Wash, rinse, make art, repeat

by Kai Hsing

Can social change start at your local laundromat? We take a look at how one nonprofit is looking to rebuild communities by putting art into your laundry basket.

Sometimes an innovation is more successful because of where you’re trying to do it than how, or the realization that finding the right field to play on is as important as the finding the right game to play.

There are plenty of public art programs or organizations that provide arts experiences and education in public spaces, but at a time when drastic budget cuts in school systems across the country means the complete elimination of many arts programs in public schools, it seems that the need can never be met. Since 2008, the New York City Department of Education found that 32 percent of students in the system received absolutely no arts education, only 29 percent of middle schoolers are provided the minimum arts education as required by the state of New York, and only 4 percent of New York City elementary schools were even equipped to provide the minimum arts requirements.

What makes The Laundromat Project such an interesting organization is that they have brought public arts education to the most unlikeliest of places – the laundromat – and in that process have made it a successful touchpoint for those most underserved by the failure of the system. On second thought, why shouldn’t the laundromat be a place to create and experience art? In a city like New York, it is one of the few places where nearly everyone in middle-to-low-income neighborhoods not only goes, but has the opportunity to run into neighbors they wouldn’t otherwise. The laundromat has become the de-facto gathering place in many communities. Add to the fact that most people are generally unoccupied while there, and you have an ideal environment to engage people with art who wouldn’t otherwise do so.

The value of the Laundromat Project goes beyond what they’re doing, as other organizations also offer public art residencies and informal arts enrichment programs. Rather, their real value is provided by the overlooked yet powerful nature of their touchpoint. By creating newly rich, meaningful cultural transactions in a place that previously had none, their activities become more valuable to the lives of people in the community which they serve on a day-to-day basis. What all of this also creates are new possibilities for more than just art – which may in the end be the most powerful thing of all.

In collaboration with Flip Video, The Quotidian helped the staff of the Laundromat Project tell their own story in this video that goes behind some of the ideas and concepts behind the organization.