These days, it might not just be the heat that causes you to pass out.

You may have also read the Curbed article about the Greenpoint artist paying $1/month for studio space: 6,000 square feet of it. *WomanDoingMath.GIF*

Victor Jeffreys II has been a Greenpointer for two decades, and, like many New York artists, his home doubles as his creative space. That was until his kindly landlord (landlords, take note! we can praise you!) offered him to use the vacant bank on the ground floor of his building as a studio, essentially no strings attached. Until it finds a new tenant, the former Santander bank at 717 Manhattan Avenue is getting new life, and Jeffreys plans to maximize it—stop by and say hello!

Jeffreys has been in the space for two months and was able to open it to the public (in partnership with Element Brooklyn) as of two Fridays ago. Here, Greenpointers caught up with Jeffreys, and his longtime friend Andrew Nicol, who runs Element Brooklyn, a local brand that sells affordable, eco-friendly refills for luxury home and beauty products.

Photo provided by Victor Jeffreys II
Photo provided by Victor Jeffreys II

Greenpointers: The price of art space in North Brooklyn these days is insane. What does an initiative like this reveal?

Victor Jeffreys II: It shows that even in an insane world, there are glimmers of hope. It reminds us that cultivating loving and trust filled relationships is good for the soul and can be productive. The landlord showed up by giving me the space for $1/month, the community has shown up through their donations of plant clippings, art supplies, furniture, tools, a vacuum cleaner, (new) trash bags, cleaning supplies…and their mere presence in the space has been incredible. I am humbled by the interest/resources the community has put into the endeavor and I look forward to being able to continue to share our successes. 

Andrew Nicol: The price of retail space is also insane—North Brooklyn is now the kind of place that has Bottega Veneta popups!—so this is also a unique opportunity for a small business owner. Letting prospective customers try out the products in-person and being able to explain the brand story to them is invaluable. 

How does the innate architecture of the bank perhaps inspire or inform the work or design you put in there?

Jeffreys: The windows’ glass into the space is treated such that it makes it difficult to see inside of the dead bank from the sidewalk. This has pushed me to make art as close to the windows as possible so people can see that some type of magic is happening inside. 

There is one light switch in the entire space. In the “off” position, 20 lights remain on, in the “on” position, 130 lights come on. I keep the lights in the “off” position (save the earth!), so there are a couple of dark spots in the back of the space (if anyone has any nice lighting they want to donate… let me know!). 

Yes, the safe is still in the space. No, I have not gone through every safety deposit box yet. Sure, I guess maybe there is treasure in there waiting for me to find. 

Nicol: From a community-building perspective, the fact that it was a bank is also significant. So many people have come in and said something along the lines of, “I”m so glad to see the space used for something more interesting!” Because no matter how much banks pretend to be different (Santander actually has a “Work Café” at its Williamsburg branch), banking is not about community. For almost everyone who lives in the neighborhood, this is the first time they’ve ever come inside this building. 

Victor, you’ve been here for 18 years; how has the neighborhood changed, in maybe positive and harder ways?

Jeffreys: Positive: the MTA added subway cars to the G train, a Peter Pan egg and cheese is still under $5, Big D’s turned into DII, the community refrigerator at The Lot Radio appeared, options on my location based ‘dating apps’ have expanded in wonderful ways.

Negative: The silent film theater from the 1920’s on Manhattan Ave, the Fox Meserole, turned roller skating rink, turned Rite Aid was torn down to be replaced by a “luxury” (that likely means a poorly constructed, characterless, overpriced) residential building. My favorite laundromat caught on fire, and they were never able to bring it back to life. The crowd at Twins Lounge seem to enjoy hanging out on the sidewalk more than they do inside the bar—they are loud. Pre-Sandy, the sign on the hardware store across the street read “Big Toys for Big Boys,” it was replaced, now it says “W.R. Paint Supply.”

Are there any larger aspirations for the use of the Santander space? Is it currently defunct and how permanent will this generous situation be?

Jeffreys: I am not sure there is much more to aspire to! I am able to make art and share that experience with the community without the pressure of tremendous overhead. I am living the dream! This opportunity has increased my art sales (and I imagine it will continue to do so), I would not be surprised if I get picked up by a gallery and multiple popup ventures have already reached out to see how I can help them on their own projects. I do hope the community comes and hangs out in the space more often. 

Nothing in life is guaranteed. My landlords want me to succeed, I want them to succeed. When they find a tenant that can pay their asking price, I will be out. Until then, I will be here making the most of it! 

Photo provided by Victor Jeffreys II
Photo provided by Victor Jeffreys II

What excites you about the work of Element Brooklyn?

Jeffreys: I love love love seeing my friends succeed! I have known Andrew for over a decade and it has been so fun to watch him find an interesting opportunity, devote a ton of time to it, and now it is a real business out in the world that is doing great work! I have enjoyed being able to collaborate with him on this project.

Nicol: A lot of people in the neighborhood are looking to reduce or eliminate plastic waste (shout out to refillery stores like Maison Jar, around the corner, which is one of our partners) and there has been a lot of packaging innovation at the low end of the market which makes this easier. However, at the high end of the market, companies like Aesop, Le Labo and Byredo don’t sell refills. I think it’s wasteful and irresponsible for these companies to require you to buy a new bottle every time you run out of product, and we’re here to provide an alternative.  

You’ve created work with Nile Harris, who is incredible! How did you all get in touch?

Jeffreys: A dear friend of ours, Isaac Cole Powell, introduced us seven years ago. Since then Nile has become a close friend and collaborator. I have had the distinct pleasure of watching Nile’s artistic practice develop and his career explode. Earlier this year, he invited me to make costumes for his most recent large scale work this house is not a home and just this week I was invited to document an early rehearsal for his newest creation minor b premiering at The Shed in August. 

Anything else to add?

Jeffreys: Register to vote. More often than not, tell your friends and family you love them. Drink more water. Stop smoking cigarettes. Wear SPF. And don’t forget, nothing lasts forever. 

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