Kate Koeppel, the latest designer to present an exhibit at StoreFrontLab, says building community is the underlying theme of her project.
“It’s this idea of trying to build community by sharing skills,” said Koeppel, whose installation “Skill Exchange” will be unveiled tonight.
Koeppel is a local graphic designer who was selected to participate in the yearlong series of “workshops and experiments” at the workspace on Shotwell near 17th Street.
“I always try to compare it to this idea of barn-raising,” says Koeppel. “One single family couldn’t build a barn, but if all your neighbors came together, one person was going to help lead the framing, someone else was going to be able to do the roofing, knowing that later down the line someone was going to help you build your barn.”
On the menu for “Skill Exchange” are such practical workshops as “Nuts and Bolts of Lamp Making,” “Hand-Pulled Mozzarella” and “Essential Knife Skills: Safety, Slicing and Knife Sharpening.”
Koeppel is especially excited about “An Introduction to Artisan Salts,” taught by Tammy Tan from the San Francisco culinary shop Spicehound. The class will cover the history and science of salt, what it does in cooking, and its different flavors. Koeppel herself will not be teaching any workshops, instead taking on her chosen role of curator throughout the four-day installation.
The idea behind StoreFrontLab came from local architect David Baker, who volunteered his Shotwell Street storefront for a year to be used by small businesses and site-specific ventures.
“It’s a way to explore things without the burden of trying to run a successful business,” Baker said. “Instead of spending a whole bunch of money to see if something succeeds or fails, you do something more temporary.”
All of the workshops at Skill Exchange are low-cost, ranging from $5 to $12. The teachers, all of whom work in local shops, businesses or restaurants, are donating their time.
“It’s really empowering to know how to fix something yourself,” Koeppel said.
Koeppel describes what she does as different from the popular DIY website, Etsy, which she says is “more about pleasure than politics.” Her workshops are about promoting self-reliance and collaboration between makers.
Still, she approaches her work with a sense of humor.
“I’m not having this kind of apocalyptic idea that we’ve all got to learn how to make mozzarella now! Before it’s too late!” she said. “Make it fun, make it social.”
Koeppel’s philosophy about shared skills and collaborations seems to be rubbing off.
“The knife sharpener is good friends with the cheesemonger and the shopkeeper, and they don’t have competing businesses; they all are just really supporting each other’s projects and goals.”
In this way, Koeppel shares Baker’s vision for StoreFrontLab, which he describes as emphasizing community engagement over profits.
“A lot of pop-ups out there are very commercial,” Baker said. “The notion here was that it’s not selling food and it’s not something that’s in service to some other corporate thing.”
The eight proposals selected for StoreFrontLab each received $888 “micro-Mission grants” to help cover basic costs. The financing came from the rental of Baker’s Shotwell Street apartment.
Baker said he intends to add several more proposals to the calendar, to create a full year of installations. Watch the StoreFrontLab website for details.