I confess:  I am in love with artist Dustin Yellin’s mind.

He strongly believes that “if you have amazing people around you, then amazing things will happen” and he’s been proving that truth over and over again.

In 2015, artist Dustin Yellin did this captivating video, “A Journey Through the Mind of an Artist,” as a TEDTalk in Vancouver.  It has been widely viewed.

Yellin uses a process involving layered glass to explore what one commentator describes as “themes of nature at odds with human technological progress.”

He throws together metaphors, allegories, dreamscapes, and visions and mixes them up into glorious, chaotic and dizzy-making narratives that keep unfolding the longer you stand there and try to take it all in.

The monumental apocalyptic “Triptych” which he features in the video was inspired by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych that is part of the permanent collection at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.  Yellin’s sculpture weighs 12 tons.  Hieronymus Bosch’s painting is not quite so hefty.

The other works he features are part of a series of sculptures he calls “Psychogeographies,” which are commentaries on the human condition in these unsettling times.

The essentially biographical YouTube video is an interesting look inside one artist’s head.  At the time, Yellin was promoting what he calls his “brick box.”

That box is “Pioneer Works”, a creativity incubator that grew out of Yellin’s conviction that the best art and the very best thinking happens when you throw together talented artists and intellectuals and let them build connections with each other and play together to spark up all kinds of marvels that they then share with the rest of the world.

“Pioneer Works” by Nick Normal via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Writer Annie Fabricant, in a Huffington Press article written about Pioneer Works before it first opened, was the Yellin-watcher who captured Yellin’s quote about amazing people and things in the opening lines of this thing.  It gives you an idea of the intentions behind making his dream-utopia come real.

In the intervening years since that article, Yellin has been spot-on.  Innovation and alternative thinking happen at Pioneer Works.


Five years before the talk, when he was an up-and-coming artist hitting his stride as the darling of the Beautiful People and the blue-chip movers, shakers and cultural illuminati in the Age of Information and Social Connection, Yellin had New York City all abuzz.

He had just closed a real estate deal for an enormous three-story, 25,000-square-foot abandoned wreck of a Civil War-era ironworks factory on Pioneer Street as well as its adjoining garbage-strewn lot in the infamous Red Hook, a neighborhood along Brooklyn’s waterfront that was once dubbed the “crack capital of America” by LIFE Magazine in the late 1980’s.

The place has history.  Pioneer Iron Works, which originally inhabited the building in 1866, created machinery for sugar production (which they shipped to Cuba in the late 1800’s and then to Puerto Rico in the early 1900’s) as well as railroad tracks and large-scale machines required by industry.

The building burned to the ground in a devastating fire in 1881 and was quickly rebuilt.  The factory remained in operation until the end of World War II.

It was this building that was a landmark that gave Pioneer Street its name.

The one-time maritime neighborhood of Red Hook is on a peninsula that projects into the Upper New York Bay.  It is less than one square mile, bounded by the Gowanus Expressway, the Gowanus Canal, Upper New York Bay and Buttermilk Channel.

More than half of the neighborhood’s residents live in subsidized rentals at New York City Housing Authority’s Red Hook Houses, the largest public housing development in Brooklyn.  The development is located a few blocks away from Yellin’s “brick box.”

It was reported that Yellin paid $3.7 million for the place.  It had no windows, no floors, no stairs, no utilities, and few amenities.  It did have a forty-foot high ceiling that soared and it had space…lots and lots of space.

Back then he said he was going to take that massive old red-brick behemoth and transform it into an art utopia “dedicated to the creation, synthesis and discussion of art, science and education.”

And he did.  Twice.

The first time, the box officially opened was in June, 2012.  The renovations were impressive.  For example, more than 100 windows were added to the once-windowless structure, turning it into a light and airy fairyland sort of place.

Then, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City.  The mega-storm’s 29-foot waves and storm surges caused extensive coastal flooding and record-high damages.


Sandy was the fourth-costliest Atlantic hurricane in U.S. history.  At its peak it was a Category 3 hurricane.

Low-lying Red Hook was one of the ten communities that were hardest hit.  More than five feet of water inundated most of the local businesses and residences.

At the Works, 3,200 square feet of drywall was ruined.  All of the ground-floor windows had to be redone.  The wood shop, metal shop and most of the equipment and machinery had to be replaced. The bathrooms had to be rebuilt.  There was no electricity for two months.

