Thursday, June 25, 2009

Internet and videogames begone: the return of the soap box derby

By Meredith Deliso

Monika Wuhrer is always making something.

The co-founder of the Brooklyn art space Open Source, the German-born artist is known to have a hammer in her hand and blueprints at her feet.

“People who know me on the block know there’s always something going on in the house,” says Wuhrer, who lives next door to the gallery with its other founder, her husband, Gary Baldwin. Her most recent project is a foozeball table, which she plans on displaying in her gallery for both play and exhibition. “When I do something, everybody’s invited to play with it,” she says.

Wuhrer looks to instill that same spirit of creativity into Brooklyn kids with this summer’s soap box camp.

“I really want kids to be able to just find something and make something,” says Wuhrer. “In an educational sense, that’s important to me.”

From July 13 to August 7, the gallery will host a weekly camp for kids ages 7 to 12 to build something of their own: a soap box, out of recycled, found materials.

Wuhrer, a mother of three whose eight-year-old son is excited to take part in camp, will lead the workshop with her friend, the artist Hubert Dobler.

“He’s totally the handyman,” says Wuhrer. “He’s a big, big kid, such a goof-off. He’s gonna be good for everybody.”

Together, the two will introduce the kids to different tools and supervise them closely while they build their contraptions with hammer, nails, handsaw, screws, etc. Besides hands-on building, they will encourage the kids to plan on paper and make drawings of their inventions, as well as think outside of the (soap) box.

Registration is now on a first-come, first-serve basis, and, with only five slots each week, and some of the first weeks already filled, interested campers are encouraged to apply now. And though the soap box is something commonly seen as a father-son activity, young girls are encouraged to sign up as well.

Wuhrer also encourages interested campers to start looking for materials right now that could be turned into little makeshift race cars – discarded strollers, push-carts, wooden boxes – anything that has wheels or that you could easily affix then to.

The first part of the camp will involved collecting these materials and drawing ideas on paper, then building. By the end of the week, the campers will decorate their soap boxes, all the while testing their creations a half a block away in South Slope.

The camp culminates, fittingly, with a derby on August 8. Brooklyn has a strong interest in its soap box derbies, with the annual Paping Soap Box Derby in Brooklyn Heights becoming so popular that the event’s organizers had to cancel it last year.

Kids and adults alike are invited to come out and race in Open Source’s derby on 17th Street.

“Whoever wants to stop by and take their homemade car can come,” said Wuhrer. “I think Hubert will appreciate it very much if he has company.”

This year, it’s soap boxes; each summer, Wuhrer looks to bring a camp to South Slope that gets children exploring their own ingenuity.

“We’re going to do it every summer,” said the artist. “Every year will be a different camp going on that’s really fun and exciting.”

Open Source Gallery’s camp runs weekly from July 13 to August 7, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $250 per week and includes materials. Interested campers can e-mail if interested, and, if space permits, can download a form at and send it to: Monika Wuhrer: 257 17th street, Brooklyn, NY 11215, including a $50 deposit.

Those interested in participating in the August 8 derby should also email for a head count.

For more information, call 646-279-3969.


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