Most of us that have raised small children in Park Slope are more than familiar with Hootenanny and the couple who runs the space, Kira Smith and Pete Sinjin. They are synonymous with all things music and art; inspiring babies, toddlers and small children all over Brooklyn to get up and sing, dance, create. Did you know however they’ve just recently opened up a new art space right around the corner from Hootenanny called the Art Annex? Learn more here in our interview with Kira Smith!
SSP: Prior to us all learning all about your new amazing art space for children, can you please tell me a little about yourself, Kira? I know you’re a musician, dancer...AND mom! How did you and your husband Pete start Hootenanny over 10 years ago (with a tiny baby to boot)?!
I’m so glad the word has spread about the Art Annex! Thanks for your continued support and kindness! So… 11 (plus) years ago I was pregnant with Tucker, our younger child, and in school for Creative Arts Therapy, and Pete was teaching Music Together all over Manhattan as well as in Brooklyn for Theresa Wozunk at the “Musical Bridge” on 15th Street. Theresa decided to move on and do theater production, and asked Pete and I if we would be interested in buying the business. We thought and thought about it and finally came to the conclusion that no, we should definitely not do that! We had never had ambitions to run a business, nor had we any skills or experience. I was about to finish my last internship and Pete really wanted to focus on making music, when he wasn’t busy teaching. Theresa (who we now call St. Theresa!) wouldn’t take no for an answer. She insisted it would be a great place for us to be creative and have a positive work life balance as parents of young children. Clearly, at that point, we listened to her, and the Hootenanny vision began. We decided if we were going to do this, we would build the place we wanted to spend our days… as artists, as parents… we wanted to create a joyful community gathering place focused around art and music. I will admit I cried through most of the back office set up, 8 months pregnant trying to learn excel and quickbooks and trying to build a website. That may sound ridiculous now, but for context, when I went to college I didn’t have a computer or an email address. The first session we took registration for Hootenanny classes we sent confirmations by MAIL! With stamps! Anyway, we just tried to make up for all of our shortcomings by focusing on the love and from day one the community gave it back tenfold.
SSP: You and Pete are infamous in the Park Slope community for Hootenanny, a pillar of awesomeness in terms of music classes, yoga, dance and everything else that you offer. What made you decide to expand and open up the Hootenanny Art Annex?
Thank you again for your extreme generosity. Just like Hootenanny, we didn’t go looking to expand and open up an Art Annex. It was all a very lucky synchrony. We are good friends with Amy who ran the Brooklyn Design Lab, and she reached out to us and let us know that after 10 years she was done and wanted to move on. At the same time our art program at Hootenanny had really been flourishing, because we had a fairly new teacher, Hannah Kasper Levinson, who was so inspired and inspiring to us and all of the families who took her classes. I knew that we were going to have a tough time keeping Hannah around with the limited amount of time we had to offer her classes, and we did not want to lose her. I got super excited by the vision of creating a little Hootenanny Art Space around the corner from Hoot, on 7th Ave. I had a meeting with Hannah and asked her if she would be interested in building the vision with me and being the lead teacher, and fortunately she said YES!
SSP: What would you say is the mission of your new art space?
For me the mission is so simple. Whenever I went to Hannah’s art classes at Hoot I was so impressed. Kids as young as 15 months, and as old as 7, and their grown ups were all so engaged, so full of curiosity and joy. The sense of exploration and freedom was palpable. The art being made was stunning. Hannah was always smiling. When families spoke to me on the phone or on the street about the art classes they were glowing and effusive. Over the last couple of years, when we were not always feeling so much joy about the world, there was something special going on in Hannah’s classes. The mission of the Art Annex is just that… More joy. More joy, more community, more art and hopefully by extension a little more love and peace in the world.
Hannah wrote our official mission statement which is more related directly to art and child development:
At the Hootenanny Art Annex we see the child as competent and capable and we believe that learning is social and collaborative. The art studio is a space where children come to create, explore, and experience themselves through art. With this belief in the capability of children we are helping them to become resilient, lifelong creative thinkers!
