Behind the Brain: Dorchester-based nonprofit seeks to make a ‘conscious cultural impact’
Sam Potrykus, 31, originally from Braintree, is engaging as we sit down to talk in the Brain Arts Organization office.
The office is eclectic. It contains two working areas, some couches and is lined with flyers, a large map of the City of Boston and art on every wall.
Potrykus finds that background music would set the vibe for the interview. His genre of choice? Gospel. Though he states he’s a country music lover.
"I can’t say enough times how important everyone is to the group,” Potrykus said. He is humble in discussing his role as the director of Brain Arts Organization and Dorchester Art Project, or DAP. “I’m not like the supreme leader in charge.”
Brain Arts officially came to fruition in 2013, after three years of its organizers, Potrykus and Dan Shea, already being “culturally active” by producing the Boston Compass, a monthly four-page newspaper, and booking local music shows in the Boston area.
The organization originally went under the alias “Boston Hassle Corporation”. The name changed two years in, as the co-founders decided that having a nonprofit with the name “hassle” in it seemed more negative than positive.
Boston Regional Arts Inclusion Network was also a suggested name to be used as the acronym B.R.A.I.N, but then they finally decided to just stick with ‘Brain.’
In August of this year, the duo officially split ways due to creative differences. Boston Hassle — an internationally-known music, arts and cultural review site and once a project under Brain Arts — became its own entity to be run by Shea. Potrykus was to remain in charge of Brain Arts and all of the projects that fall under it.
In 2018 — through these projects, the efforts of 150 volunteers and the 200+ donors who helped support the mission — the nonprofit was able to produce 130 shows with 550 booked artists and a payout of approximately $35,000 to the artists.
Potrykus, who owns his own moving company, credits community feedback and the many volunteers to the success of the organization .
“We’ve developed an advisory board, which helps us find out what the community is interested in or wants to see programmed here,” he said. “So that includes anything from teenagers who go to the school across the street to seniors who we’ve met in social justice events up the street or the folks who run the All Dorchester Sports League. This is what I do with my time. I volunteer my time to find out what these people think and what they would want to see happen here. That’s where we get all of our ideas and how we run this place.”
He shared that it was the work through Dorchester Art Project that really helped expand the mission statement and purpose of Brain Arts Organization.
“Brain Arts sort of didn’t have its message and its purpose together,” Potrykus said “Now it makes perfect sense. Brain Arts is about conscious cultural empowerment.”
It’s about consciousness and not just doing things to be cool or for other superficial reasons.. It’s like deliberately doing things. So, we publish our own newspaper because we think it’s important for people to be able to connect without the phone. It’s simple concepts, but that’s why we do it. We do our flea market, because you should be able to buy things directly from people who make and source them. These are just the conscious decisions we make with our arts programming.
Brain Arts Organization is a 501(c)3 arts nonprofit that is completely volunteer-run. Its dedicated volunteers boast their belief in having a space that produces “art-centric programming and conscious cultural empowerment.”
Additionally, a mission statement on the organization’s website states that it aims to create platforms for “fringe artistic communities.”
The nonprofit operates out of the Dorchester Art Project art gallery space, a second-story walk-up that spans across multiple lower-level businesses, right across the street from the Fields Corner T stop.
The space boasts two art galleries, one which will eventually be converted into a shop for artists to sell their work and community space for locals to indulge.
Additionally, it has a small lounge room for the building’s tenants; 14 rented studio spaces; a wood shop; a work/shop area, theatre room, and the Brain Arts office work room.
Artists from all over the Greater Boston Area vie for studio space at the DAP site.
What makes the space so popular is the fact that it is one of the lowest-priced private studio spaces for rent in the City of Boston. DAP does things a bit differently: They let artists pay what they can (reasonably) afford and work to accommodate them by offering shared studio spaces, indefinitely.
And with only 14 shared studio spaces to offer, the selection process is long and unyielding. Top on the priority list are residents of Dorchester and artists of color.
“Upon meeting people, I straight up tell people that are coming in here that we are prioritizing people in Dorchester and people of color,” Potrykus said. “When I took this place over, it was majority white studio tenants and that makes perfect sense because studios cost $400 to $500 a month and people from Cambridge and other places in the City of Boston can more easily afford that.”
Since the nonprofit is volunteer run, the managers rely on artists renting the space to cover the general rental fees of the DAP space, and even still, Dorchester residents are made a priority.
“When people come in, I straight up tell them that we’re here for Dorchester people,” Potrykus said. “I’d love for you to be here. I need the rent covered, so it would be helpful for the community for you to take over the space, but if someone from Fields Corner steps in and says they want the space, I am going to straight up give it to them. I wouldn’t have a Cambridge artist in here who couldn’t vibe with that, ya know?
A general understanding for artists that are current tenants — whom mostly are not Dorchester residents — is that if a Dorchester-based artist proves a need for studio space, then they become priority for the space.
Inside the Brain
Rixy Fernandez, known as Rixy FZ, a contemporary artist and visual arts teacher, is grateful for the community she found through the Dorchester Art Project.
“It’s always been important to me to have a community,” she said. “I didn’t really have an art community [before this].”
Fernandez found that what made the place so special was how welcoming and inclusive the environment is, even though she has been unable to afford tenant fees in the space.
“There’s places [in Boston] where if you can’t really afford to be a studio tenant, then you can’t really connect and stuff,” she said. “I don’t have [studio] space here, because I can’t afford it. So, I try to be as involved as I can. I think what Brain Arts does is cool as hell.”
Fernandez, who’s been coming to the DAP space for over two years and has been looking to contribute to the community atmosphere, recently started hosting “Doodle Flow” at the site. She explained that it’s an opportunity to help people release and “just think about nothing.”
The free event allows gives artists and non-artists the opportunity to network and explore their creativity.
“That’s why it’s fun to be here,” she said. “Where they are able to support people at all levels.”
Additionally, Fernandez echoed Potrykus’ earlier sentiments of creating an environment that supports people of color.
“It’s great to have spaces and people like this,” she said. “Especially in this area. There’re more Black and brown people here.”
Fernandez was recently commissioned by Fields Corner Main Streets and Dorchester Art Project to complete a mural at the corner of Dorchester Avenue in Field Corners near Hein Vuong Vietnamese restaurant.
“It’s cool that with [this place] we’ve connected in ways that they’ve allowed me to learn about a lot of things within my own art career,” she said.
Sustaining the Vision
Consistent revenue is stated as a challenge Brain Arts faces. Since the nonprofit and its projects are volunteer run, there typically is no money to pay the dedicated board members and volunteers who help run the various projects to keep things going.
The current executive board members, who essentially would be in charge of securing funding, are instead busy connecting to the community and program planning.
Eventually Potrykus would like to step down from his role and focus more programming. He would like to introduce Dorchester artists to the executive board as his successors, and already has a person in mind to take over his role.
Having Dorchester artists on the board would ultimately fulfill the organization’s vision and decision-making. This new board would also be in charge of generating revenue for the nonprofit.
“In the next five to ten years, I think establishing Brain Arts and DAP as a sustainable entity is something that I don’t have to do for the rest of my life,” said Potrykus. “I would love to see a person from Dorchester run the Dorchester Art Project. That’s really the goal.”