Learn more about WERRRQSHOP, a weekly program for queer artistic and/or transient youth run by Quito Ziegler and Ethan Shoshan in this interview by Visual AIDS. We are pleased to provide space and resources for WERRRQSHOP at the Joan Mitchell Foundation Education & Research Center, and have been lucky to witness the powerful and transformative work taking place.
“The WERRRQSHOP Is Becoming The Kind Of Intergenerational Space Of Positive Energy We Imagined.”
By Visual AIDS Staff
"Can we come together and build community to address the injustices we face - your contributions are an important voice that needs to be heard!!!"
These lines read across the recent posts on the Facebook page for Quito Ziegler and Ethan Shoshan's WERRRQSHOP, a weekly program held at the Joan Mitchell Foundation Education & Research Center. As a space for intergenerational mentoring for queer artistic and/or transient youth, the WERRRQSHOP has proven to be a responsive site for on-the-ground activism that aims to do just that: build community and fight injustice, through the arts. The WERRRQSHOP is a space for queer youth to explore their creativity with "crafts, drag making, sign-making for demos, last-minute accessories, painting, drawing, and hot glue insanity." Since its inception in October, the WERRRQSHOP has responded to the whirlwind of injustice in New York City and elsewhere through sign-making for recent protests and the production of a timely and moving "WHAT MATTERS" zine (now available at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division). And as a self-described "art hub for queer movement-building," the WERRRQSHOP has been an ideal partner for Visual AIDS Play Smart packing events, the second of which will be held on Friday February 13 from 3–7pm. This WERRRQSHOP will feature facilitated conversation around how HIV affects the lives of youth and transient communities as well as embroidery demonstrations; this intermingling of intensely necessary dialogue and active artmaking gives the WERRRQSHOP its unique blend. Here, Visual AIDS interviews Quito and Ethan about the WERRRQSHOP's first four months in action.
Describe the evolution of WERRRQSHOP at the Joan Mitchell Foundation: Who was involved, what was the inspiration, and what were the big ideas behind its creation?
Quito: Well first of all we are both so inspired, constantly, by the communities of queer artists that we come from, and the communities that they come from, and the people who mentored them, and so on.
Ethan: And in the summer of 2013 Hunter Reynolds relaunched an old program at the Easton Mountain retreat center called "Arts in the Woods" (AITW). The program offered queer homeless youth a week in the woods with all kinds of arts classes. I started working with Hunter in the initial stages, going to the different shelters in NYC and doing demonstrations to show the young folks there a taste of some art classes in store for them if they decided to come.
Quito: My faerie sister Wil Fisher/Sylvia London worked for Easton and helped organize AITW on their end; we had worked together on a couple of plays in the deep Vermont woods and she was the one who invited me. Hunter was encouraging collaboration between teaching artists and when I heard Ethan was going too it was sort of a no-brainer.
Ethan: During AITW, Quito and I took over Hunter’s art shack, filled it with donations from Materials for the Arts and let the young people take over. They got excited by fabric, beads, glitter, and all sorts of playful exchanges and kiki, using the tools as a way to process all of our experiences and make something for each of us. It was important to us not to structure it as a formal class so we could hang out in a relaxed environment and really not feel pressured. It was amazing what the young folks learned when they let go of the drama around them. You could see them get excited and focus on something they really wanted to make!
Quito: It was also where we met our favorite co-conspirator Kristen Parker Lovell, who does HIV testing at Sylvia’s Place and whose activism roots from when Sylvia Rivera was still around and mentored her. Kristen was the chaperone of the group from Sylvia’s, and is also a pretty amazing artist and performer herself (with a real flair for the video selfie). We wound up spending a bunch of time together at the craft shack, which is when we discovered our shared love of scheming for revolutionary purposes. This is also where we met Ky’iera Campbell, another dear collaborator who was working with Kristen on Trans in Action (a trans empowerment and education group based at Sylvia's Place) at the time and eventually became one of the stars of my movie.
Ethan: We ran the craft shack for two summers at Easton, and this summer the young people will be running it themselves with my help. Quito will be co-directing the camp. It was and is a truly inspired program, and the amount of talent these young people have is astounding. When we came back to NYC, Travis Laughlin from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, who provided a grant to support AITW, invited us to bring the magic of the “Craft Shack” to the Foundation’s new Education & Research Center. We started doing the WERRRQSHOP in October 2014.
Quito: When I first met the young people in 2013, I was nearing the end of three complicated years of transience, myself. At Easton, I found myself bonding with them through our strikingly parallel, yet critically different experiences. Most people arrive at transience, or homelessness, through circumstances far less voluntary/far more systemic than mine. I had the privileges of broad social networks, some scattered sublets, advanced degrees, white skin and 20 years of independent living. Yet there were elements of our experiences and exhaustion that were very much common. I was really moved by the stories I heard—and it got more intense later in the week when Islan Nettles was killed, and we addressed it in the woods as a community.
Upon return to NYC, I felt like I couldn’t just drop the relationships we had opened up at the Craft Shack so I started spending time at Sylvia’s Place. I made a 3-year commitment to apply my energies towards developing sustainable projects that would support the young peoples' survival and growth. Kristen has been on staff at Sylvia’s for eight years, and we started scheming about the best ways to start connecting the tight networks of young homeless queers with the interconnected queer communities that Ethan and I are a part of.
Eventually we hit upon the “winning” formula of the Thursday night Family Dinners program, where a group of volunteers, staff and former clients make dinner and eat together at the shelter with the current residents there. Cooking skills and recipes are shared across generations and cultures, young people and former clients and queers of all stripes have space to be together, and we all eat REALLY well. It’s kind of a beautiful phenomenon on a lot of different levels.
The WERRRQSHOP is a way for us to continue building these relationships and interconnect our networks and provide mentorship for the young people in their artistic development, which all contribute to movement-building in the long run.
For the rest of the interview, click here.