To empower women in a field that is usually male dominated, the Rego Park Green Alliance (RGPA) Studio will lead a tiny house build project called The Observer.
Led by Yvonne Shortt, founder and executive director of RPGA Studio, the program aims to form networks through empowerment, skill building and information sharing.
She created a Meetup group for women who are interested in learning how to build a mobile space and meet new people. So far, about 150 people have signed up.
Most of the work done by the RPGA Studio involves community-building events.
These programs include the Pedestrian Penguin Initiative, which brought education and awareness to transportation safety, and the Creative Challenge in 3D Printing and Design that helped schoolchildren learn advanced technology to become producers rather than consumers.
To notify the community about statistics of transportation incidents, the RPGA Studio also created a “Stat Girl” structure made out of wood and plastic. For their “Vote Your Butt” program, they designed ashtrays that adults can use to discard cigarette butts instead of littering.
Since a lot of the organization’s projects required going to hardware stores, Shortt said she’s noticed that there is unfair treatment of women at these places.
“When you’re at the Home Depot or other lumberyards for your various projects, there’s always this sense of ‘am I asking for the right tools,’ and it feels like many men undermine us when we’re in the aisle looking at drills or saws,” Shortt said. “When you don’t understand about things and you’ve never used them before, you become insecure.”
At the core of the project, Shortt wants women to “feel strong in their conviction,” adding that “if you can empower one woman and she empowers one woman, we can build a community of women who are more empowered to use physical and emotional tools and networks.”
Wanting to create a creative space and equip women with building skills, Shortt came up with the idea of building a tiny house from scratch.
The organization recently completed the design for the exterior, and will work on the interior space throughout the next couple of months. In the second phase of construction, the space will transform into a studio space.
The creative studio space will serve as a mobile observation lab. The lab will allow performance artists to observe the outside world, recording and documenting what they see in the five boroughs.
For the build, RPGA Studio has reserved space at the Knockdown Center in Maspeth. Trained carpenters will help on build days. Initial workshops begin on May 29th of next year and center around equipment use and building for living and workspaces.
The following weeks, participants will learn about subfloor framing, sheathing, exterior siding, interior siding, roofing, electrical, plumbing and more aspects of construction.
During community build days, community members will be able to work on the tiny house during three-hour blocks. In addition to women, the organization plans to include specific days designated for middle school and high school students, as well as days for parents and their daughters.
The RPGA Studio expects the project to be completed by July 3. Once the studio space is completed and it is transformed into The Observer lab, the RPGA Studio will travel with it to different boroughs in order to engage in conversation.
“In Long Island City right now, there are a lot of artists who are feeling afraid of their space, and this is nothing new,” Shortt said. ‘We’re seeing it in Gowanus, Bushwick and in Ridgewood, so I’d love to build more collaborations and cross-questioning around this in a bigger context.
“There’s a moral obligation to not just keep this for myself, but to use it to help promote a dialogue that will lead to ways that we can work across communities to tackle some of the issues that we’re seeing,” she added.
Those interested in joining the project can visit regoparkgreenalliance.org. The first meeting will be on November 10, when members can meet each other and discuss design ideas and the logistics of registering the vehicle.To signup for the Meetup group, visit www.meetup.com/NYC-Tiny-Housebuild-Empowering-Women-Girls-Meetup/members/.