The Upcycle Junction Market is an exciting new event that will be coming to Brooklyn in May of 2019. It is an outdoor marketplace that promotes sustainability and use of eco-friendly reclaimed products. The original hand-made creations sold at the market will be crafted by local artists using recycled items, donated courtesy of Material For The Arts (MFTA). Fifteen local artists and vendors will participate in the Upcycle Junction Art Market which will take place on the first Sunday of the month starting in May from 11 AM to 5 PM.

This project is helmed by designer and artist Yasmin Gur of Artbizfusion.

Yasmin was honored to collaborate with the Flatbush Junction BID and Materials for the Arts to make this program a reality. The 2019 Upcycle Junction will be the premiere year and will take place on location at Brooklyn’s Hillel Plaza. The Flatbush Junction BID—which supports small businesses—was very supportive of this endeavor which aims to help local stores remain sustainable in this challenging retail environment.

Each of the artists selected to participate in the initiative are dedicated to creating original items that are practical, beautiful, or both and made from recycled and/or reclaimed materials. In essence, the market is a celebration of reuse and the ability to find ways to avoid sending items to landfills.

This approach is a way to embrace environmentalism and artistry. Anyone who purchases a product at the Upcycle Junction Market will essentially be donating for the planet and the local ecology of NYC artisans.

Recently Yasmin Gur who is the founder of Upcycle, Kenneth Mbonu who is the Executive Director of the Flatbush Junction BID, and John Cloud Kaiser who is Education Director at Materials For The Arts, discussed this forthcoming market and what it means for the community via an exclusive interview.

Arts, crafts, and the community

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in the arts and community service?

Kenneth Mbonu (KM): Being of Nigerian and Jamaican parentage, I grew up in a culturally distinct yet traditionally similar household; exposed to different genres of music, art, food, and conversation. I have always had an artistic flair, even though I never considered myself an artist.

My childhood was culturally rich and deep in expression. I got involved with community service when I worked as a corporate banker with Bank of America, volunteering with the bank’s foundation as it provided grants to community-based organizations.

Yasmin Gur (YG): I grew up in a very artistic family. My mom was a painter, and an art teacher and my father is an architect. They were part of a team of pioneers who build a new town ARAD, in the Israeli desert. It was a beautiful, simple time in the early 1970s full of idealism, creativity, and community and responsibility. It was all about the group and the community not about the individual. Building a new town from nothing took a lot of imagination and collaboration.

Those early years in the desert defined me and what I care about. For me, art and community are two things that go together. It’s not about being famous or rich. It’s a way to communicate and feel that I am part of a community. This is why I started ArtBizfusion where I’m connecting artists, businesses and community organizations together in a way that benefits both sides. So far, it’s proven to be a good recipe for the community.

MM: Yasmin, what inspired you to establish the Upcycle Junction Market?

YG: I love the craft market, original handmade art, and jewelry. I really want to have one in Flatbush, a unique one! As an artist using mostly using reclaimed wood, I saw the possibility of combining recycled, reused materials with creativity to create a unique market.

Some so many great artists have limited access to show and sell their art, so the idea for upcycling craft market developed naturally. Reusing and recycling is a necessity, “upcycling” is creativity.

MM: How did you get involved with MFTA?

Jon Kaiser (JK): I have worked at MFTA for more than eight years, building the MFTA Gallery Programs and Education Programs for thousands of Students. Twenty years ago, I began as an artist with my small art collective Freestyle Arts Association. We created interactive public sculptures on the sidewalks of New York City and ended up doing projects in museums all over the NYC area from PS1 MoMA to the Queens Museum. I had always utilized reused supplies from MFTA so working here was a perfect way to bring these great sustainable art projects to so many people.

YG: MFTA came to mind immediately. It is the perfect match for this kind of project. I reached out to John Kiser the Director of Education. He was excited and helpful right away. Their education program is well-designed and their many years of expertise are a huge benefit for our program! They are a great team to work with, and their warehouse is heaven for artists. I cannot wait to see how the various materials from MFTA will turn into unique products of art.

MM: How did you get involved with the “JunctionSpace” program and what are some of its major benefits for communities?

KM: The Flatbush Junction BID has been recognized for implementing creative strategies in enhancing economic value. We use art & design as a non-intimidating approach to building relationships, remain culturally distinct and enhance sustainability.

It is also a platform to get the community more involved in and supportive off the local small business challenges.

The artists in conversation with the business owners are able to express through art; a memorable period in the owner’s lives that helped build character or promote entrepreneurship. Most of the participants have recorded increased sales and also enhanced their embrace of social media fundamentals; some businesses are gradually changing their product and pricing mix to attract new clientele.

YG: I moved to New York for my MFA at Brooklyn College, just a few minutes from the Junction, so I’m very familiar with the neighborhood. Three years ago, Kenneth Kombu invited residents to get together at the local YMCA for a brainstorming session about improving life around the Junction and helping small business.

It was a great opportunity for residents to share ideas and connect. I was part of this unique out-of-the-box meeting. As an artist, I saw the possibility, and since then we are working on different projects. UJM is my third project with the BID. I am very happy to see the improvement and network that we are creating between small business, residents, students, and local artists.

JK: I have always been an advocate of Creative Place Making- utilizing the arts to enrich a community. The Junction is doing such a great job of utilizing the arts to strengthen all aspects of its community. Including the arts gives personality to a neighborhood. The arts create community through, self-expression, a show of strength, handmade beauty and so much more.

MM: How many stores were involved in “JunctionSpace” and how do store owners incorporate art into their business?

KM: There are over 200 stores in the Flatbush Junction commercial corridor; we have worked with 20 small businesses to date. These small businesses were more susceptible to economic gyrations and lease hikes. The art also promotes a “feel good” environment that we hope creates a positive vibe for the owner and impacts customer service and initiates conversation.

Space, designs, and goals

MM: How did you secure the space for the Upcycle Junction Market?

KM: In partnership with NYC Dept. of Transportation, The BID identified an ideal location for a much-needed green space, where shoppers, students, and residents can pause and relax.

In an effort to create a business concept that would complement the existing businesses and attract shoppers that are environmentally conscious and appreciate authentic designs.

The vendors are currently in a training program in partnership with Materials for the Arts, where they will be exposed to creative design classes using recycled materials. They will also have business development classes conducted by the Pace University Small Business Development Center, where they will be taught pricing techniques and determining break-even fundamentals.

JK: I was glad to work with Yasmin and Kenneth in planning strategies to strengthen the practice of the local artisans that will be selling their work at the Upcycle Art Market.

The group visited MFTA to learn from practicing reuse artists and worked to support one another with feedback as well.

MM: What are the major goals for both the Upcycle Junction Market & JunctionSpace as a whole?

YG: My main goal for the Upcycle Junction Market is to activate the Hillel Plaza through creativity and community involvement while also being a part of the effort to create a better sustainable community. Physically, my goal is to create a place for artists to share their talents and have the opportunity to develop their own small businesses while helping spread the awareness about the need to take action and protect the planet.

KM: To launch the first Upcycle Market Program in Brooklyn, expose the art + design community to entrepreneurial ventures, create a new business model that compliments, not compete with the other existing businesses, build an environmentally conscious business community in a green space, reduce the BID’s dependence on assessment revenue, enhance the BID’s “JunctionSpace” brand and recognition as a conveyor of art + design to create urban economic value.

JK: I hope that lots of people make a plan to come out to shop for some beautiful handmade art at the Upcycle Art Market. Each piece of jewelry, clothing, stained glass, and more will be worth picking up while supplies remain! While you shop, check out some of the art workshops that will be hosted by MFTA on the days of the Market.