“This is a realization of the last six years,” says Rachel Goldberg, looking around. Paintings and photographs hang on the walls around her. Next to her, a wooden table is neatly covered with hand drawn cards and small pieces of art. A few racks of women’s clothing and screen-printed t-shirts sit near the back wall. Armoires and shelves display original pieces ranging from earrings and necklaces to pillows and box lights.
Welcome to the new home of Brooklyn Collective, an artisan gallery and boutique in the Columbia Street Waterfront District that exhibits and sells handcrafted jewelry, clothing, art, and housewares.
“This is the first time we’ve been in our own location,” says Goldberg, 31, who opened the Collective with Tessa Williams, 35, in 2004. Nodding, Williams adds, “This is the first time that it’s really felt like it’s going to be. This is what we wanted from the start.”
When they met ten years ago after Williams moved to the neighborhood, they were both frustrated by the lack of unique design being offered in the marketplace. They wanted a place to sell their own work without having to accommodate the desires of an uptight shopkeeper. Thus, Brooklyn Collective was born as an affordable place for artists to sell their work while having total creative freedom. Plus, all of the artists keep 100 percent of their profits.
Goldberg is a jewelry designer from Coney Island who works in production for a magazine, and Williams, a fashion designer from New Hampshire, freelances for various designers. They live across the street from each other less than ten minutes from the gallery and come from similar backgrounds. Goldberg’s mother bought out the contents of a jewelry factory and sells pieces and supplies from her own shop, and Williams’ mother makes clothes and operates a yarn and clothing store. Or, as Goldberg puts it, “We both come from shop owners who make stuff.”
The Collective was born in a tiny storefront on Columbia Street between Sackett and Union Streets not far from its current location. “Our first space was so small that it’s now a car rental service,” says Goldberg, raising her eyebrows. “We didn’t show just small art works; these were teeny pieces of work.”
“We could fit about ten artists,” adds Williams. “Maybe 15 if we were really creative.”
“We literally found ten people on Craig’s list to be a part of it,” says Goldberg, laughing.
Last year, the Collective moved from the cramped storefront to a 500-square-foot antique furniture store just a few blocks away. They split the rent and used the furniture to display artists’ work.
“At the time, we were looking to move to a bigger space, but everything was too big or too expensive. We couldn’t find something reasonable,” says Williams. “So it was a really good step for us because it was affordable and it gave us a whole lot more space. We were able to test if we could handle that many artists. Our members basically doubled.”
Then this spring, almost exactly a year after moving, they were evicted after a dispute over their sublet with the furniture store, putting them back at square one. But what seemed like a major setback resulted in Goldberg and Williams getting what they always wanted for Brooklyn Collective: a space all their own.
The new boutique officially opened on August 1. With 1,500 square feet, the number of artists will rise to thirty come September, and classes will be offered in the in-house studio. Goldberg plans to teach jewelry classes like metalworking, enameling, and beading, and Williams will offer courses on sewing and pattern making. They’ll also have drawing, painting, and a full silkscreen studio, plus every artist has the opportunity to teach a class of their choosing.
Most of the artists are from Brooklyn, but they’ve hosted artists from as far away as Croatia and many regulars hail from all over the country. Artists work on three-month contracts (the length of an exhibition) and pay $150 a month. Goldberg and Williams find new artists on Etsy.com, at local galleries and boutiques, and often people approach them, asking to be a part. The artists can stay for as long as they like. Sean Mahan, a portrait painter from Florida who works with graphite and acrylic on luan wood, has been with the Collective for four years, and Jess Yam, a New York-based jewelry designer, has sold at the Collective since its inception.
“If they do well, they stay,” says Williams, of the contributing artisans. Goldberg adds, “No one is getting rich, but everyone is making their keep and also making more than that. We’ve developed a group of people who are really benefiting from the situation.”
When the Collective first opened, Goldberg and Williams consistently took a lot of money out of pocket to keep the shop running. Now, for the first time, everything is covered; the space is paying for itself.
“We have the ability to really grow,” says Williams. “It’s up to us to make it profitable, but if we bust our asses then we can make some money and this could really be something. We have a huge opportunity.”