Oh man, I love it when a plan comes together. Especially when the plan is so unusual and completely inspiring. It appears that Buffalonians are becoming more resourceful and more imaginative these days. So much so that it can be tough to keep up with all of the happenings – especially on the West Side. Who would have thought that an effort would materialize that would transform an operational laundromat into an arts and resource center? Not me. But if you think about it, the idea is a no brainer. Laundromats are natural gathering centers that thrive on people coming from all over the neighborhood to clean their clothes. Once the clothes are getting washed or dried, it’s time to sit back and hang out… or in this case get cultured.
Enter the WASH Project (Westside Art Strategy Happenings) at Westside Value Laundromat – funded by grants from the Belle Center and Buffalo Americorps, along with community-driven help by Houghton College. The laundromat is now a place where people can come to play music, practice art, read books, learn languages, mingle with people from other cultures, and learn about a wide range of community services and cultural opportunities. Oh yeah, and wash clothing, which makes it sustainable. In essence, The WASH Project is a cultural hub for the neighborhood, and guess what else? This is the first project of this sort to pop up in the city, but the plan is to replicate this idea in the future. Brilliant!
The formations of this initiative have all of the components to inspire someone to create an independent film. It just so happens that the figureheads behind the operation are Zaw Win and Barrett Gordon. Zaw is Burmese and is the owner of the laundromat. On top of that he is a proponent for human rights, political activism, financial literacy and English-Burmese translation services. He’s also the one-man welcome wagon for many refugees who come to Buffalo. Barrett is a librarian who is also an artist, organizer and promotes information literacy and visual literacy. Combined, the two have enough talent and drive to not only make The WASH Project work, but to make people’s heads spin with inspirational creativity.
Here’s the breakdown of The WASH Project:
The Creative Spin area at The WASH Project is a stocked & fully functional art studio space. It feeds the daily art activities & programs serving the walk-in traffic at the laundromat. It is designed to accommodate all ages. While the 2 tables fit up to 10 people, the sidewalk in front of the laundromat is the larger studio, & The WASH Project is fully intent on spreading out onto the concrete as weather permits. ALL are welcome, with or without laundry.
The Resource Rinse area at The WASH Project acts as both an information commons & a learning area. The Resource Rinse area houses an online computer bar with 4 desktop computers & a multifunction printer, as well as communal area with two, large study tables. The Resource Rinse area accommodates both WASH’s walk-in tutoring service, as well as weekly events, such as workshops in multi-media, financial literacy, ESL, music & cooking. From this schedule of events & beyond, the Resource Rinse area also hosts a monthly calendar that provides updated information regarding a wide range of community services & cultural opportunities. ALL are welcome, with or without laundry.
Within The WASH Project’s two core operations, Creative Spin & Resource Rinse, exist a number of other resident operations.
The library at the The WASH Project houses a donation-driven & honor-system shared collection of books, including Burmese-language texts. It accepts donations from individuals, schools, & public libraries within the WNY region. All are encouraged to borrow & return (& donate) books.
The WASH Project’s Resource Center hosts a drop-in tutoring center & study area, open during all hours of WASH operation. The tutoring center is supervised by an experienced professional tutor & staffed by experienced, trained volunteers. All are welcome to drop in with school or non-school related work, to work a with a tutor, or on their own.
The WASH Project houses a book, food, & clothes drop station. All items in the station bins are free. Some become art projects, some get sold for hilarious prices at our clothing “give”aways. The station also maintains a recycling program as well.
The WASH Project hosts monthly exhibitions of local artists’ work, as well as weekly workshops presented by local artists & specialists in their field. The Project also coordinates longer-term residencies at the laundromat & invite ALL to inquire.
The WASH Project hosts two music series.
WASH the Mic! is a bi-monthly open mic, fed by the steady stream of musical folk who walk through the door. WASH the Mic! aims to provide an audible outlet for the neighborhood & to help the artistically but quietly inclined to emerge from the woodwork.
The second is a monthly curated series dedicated to exploring the talent surrounding the experimental noise, drone, ambient & psychedelic music scenes in Western New York. This music series aims in part to explore creative destinations for American outsider music in refugee & immigrant communities.
Admittedly, the pool table is a core operation at the Westside Value Laundromat. Like the laundromat, the pool table also becomes that place, where the community tangos. It is usually always in use. $1 to play.