A Vision for Art in the 22nd Century
October 6, 2018
Dustin Yellin is the Founder of Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn and contemporary artist living in New York.
This interview was conducted and condensed by frank news at the Clocktower Studio.
frank: What does access mean for you, as far as this physical space and access to art in Brooklyn and around the world that you're providing?
Dustin: There is very much a proclivity in our society at the moment to modify learning, education and cultural production, so that's something that I think we are reacting to here. Pioneer Works is admission free, so all three floors of the building are completely free to the public. We expect about a million people to come through the doors in the next five years. 87% of our programming is free. I think that culture should be free. I think that the commons should still exist in our society and due to the modification of education and experience, as we've seen in so many different ways, that this ceasing to exist more and more in our country and so we want to fix that by creating a center for the sciences and for the arts that's accessible to everyone and building bridges into different parts of society that don't have that kind of access or exposure.
In a world that is more and more socioeconomically divided, as we've seen and geopolitically divided, religiously divided, separated by so many different mechanisms, in civilization, that culture is potentially our greatest glue to scale to bring people together – that storytelling, that song, that film, in the sciences as well, is this great sort of mechanism, to use for bringing people together.
That's what Pioneer Works is – sort of a beta, a scalable 22nd century center for community anywhere. We'd like to build a micro Pioneer Works in shipping containers and put it down in refugee camps in Jordan and in townships in South Africa. We'd like to see Pioneer Works in Detroit, in Akron, in Oakland. We're looking at what does it take to build a new commons, a new center for community that could be in every neighborhood, a new place that's admission free and accessible everywhere. If you think about the future of cities and you're building a city from scratch, obviously you've got to build whatever the future version of a hospital is and a school is, but I also think that there should be the commons, there should be a place that everyone in the neighborhood can go, admission free, and get access to culture, to science, to learning if you will.
For some reason now you can go buy cigarettes and bread in every neighborhood but you can't take a class in every neighborhood. That seems to be a sort of systemic issue into the growth of civilization.
Is that the mission of Pioneer works then?
Dustin: The mission of Pioneer Works is to build community through arts and sciences to realize our human potential. We fulfill our mission at Pioneer Works by transcending disciplines and creating universal access to the arts and sciences to realize true social change.
And how does the internet play into this?
Dustin: We're building what I call responsible, digital echo, which is how you tear down the walls, the physical of what we're doing here and build. It took me a long time to come around to that because I love the analog, but how do you share, if you will, public brain trust of all these people that are coming through our campus with people around the world, so we're doing that by developing podcasts, music videos, digitizing the hundreds of articles that we publish, making it all available online.
Why do you want this, why are you doing this?
Dustin: I think that truly on our planet that socioeconomic inequality, geopolitical instability and division, religious division, division of humanity through these different schisms, is getting more and more amplified by our current political and economic structures. And I think that the antidote to that is art and science. I think the arts and sciences are the greatest agency we have, or glue, to bring people together. It's the one thing we have that gets everyone to a table unarmed. Whether they're Jewish and Palestinian, black and white, rich and poor; it doesn't make a difference. They're all gonna come around a fire, around a song, around a film, around a story. So how do we use storytelling to bring people together? That's why I'm doing this.
And how do we scale that storytelling and how, more importantly, perhaps, do we make that accessible to everyone? It shouldn't just be in a place that costs 25 dollars for entrance or two million dollars to buy a painting, or it shouldn't be about the fiscal piece, it should be about the learning and the curiosity and the wonder.
So, what's the greatest connectivity between the arts and the sciences? What's the greatest, best thread between the two?
Dustin: That's a hard question because I don't necessarily differentiate them. A lot of my friends who play music are also scientists or my friends who are scientists play music, or you know, there's different sort of philosophical discourse around scientific method and perhaps what we do when we make a painting or an experiment. But on a personal level, I just see nothing and something. I think that everything's invented, that civilization is an invention – that everything that we see, everything we experience, we've created. Therefore, it's hard for me to differentiate, if we're looking at mechanisms to make clean energy, or to build new types of buildings or to go to space, or under the ocean, or whatnot. I don't differentiate these things, I think they all inform each other.
So what are your greatest barriers to creating this?
Dustin: Unfortunately they're probably fiscal. It's that I have to run around like a crazy person and get the support we need to build the staff we need, to facilitate the programs that we're doing, so that for me is challenging cause I'd rather be writing or making art, or thinking, or, so you know, that amount of socialization of the ideas for support for the ideas opposed to the actual implementation of the programming, is challenging.
How do you think we can use art and science to better form the electorate?
Dustin: That's tough, probably because, well it'll inform it because our entire political system probably has to be reconstructed to a post-industrial, post-internet society and there hasn't really been an update to the operating system of our political structures. So, I would think that technology, science and the arts, as a storytelling tool, will help to build that new connective tissue; to rethink the way government works at this scale.
And you think, what specifically will help that? Besides a total breakdown in our system and a rebuilding.
Dustin: I always ask people, what are the three most pressing issues facing humanity. And I usually get the same three answers, which are: socioeconomic inequality, the ecological disaster that we are straight, smack at the beginning of and in the middle of, and then we can go out further, right, and we can talk about the nuclear issue, and we can talk about the potential of AI, and all these different scale problems facing humanity. But I actually think all those things are, that we can solve for all those things if we work together. But we can't work together as Americans and Chinese; we have to work together as a species, and so again the arts and sciences are maybe our greatest tool to humanize humanity again.
When we look at cycles of terror and violence, one of the first targets in those moments is art. Why?
Dustin: Because art is a tool to give voice to change, and therefore if there are systems of control and position, and therefore that can jeopardize those systems. I'm one of those folks that's just looking ahead, so I'm not gonna, yeah, we could you know...
So access is about the future, not about the past?
Dustin: I think we learn from the past, to tell stories that will inform the future.