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With cold nights becoming a norm this time of year, Park Slope’s Open Source Gallery provides free hot meals every night in December as it opens its doors as a soup kitchen.
Monika Wuhrer, founder and owner of Open Source, said she started the soup kitchen before the non-profit arts organization was even founded back in 2008.
“It was something I found very important to make clear that this art gallery is not alienating to the rest of the people on the block and in the neighborhood,” she told NYCity News Service.
During this monthlong program, artists sign up and volunteer to make a homemade dish that will serve between 15 and 20 people, using just a hot plate in the gallery’s makeshift kitchen. Then they incorporate an art element on their designated night, ranging from singing songs to displaying their own art pieces on the empty walls, after everyone has eaten. Previous art demonstrations have included monologues, sculptures, videos, short plays and comedic sketches.
Shauna Sorensen, the gallery’s developmental director, said their soup kitchen is meant to reinforce the community together.
“The goal is to get people who might not ordinarily talk to each other or interact to sort of talk over just something communal and universal, and creating conversation in that way,” Sorensen said.
Since the soup kitchen is open to the public every night from 7 to 9 p.m., new and old faces make appearances, providing everyone the chance to make new friends, eat good food and learn something new. Wuhrer said many people from very different walks of life have joined the table, helping to create great conversations and spread awareness over the years.
Open Source board member and jazz saxophonist Lily White, who provided the meal on Dec. 18, had stopped by on the first night, Dec. 1, for support and for the pumpkin soup.
“I love that each chef controls the evening in that they determine what is being served and what, if any, art is shown,” she told NYCity News Service. “I also love the fact that anybody can come – the haves and the have nots. I don’t know any other forum like it anywhere.”
Girl on Girl Collective, a feminist art group of female-identifying artists, served homemade vegan rice and beans/chili at the soup kitchen. They heard about it due to previously collaborating with the gallery this past fall at the Art Slope Art Festival for their first exhibition, "Not for Sale," a newsstand installation project. Having never participated in this type of event before, their goals for Dec. 13 were to show off video projects, photographs and written pieces that nobody had ever seen before and to get open and honest feedback from strangers.
“The event is so cool for all of us at Girl on Girl because we haven’t critiqued since college," said Patrice Gonzales, one of the founders of Girl on Girl Collective's NYC Chapter. The chapter developed in 2015 after the founders - all friends in college - graduated from Syracuse University.
Similarly, Annie Pettinga, another founder, thought the night went over well for both the local community and the participating artists.
“As somebody that presented, I'm leaving this critique feeling really inspired to continue making work and to build off the work that I was already sharing. I think based on the reactions of the people who were not presenting tonight that other people are inspired as well."
But for Wuhrer, that this is not just an annual tradition that she continues to devote her free time and energy to.
“Even the soup kitchen is kind of like a show, right? All the shows are very much trying to involve the people that actually live here,” Wuhrer said. “Even if we have artists that come from far away, we try to always bring in an angle that actually involves and makes people very comfortable in here and not afraid to come in.”
Open Source, located on 17th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, is a participant-driven initiative that provides space, community, and conceptual context for creativity, expression, and critical commentary. It also has monthly exhibitions and lecture series and features both local and global artists throughout the year.