Benefit Tips from the Great Beyond: Pioneer Works Throws a Village Fete in Brooklyn

View of the 2017 Pioneer Works gala. LEANDRO JUSTEN/BFA

View of the 2017 Pioneer Works gala.


Most galas make time for remarks from artists and auctioneers, but maybe only one seems a sensible setting for a mic drop by an astronaut. Not an actual mic drop—he was too reserved for that, as befits someone who has successfully traveled to and from space—but an actual astronaut: Mike Massimino, who took the stage last night to lavish praise on the expansive Brooklyn arts center Pioneer Works.

The institution’s annual “Village Fete” benefit began with mingling in a 25,000-square-foot former iron-works factory and, outside, in an idyllic garden hidden within the post-industrial neighborhood of Red Hook. A fire pit roared in front of strange arrangements of Victorian-era furniture while outdoor oysters were slurped and partygoers peered into an Airstream. Back inside, seats were taken to the sounds of an ancient Greek lullaby sung before Fab 5 Freddy stepped up and assumed his duties as MC—“in Brooklyn,” he said, “where I was born, bred, and collard-green-fed, from do-or-die Bed-Stuy.”

Dustin Yellin—founder and director of Pioneer Works and its ginger-bearded ambassador—conceded that “it’s really hard to explain” what his art-and-technology enterprise does and then rattled off a list of touchstones ranging from artist-residency programs and studio services to a dedicated science department and ambitions to court communities outside the realms of art. “Museums cost $25 now—that ain’t accessible,” Yellin said.

Dustin Yellin, Fab 5 Freddy

Dustin Yellin, Fab 5 Freddy.


Janna Levin, director of Pioneer Works’ increasingly formidable science efforts, followed, talking about time logged by a certain someone in the Great Beyond. “I bet nobody else here has been to space,” Levin said. As attention turned to the one dinner guest who had, someone picking over a delicate salad yelled out, “Astronauts are art!” Massimino, a NASA veteran whose journeys include two Space Shuttle missions to tend the Hubble Space Telescope, seemed to like the designation. “Thank you,” he said—“I’ll pass that along to my friends.”

The collective sense of perspective changed to external visions of a planet that we’d be wise to appreciate before the rest of dinner commenced and, afterward, the event turned to party time. Music blared as tequila flowed in cocktails specially concocted by bartenders from the beloved nearby restaurant Fort Defiance, dressed for the occasion in a bizarre sort of Ghostbusters-style garb with spray tanks on their backs. A long line moved steadily for aura photographs taken inside a geodesic dome by Christina Lonsdale, a Portland, Oregon–based artist behind the roving photo project Radiant Human. Dancing and generalized kinds of freaking-out accompanied the sounds of EXO-TECH, a worldly (and post-worldly) band featuring Kimbra and Sophia Brous. Spirits were moving—and moved.

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