In the newly installed gardens surrounding the complex, trees had toppled and many of the beds were destroyed.  Entire sections of the half-acre garden area had to be replanted and redesigned.

Yellin and his team had to clean up and re-start the reconstruction from the bottom up again.


In the years since then the non-profit Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation has lived up to its name magnificently.  It attracts just-regular folks from the surrounding neighborhoods and denizens of the close-knit New York art scene as well as admirers from all over the world.

More than 150,000 people visit the Pioneer Works Center every year, attracted by the quirky free and affordable programs the group offers.  Nearly 500,000 visitors visit the group’s website every year.

“In the Garden” (Pioneer Works) by sebastián bravo via Flicker [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

“Contemporary African Art Fair 2017” by J-No via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The best thing about all this is that it is not all about Yellin.  There is no one voice, no one vision.  Instead it has grown into a chorus of voices, a multiplicity of visions.


It’s like a “Maker Space” taken to the nth degree, actually.  The thing fosters collaboration, creating partnerships between curators, artists, inventors, scientists, philosophers and all the other kinds of Makers.

“Micah Ganske in the studio” by Nick Normal via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
There are ongoing artist and scientist residency programs that throw together leading-edge scientists and scholars, Ph.D. researchers, programmers, physicists, biologists, chemists with visual and performing artists, along with writers, musicians, and designers.  The programs give them the tools they need to do their work (or take it to another level) in an environment that supports cross-talk between creatives and scientists and encourages them to collaborate on projects together.

“Oren Ambarchi” by Ian Crowther via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The partnerships and collaborations growing out of the cross-pollination of all of these varied disciplines have become a strong jumping-off point that has resulted in multi-layered, complex projects for the community to experience and share.

“Workspace” by sebastián bravo via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The space is huge.  There’s room for special art installations, lectures by art and science leaders, film presentations, musical and dance performances, and parties and barbecues too.

“Inhabitat” by Chico MacMurtrie-Chrysalis via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Educational courses offered by the center run the gamut through the assorted fields of arts and sciences represented by the people wandering around.  They have also included things like circuitry design, lock-picking, making kombucha, and even advice about how to fake being dead.

The center also has a bi-annual publication called “Intercourse.”

To learn more about the center, visit their website by clicking on the button below:



There’s a transcript of a fascinating conversation between Dustin Yellin and Brandon Stosuy, the editor-in-chief of The Creative Independent, a Kickstarter, PBC online digest and repository of interviews with many creative people on a large variety of topics as well as a collection of resources and guidance for working creatives that you can access:


In it Yellin has a grand time explaining the whys and the hows that help Pioneer Works work.

Here’s a poem….


I am grateful for

Butterflies who madly

Fly across busy highways

Through a stream of vehicular currents

Against prevailing winds.

And make it.


I am grateful for

Green growing things that madly

Spring up heedlessly

Braving dry spells, tapped-out soil,

Bugs and careless feet

And make it.


I am grateful for

The wild-eyed dreamers who madly

Strive to make their way

Towards goals only they can see,

Breasting ridicule and scorn

And make it.


I am grateful for that madness.

I am grateful that they make it.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Second Sundays Open Studios” by Nick Normal via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



(Click on each of the post title below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

26 thoughts on “REDEFINE YOUR BOXES

  1. Hello,
    The art is very beautiful and complex. I found myself being amazed at the images you shared. The article is full of great information on the subject.

    I really found it interesting with the artist there creating while others are watching and looking at other art that is presented.

    What a great article. The images are supported by the captions and a large portion of the article itself. I really enjoyed this article. Great job!

    1. Hey Timothy:

      Thank you for your visit.  I am very pleased that you enjoyed this post.  Pioneer Works is a grand concept being executed magnificently.  I hope I did it some justice.

      Please do come again.

  2. Gaurav Gaur says:

    Hi Netta,
    Thanks for the detailed article on the mind behavior and the explosion of creativity by the great artist – Dustin Yellin.

    The videos and his explanation of the concept are awesome. His belief in the fact that by having amazing people around us, we can experience amazing things is so true.

    It was a really amazing article and enhanced my skill.

    Warm Regards,
    Gaurav Gaur

    1. Hey Gaurav:

      Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.  

      Please do come again….

  3. It is definitely proven that the more great minds you put together the more good work gets done. I have learned something new from this article about a company named pioneer street and how they get together to make fantastic works of art and invent new ideas for people. Think tanks and masterminds like this seem to be the future in the workspace.

