Pictured Above: A typical opening night at Makers Alley Photo credit: Contributed.
From Side Street to Main Street: Makers Alley Comes to Milford
By Louise Feder
The vault in the Old Milford Bank is empty. But visitors to the airy, light filled building shouldn’t worry, Makers Alley’s Creative Director and Co-Founder Peter Rosenthal has plans for the space. “We can do something with this,” he remarked to me on a recent tour of the building. “Room for a jewelry designer maybe, or we’ll turn [the vault] into a shop with things for sale inside.”
Makers Alley, the Delaware River Valley artist, crafter, and maker collective, has taken over the bank. And Rosenthal, along with the rest of the Makers Alley team, appears full of ideas for the building, located just North of Frenchtown in Milford, New Jersey. Though the artist collective has only recently moved into the historic bank, they are already hard at work transforming the space and imbuing it with new, inventive energy.
Work for the Spring Makers Alley Members Exhibition (extended through July 9, curated by fiber artist Mary Schwarzenberger) was mounted in seemingly every square inch of the first floor’s two rooms-turned-gallery spaces, as well as the second-floor landing this summer. With paintings, prints, collages, photographs, and more virtually covering the walls from floor to ceiling and sculpture as well as a diverse selection of three-dimensional objects mounted on pedestals throughout, the exhibition was a robust representation of the eclectic artistic practice of the Makers Alley members. And while the rooms are well suited to the group’s considerable exhibition needs, there are plans for the space that stretch beyond traditional expectations of a gallery.
Pictured Above: Live music at Makers Alley. Photo credit: Contributed.
“We can put 50 seats in this area,” Rosenthal said, gesturing to the main gallery and a makeshift stage under the stairs. He’s particularly excited about Makers Alley’s recent music night as well as a series of poetry and spoken word programs. Throughout our conversation, there was a palpable eagerness for more of these types of community gatherings. When considering the near future, Rosenthal wants the building to, “be a place to congregate, pontificate…the dialogue when a room fills up with people is really terrific.”
Given Makers Alley’s track record of making the most of a space in the name of community building, it’s easy to understand the group’s excitement and desire to come up with a healthy programming calendar now that they have access to a new, large home in the Old Milford Bank. Established in Frenchtown, by Rosenthal and Mike Tyksinski in 2019, Makers Alley first opened to the public in the windows of Tysinski’s Frenchtown Hardware Store. In the years since its inception, Makers Alley has mounted works in several changing locations throughout Frenchtown and has collaborated with other regional arts groups on programs and exhibitions. But this is the first time they’ve had a sizable, permanent space for members to capitalize on and run with.
A volunteer-led group, there is a real emphasis among Makers Alley artists on honoring the many different ways one can be a maker. “I think Makers Alley’s point of view comes from embracing makership in its widest definition,” Rosenthal says. “It’s sculpture, it’s mosaic work, glass, wood working, metal working, wood turning…it just doesn’t matter…We don’t want to be just ‘fine art,’ painting, plein air work. Those are the focuses of other groups. I think what we’re getting known for is the wider view of makership and presenting the best work that we can track. It’s very exciting.” Through their work, the group endeavors to support all artistic and craft disciplines and skill sets throughout the Delaware River Valley.
Pictured Above (R): Co-Founder of Makers Alley, Peter Rosenthal. Photo credit: Contributed.
To that end, the new space in Milford allows the group to offer more comprehensive support through its programming and branch out, offering artists new resources. Rosenthal is especially proud of the Makers Alley workshop program:
“We have a hands-on workshop program that consists of work done here [in a Makers Alley space] or out in their [an artist’s private] studio. And we have Makers Talks that are artist to artist talks that get really into, ‘Well how did you do that?’ or ‘I’m having trouble joining these things, does anybody have a solution?’ We’ve done five of them so far and they’ve been excellent conversation about artistic process. Then the third leg of our workshop [program] is studio visits where people engage with us and – instead of a tour where you just go in and look around – they’re two-hour discussions on how an artist’s practice works and how they set up their studio.”
This excitement about and fascination with the intersection of artistic practice, communication, and studio space is evident in the latest Makers Alley offerings. In addition to the significant exhibition space and workshops, the group has launched the new Makers Alley Residency Program. Within the building are 10-12 rooms, offered up as shared workshop, studio and gallery spaces for rent to artists and creative entrepreneurs. A sense of flexibility is pervasive in the program – all spaces are changeable to suit applicants’ individual needs, the rooms can be shared, or made private, and there are seemingly no constrictions on the types of artists, artisans, and creative business companies encouraged to apply for the residency.
Pictured Above: Jewelry Workshops with the artists at Makers Alley. Photo credit: Contributed.
On the first floor, a jewelry designer is in one studio, a travelogue photographer in another. Upstairs, a quilling artist is installed in a room off of the main landing while three fiber artists share a light filled, corner space. “Each year there will be a two- or three-week exhibition for the residents in the building. They’re also encouraged to give three workshops a year,” Rosenthal says when describing how the residency program dovetails with the exhibition calendar. “[The community] will seek its own water. The people who end up in the building, it’s their decision whether they want to close the door or keep it open and be part of a mixing and sharing of ideas and techniques. I think that when people get together physically, that element is something we actually have to get back to – working with our hands and having direct dialogue. Not with phones, not with email – there still is a place for direct dialogue and collaboration. That’s what Makers Alley in this particular space will be a vessel for.”
Pictured Above: Patrons, volunteers and artists gather at Makers Alley Gallery. Photo credit: Contributed.
In the coming year, Rosenthal anticipates 3-4 Makers Alley exhibitions. But he’s leaving the door open to making the building’s spaces available to resident artists as well as other area arts groups, “or people who just want to take it for a weekend.”
“My role as a Creative Directive is just to facilitate and foster as much art as we can get our hands on.” Rosenthal says. “We’re doing all these activities, all this programming, and it’s designed to help foster the idea that this whole area of the Delaware River valley is in its next iteration of a tradition that started many, many years ago.” He smiles, looking around the art exhibited in the main gallery. “It must be in the water.”
Clip Above: Executive Director Carol Cruickshanks of the New Hope Arts Center partners with Makers Alley in the annual event, ArtTober. Video credit: Contributed.
Makers Alley is located at 34 Bridge Street, Milford, New Jersey. The building is open most weekends and the collective has open Zoom calls on Tuesdays at 7:30, see their website for details. This fall, Makers Alley is mounting their 4th Annual Juried Art & Artisan Exhibition in collaboration with New Hope Arts, with works shown in both locations (Milford and New Hope) from October 6-31, more information here. Makers Alley is also an organizer and participant in the River Arts Collective’s ArtOber, in its 4th year this October. Details about exhibitions, events, and happenings will be shared on the Makers Alley website and social media.