SSP: Can you tell us a little about the curriculum and the classes you offer?
Yes! We started with what we know best, kids 4 and under. The Toddler Art Play class that Hannah developed at Hoot previous to opening the annex is probably our greatest hit! It is a sensory-driven open-ended exploratory process art class for 15-month olds through 3 year olds. It introduces a vast array of art making materials and combines art, play and socialization.
Our classes for 2-4s become a little more specific with a focus such as Nature Art, Printmaking, full bodied Moving Art, or Self-portraits, and combine a seated project with open exploration.
We have afternoon classes for Pre-k and up such as Hannah’s Treasures and Collections, Creative Table, and Handmade from Scratch classes which explore intriguing mixed media materials, encourage imaginative play, and develop and support individual expression and creativity.
For 3rd through 8th graders we have classes with specialty teachers such as Textiles, Trade Secrets, Comics, and Observational Drawing where kids can really learn and deepen their skills to continue to express their own unique ideas as artists!
SSP: What do you think differentiates what you are doing here from other children’s art spaces?
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on other children’s art spaces and I am sure they are all mostly fabulous.
We just really try to emphasize joy and open-ended creativity. Hannah and the other teachers have created such a rich and inspiring environment. Our shelves are filled with exciting materials and the space is open and inviting.
I like to think that what makes Hootenanny and the new Annex different from other places is the people involved! I’ve really searched for teachers who are vibrant and enthusiastic artists who are fully invested in the community. Like Pete and I, all of our art teachers have children, and are very aware of how precious these years are. I hope and believe that all of our teachers are warm and welcoming to every grown up and every child that walks in the door.
SSP: What does the future have in store for the Hootenanny Art Annex?
We are very excited about building grown-up art and craft workshops. I hope to have a calendar of craft nights for the New Year! We had our first one a couple of weeks ago and it was so much fun. One of our teachers Kim Correll, taught us a Japanese dyeing technique called Arashi Shibori. We got to hang out together, drink wine, dye scarves and t-shirts and bags, and we all went home with gorgeous things! We will be offering birthdays, of course!
We are also hoping to build our art classes for older kids. Kim teaches a textiles class for grades 3-6 and we have Comics and Observational Drawing options for kids through grade 8.
We also just participated in the Park Slope Windsor Terrace Artists Collective Open Studios and it was so thrilling to have Sean Qualls and Karen Giordano show their work at the Annex. We’d love to use the space as a gallery for local artists. And I also thought we could try develop a plan to offer local artists studio space in the evenings!
And…and… ha, we never have a shortage of ideas for Hootenanny, just a long list that competes with keeping what we are doing afloat, and of course, two teenagers and laundry!
SSP: Lastly - for me, personally, I have always felt a deeper connection to you guys and all that you do due to how involved you are with the community and bringing everyone together in support of issues we all hold dear (climate change, civil rights, etc). Are there any plans for an upcoming fundraising event or concerts?
We are getting ready to reboot our activist Monday coffee hour , which I think moving forward will be activist Happy Hour- probably 5-6:30 once or twice a month. It is a time when you can come by with your kids and write postcards or do other easy important things related to the current issues. We have everything set up and there will be someone there to hang with the kids while you do the work!
Pete and I are also in the very early stages of a collaborative creative project related to Climate Change. I don’t have details to share yet, but we are hoping to create something that inspires people to start really talking about this vital issue of our times and our children’s future. With honest talk we hope to orient ourselves away from the anxiety that makes this issue so paralyzing for so many of us, and move us towards being involved, pro-active and progressive.
Oh, and on that note I should also do a quick last plug for our Holiday Gift Making Week December 10-14. All week there are workshops for kids (15 months through grade 5) to make simple gifts for friends or family and 5$ from every registration will go to the IRC, the International Rescue Committee and their work with refugees.