With Oakland at the forefront of the Maker Movement, our new “Makers of Oakland” series will focus on the 4P’s of local making; the people behind the movement, the places they live and work, the products they produce, and the prosperity they’re creating right here in Oakland, California.
Name: Karen Cusolito
Business: Owner of American Steel Studios, 1690 Mandela Parkway, Oakland Ca. 94607
Neighborhood: West Oakland
Local Inspiration:Jon Sarriugarte, Form and Reform
For our first Meet the Maker interview we snagged Karen Cusolito just long enough to talk a bit about Oakland Makers’ 4P’s, last weeks election and what it means for the future of the Oakland Maker movement. Karen is the owner and artist in residence at the American Steel Studio and Co-Founder of OaklandMakers.org.
Here’s what Karen had to say:
Who are you and what do you make or manufacture?
I am an artist, one of the co-founders of Oakland Makers, as well as the owner of American Steel Studios. I make large scale industrial sculptures. Oh, and I advocate for the local artist community.
How did you get started?
I knew I was an artist since birth, but I cultivated my skills studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and Massachusetts College of Art. I’ve supplemented my education with various certificates and programs, too.
Do you work with other local Makers?
Yes, I often have to reach out to other artist’s with skill sets I don’t have in order to bring large projects to fruition. I rely on the community of artists’ I work with in order to make the best art possible.
What keeps you on your toes and focused day-to-day?
The shifting economic and political landscape of Oakland most definitely keeps me on my toes! I am always searching for new ways to respond on behalf of the maker community.
What makes Oakland’s Maker Movement unique?
Oakland specifically, is tremendously robust and unique. We have far flung cottage industries, micro niche fabrication and absolutely everything in between.
Where in Oakland do you make your art? Where do you sell your products and to whom?
I make my sculptures at American Steel Studios.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Running American Steel Studios while simultaneously sitting on boards, working with local organizations, advocating for the art/maker community and maintaining good internships for local students makes the act of balancing time a daily challenge. I embrace it, though!
How important will the upcoming elections be to your industry?
The outcome of the election for Oakland’s maker industry will determine whether or not the industry makes big changes or stays the status quo. This is the first election season where officials are looking to us as a force.
What (if any) misconceptions pop up about the Maker/Art community? work/industry and how do you handle it?
That artist’s don’t need to get paid or we that we always work for free.
How do you make your product?
A lot of steel, caffeine, unfettered optimism and a ton of hard work. We use resources for the metal work, need tons of tools, access to cranes and welders. It is a resource heavy craft.
Where do you sell your products and to whom?
Finished pieces are sold locally or internationally, rented for events and used for artistic installations. I have a website, but most people find me by word of mouth or track me down after seeing my work at a show, online, etc. My customers are all different and come from all around the world, as well as locally.
As an artist, how does your work prosper in Oakland?
Two things: First, my access to big space (American Steel) . Second, the artist community I work with and the unique skill-sets they contribute to my work.
What do you do in Oakland for fun when you’re not working?
Everything! Mountain bike, run around lake, visit the Museum of Oakland, Art Murmur is fantastic, Succeed in getting 300 tons of Bay Bridge steel into the hands of the local maker community- ha!
How do you envision the maker industry 5 years from now?
In my own future-fantasy version of Oakland I see lot’s of small shops excelling at making what they make, a community that embraces and supports its local industries. I envision small businesses having the choice to support other local industries and buy their goods and materials, if they so choose.
What would make it easier to work as an artist in Oakland?
A lot of the work I do when representing the maker community is based off the knowledge I know to be true. I’d love more of the maker community to speak up about their needs, wants, concerns etc. The more of us that can get together the more weight our words will carry. I see so much potential in Oakland Makers bring the platform to bring all makers together in a unified, organized way that will matter for us all.
Would you like to be featured in our Meet the Makers Series? Email us Hello@OaklandMakers.org