an illuminated installation in the courtyard by Castle resident Helmut Kohli, making use of candles, flares and ice. The artist explained Lit:NY as a nod to Bushwick’s fiery past and herald of its renaissance, but it more immediately served as a sort of ribbon cutting, with Creative Director Leia Doran lighting the first flare. As the crowd grew – tenants and neighbors in uncertain ratios – a pair of fashion shows crossed the lobby, representing LES hip-hop boutique Coat of Arms and designer Anjia Jalac.
At the bottom of the agenda came a Purim dance party staged in one of the remaining vacant duplex units. This was decked out authentically enough to take everyone back to their awkward Jewish adolescence, real or imagined. In the one truly inspired move of the night, Castle Braid developer Mayer Schwartz invited along his rabbi to perform the traditional reading of the Book of Esther backed by beats from the DJ.
By this stage the crowd was a truly mixed bag: tenants, friends from Manhattan, friends of the DJ, walk-ins off the street, and in general anyone looking for a free bash on a Saturday night. Evidently, if there’s one thing that will win over the neighbors in Bushwick, it’s a new place to party. In this at least Castle Braid should be able to provide a service to the community, and faced with an open door, a dance floor, and enough booze to go around, cynicism can be put on hold.