    1. A truth, Jon.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Please do come again.

  4. Henderson says:

    Yellins position goes along with the popular saying about knowing your friend and how that can tell who you are because at the long run, when you surround yourself with people who are hungry for success them you will also witness success too. 

    I like the way you have written this and also pointed out that very good poem too. Well written.

    1. Henderson, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please come again….

  5. Rodarrick says:

    The belief he (Yellin) enacted for me while watching the video is that the quality of people we have around us determines what our life is. If the people are productive and positive, then we are positive and channeled towards positivity too. 

    This is great and very awesome to read on and the total explanation in the post on the things that led to creation of the centre and all. I just like this. Thanks

    1. Rodarick, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again….

  6. KingAndrea says:

    It was really amazing to have this interesting and quite educative article.  I love the idea of Dustin that says if you have amazing people around you, amazing things are gonna happen to you.  It’s really the truth because the company you keep determines a lot about the kind of person you become. 

    It’s great that you share his experience and some information about him. I’ve enjoyed every bit of this article, thanks for sharing.

    1. KingAndrea, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  7. REDEFINE YOUR BOXES. Wow, that was a really good post here. 

    I am very happy that you could give an insight into the beliefs of Yellin.  I feel very inspired by this. I will share this with my good friends as well. 

    Truly, when one has good friends, good things are bound to happen.

    1. John, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do agree:  it is a very good thing to have good friends who are good at something!

      Please do come again.

  8. Hello Netta, thanks for sharing this wonderful article. 

    I am just getting to read about Yellin’s art and his thinking and from what I have seen here, it very interesting. 

    What human believe has been proven to play an integral part of our lives and so far its been happening.  It can’t be doubted that what you believe in would work for you. That’s is why Yellin’s believe works for him

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Benson.  I do agree.  You do end up seeing (and living) what you believe in.

      Please do come again.  

  9. Thank you so much for this awesome blog!  Dustin Yellin has such a great story, and it means a lot to me to read something this inspiring!  

    I like seeing these success stories because it reminds me of how important it is to follow your dreams and work hard!  

    The poem at the end is so fitting as well!  I’m sure if he read it he would appreciate it because it seems like something an artist would say, because seeing the beauty in everything and being grateful for that is something I believe most Artist do.

    1. Jessie, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m pleased that you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  10. Wildecoll says:

    Sincerely, I enjoyed this article.  I find it very interesting and also filled with a lot of information. 

    The story about the artist is very fascinating and Dustin is really creative if I may say. 

    It’s very thoughtful of you to share the video.  I think the most important idea is Yellin’s belief that having good people around you determines how good your life is. 

    1. Wildecoll, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad the article was engaging for you.

      Please do come again.

  11. Hello there! I enjoy reading your articles as I get to learn one thing or the other from it. I am sure anyone who come across your post will enjoy it as I do. 

    This is actually the first time I’m hearing about artist Dustin Yellin and from what I’ve read so far here, He is a genius and a great personality to me.

    1. Hey Joy:  I do agree that Dustin Yellin’s a shiny one.  I like finding people like this who have followed their dream to a good place.  They are an inspiration to us all, I think.

      Please do come again.

  12. I’m looking forward to watching the Ted talk you shared when I have time later tonight. I do believe that we as people are somewhat of a combination of the things and people that we surround ourselves with, so it’s important to curate these “boxes” with careful attention. 

    It’s helpful to add things that take you in a positive direction, but also wise to remove things that hold you back or cause stress. 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Aly.  I like your thought about adding things that make you happy and removing the things that don’t.  It gets more organic and sustainable, I’m thinking.  Recycle, repurpose and liven up the landscape, I say!

      Please come again.

  13. Hi Netta,

    Wow… what a profound statement “if you have amazing people around you, then amazing things will happen”. I like it and will be looking closely to those amazing people around me from today!

    Ya… We all have been living within our own box. We need to exchange our box with others, and get more freedom to move around the space you are living in.

    Creativity will come more when we interact with other people. This is so truth which I experience myself. Just like a family stay together, each one has his/her own talent and each contribute in its own way.

    Collaboration could be one of the benefits of exchanging our own box with others.

    Yes, be grateful of what we have and treasure every moment of our life. Explore those that are in front of us and enjoy the time of NOW.

    Glad to come to your site for all these inspiration and make my thinking go wild.

    1. Your thoughts make me smile, TYP.  Thanks for the visit.  I’m glad the post inspires you.

      Please do come again.

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