Students: Pratt booting beloved recycled art shop off campus over chain-store contract

Students: Pratt booting beloved recycled art shop off campus over chain-store contract
Photo by Jason Speakman

Call it a brush off.

Pratt Institute is short-changing its students by booting a beloved store that sells recycled art materials off its Clinton Hill campus because it already has a contract with a national art-store chain, claim cash-strapped scholars of the prestigious art and architecture school.

“I’m paying for school on my own with student loans, and finding low-cost art supplies is really important to me,” said Cody Calamaio, a graduate student in industrial design at Pratt and one of almost 900 people who have signed an petition demanding the school save Turn Up Art, which rescues would-be-wasted art materials like paintbrushes and sells them to students for cheap.

Pratt alumnus Gunner Tierno has been running the sustainable supply store under Pratt’s Design Incubator program — a platform for entrepreneurial alumni to get help building their business ventures — since shortly after he graduated in 2013. The school finally gave him a physical space to peddle his wares on campus in July 2014, and the pop-up shop has since become a popular community hub for students to find both the materials and ideas for their works, he said.

“Turn Up Art has a real sense of community on the campus, and it’s a place where students go to find inspiration and relax,” he said. “It’s more than a shop for them.”

Tierno claims the enterprise was ready to stand on its own two feet and he was about to offer to start paying rent to Pratt late last month, when the institute abruptly told him that his time in the incubator is up — he has to shut down by Oct. 15 and vacate the campus by Nov. 1 — and Turn Up Art can’t stay on as a regular business because the school already has a contract with Blick Art Material giving it exclusive rights to sell art supplies on its grounds.

Pratt claims the store always had a set expiration date — participants in the incubator have to clear out by an agreed-upon time in order to make room for the next round of aspiring entrepreneurs, a school rep said.

But Tierno said the news came as a shock — and although Pratt had never promised him a permanent store, it had also never mentioned the Blick deal that would make one impossible.

And he takes umbrage at the idea of Turn Up Art as a competitor, anyway — the art giant sells brand-new goods, he said, while his small operation sells worn supplies that were probably once fresh off Blick shelves.

“We’re not out here to compete against Blick,” he said. “We don’t want the students to resent them. At the end of the day, that’s how we get the stuff.”

The school says it still thinks Tierno’s idea is great, and plans to set up a similar, non-commercial venture of its own in the future.

“Campus administrators and student leaders are working together to explore the creation of a cost-free art supply and materials exchange for students on campus,” said spokeswoman Amy Aronoff.

Blick did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but an employee at the supplier’s Myrtle Avenue shop next to the Pratt campus was rattled by the thought of the enterprise being run off campus.

“That makes me mad,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “They should be able to sell their stuff.”

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.