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Building community through art and trade at The Foundry



Courtesy of The Foundry

Through programs for young people, support for small businesses and artists, and projects to help the Masten Park neighborhood thrive sustainably, The Foundry has big plans for Buffalo. This burgeoning learning center, cooperative workspace, and artisan community is the brainchild of Net+Positive, an organization created by the founders of Buffalo ReUse. “These days, everyone’s talking about ‘carbon neutral,’ as in ‘no impact,’” says Caesandra Seawell, “director of shenanigans” for Net+Positive. “But we’ve already messed up the planet. Neutral gets you nowhere—it’s not good enough. The idea behind Net+Positive is to create a positive impact.”

In the next year, the Net+Positive team is transforming the Foundry property (at 298 Northampton Street) into a community center, collective office, cooperative workshop, and art center. The 30,000-square-foot building will offer rentable workshop and office space to artists, tradespeople, and small businesses, along with opportunities to share tools, skills, and knowledge. Mentorship programs will help young people acquire valuable skills and prepare to enter the workforce. Theatrical performances, classes, and Second Saturday––a chance for artists and vendors to sell their wares and network with the public––are already making The Foundry an exciting and lively destination.

“Essentially, the people behind Buffalo ReUse, founded in 2006–2007, wanted to start something new,” explains Kevin Hayes, cofounder of Net+Positive. His colleague, Michael Gainer adds, “It’s a testament to a pretty strong team at ReUse that we’re all working together on this.”

Net+Positive, Gainer explains, has three focuses: support for small businesses; sensible solutions to community rehabilitation, which involves leveraging existing resources and waste; and training young adults. Of the three goals, Gainer says he’s most passionate about the last: “I’m diehard about this building because I’m concerned for the kids who aren’t finishing school. There’s a gap between great programs, like AmeriCorps, and a vast number of people who aren’t ready, education-wise or otherwise, to enter the workforce.

“In time, there could be twenty-five, thirty, fifty people under this roof with the chance to be mentors to young people,” he says. “We’re developing a ten-month curriculum to help young people learn the skills to do meaningful work. Two days a week, they’ll focus on their educational needs—for example, GED training or apprenticeship—with a mentor.”

The name “The Foundry,” coined by team member Megan McNally, is a pun on the concept of found items, but it’s also a reflection of the idea of a creative space, explains Hayes. “The building used to be a laundry; it’s well equipped for all sorts of industrial things, and we attract creative people who like to do things,” he says. “It’s also in a neighborhood that’s smack in the center of Buffalo, Masten Park. The area is challenged by vacancy and poverty, but there are some residents that have lived here thirty, forty years. We believe that everyone should have access to art. That’s an important piece of this. One of our models is the Manchester Craftsmen Guild in Pittsburgh and their training programs for youth—they’re in a neighborhood just like this. We are working with young people out of school who need help getting into the workforce, providing them mentorship and experiential learning.”

Just outside the Foundry is the children’s garden and vinery, a funky playground of garden beds and art. “We’re at the point where kids think broccoli comes from a bag,” says Seawell. “We want to connect them with nutrition in the real sense. We’ll be growing weird vegetables, making it a real urban garden.”

McNally, a woodworker by trade, is also using The Foundry to house her business, Rusted Grain, which collects and uses reclaimed material for furniture and cabinetry and offers monthly classes. “We’re transitioning this to a worker’s co-op: they can rent space, use the tools, and share skills,” she explains. “We’re looking for people trying to get their businesses started. A woodshop is really expensive. The idea behind this is skill sharing, cooperative working. Members are required to offer a free skill share once a year. It’s an opportunity to learn or just see a new way of doing something.”

Michael Zak, owner of the eco-friendly remodeling and carpentry company Perifrean, says he’s involved with Net+Positive because he’s “looking to help grow this nonprofit, help build the program, and build community. Net+Positive wants to sustain and add, by bringing entrepreneurship. That’s the idea behind having this affordable space and access to tools. If someone comes to us with a good idea and they’re willing to invest, we want to help them.”

Other resident businesses at the Foundry include Sproutin’ Yoga, a yoga practice for toddlers and kids as well as “kids at heart”; BMF appliance and equipment services, repairs, and installations; and Buffalo Bottle Craft, featuring Dave Sheffield’s art made from bottles. On the second Saturday of every month, artists and tradespeople can display and sell their wares and services and network with the public, while food and music make it a bustling, market-style event.

“You get to a point as an artist where you have work, but you’re not sure how to get the word out and promote yourself,” explains Seawell. “You may not be able to pay a thousand dollars for a booth at a major art festival. Here, we help bridge that gap.” Seawell uses Second Saturday to showcase her own art: “Bit by bit, I get to build my own audience. I can do a little bit every month.”

Bread and Puppet Theater, a well-known traveling theatrical nonprofit, recently stopped for a show at the Foundry; the impressive crowd tipped off the visiting artists to the momentum behind the organization. “There was an awesome community showing; the performers commented on it afterwards,” said Gainer. “We want to always have a place for the community to engage.”

The Foundry is also a great place to find unique holiday gifts; to learn more about its events and offerings, visit thefoundrybuffalo.org.                              
 

 


Julia Burke is assistant editor of Buffalo Spree.

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