Fixers' Collective at Proteus Gowanus

Posted on 17. Dec, 2009 by in Arts and Culture, Beats, Business and Economics, Rebecca Leung, Urban

At the Fixers’ Collective, people meet every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. to communally repair broken objects. This group presents a local alternative to a consumer culture based on throwing away broken goods and buying new ones. A combination of young and old, mainly artists and craftspeople, generally come every week. New onlookers and fixers show up regularly. Master fixers, who are usually older and more skilled in repair than the majority of attendees, often guide the repairs. For $5, people can pay to watch the fixers mend their broken items, or for free they can become a “fixer’s apprentice” and assist in the repairs.

“People bring in mostly household stuff, generally stuff that could fit in through the door,” said David Mahfouda, 27, artist and organizer of the Fixers’ Collective. “Blenders, lots of lamps, clothing, pottery, clocks, an iron, umbrellas. Generally stuff people have around that breaks.”

Although the collective began shortly after the recession hit in early 2009, its members don’t think it’s a direct result of the economy.

“It wasn’t motivated by that (the recession). It’s more on people’s minds – it’s less feasible to buy new things,” said Mahfouda. “But there are reasons beyond repair and fixing that are not economically minded. If we’re always buying things new, we have no dialog with our past.”

The Proteus Gowanus gallery originally intended for the Fixers’ Collective to be part of their 2008-09 “Mend” exhibit, itself based on the concept of repair, from small items to global issues. Mahfouda, Drojarksi, and other artists in their 20s worked at a large worktable in the main room of the gallery. They covered their unfinished projects with Plexiglas after each meeting, and the work was on exhibit during the day.

The collective continued after the gallery’s main exhibition changed. The fixers eventually moved into the tiny workroom in a back corner of the gallery. They received substantial media attention – The New York Times and other papers wrote articles, and the fixers were on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show and in numerous blogs and local TV channels. The media brought some new attendees, but the core group of about 10 people remains the same.

“We’re fixaholics!” said Jane Van Cleef, 25, a regular fixer and toy designer at North American Bear Association. “People show up here who are amazing fixers. They know everything. It’s a little bit amazing.”

Lawrence Glickman is a history professor at the University of South Carolina who focuses on consumerism and the economy. He spoke about why people generally buy new things over repairing what they have.

“Goods are very cheap relative to our paychecks,” he said. “Goods have come down in price if you look at real dollars.”

“The 1940s and 1950s were definitely a culture where people prided themselves on their ability to repair things,” he added. “People now have less leisure time. Repairing something takes time.”

Mahfouda thinks the collective helps people regain that mentality, even if it doesn’t eradicate consumerism.

“I don’t think the Fixers’ Collective is having a huge effect on having people buy less stuff, but generally when you’re fixing and repairing, the need to consume by purchasing isn’t as strong,” he said.

But the collective does have some influence around the Brooklyn community. On a late November Thursday, so many people came, including an elderly woman and a young boy, that the collective spilled out of the small workroom and into the rest of the gallery.

“It fits people’s ideas of what change should look like,” said Abigail Miller, another regular fixer, who sat around the main table and chatted with two other young women as they sewed aprons, knitted mittens, and darned socks.

“It’s a nice little gathering place. People come in and help each other,” said Tammy Pittman, director of Proteus Gowanus. “It’s a reaction against material culture.”

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