Strangely enough, Saturday was business as usual for Kira Smith and Pete Sinjin, co-founders of South Slope’s Hootenanny Art House.
The couple, who are known for their inspiring teaching and performance, have prioritized social and political activism for years. That spirit is synchronized with Smith’s yoga and dance acumen and Sinjin’s performance as both “Hootenanny Pete” as well as his recent recording under his own name.
President Donald Trump’s executive order to keep citizens from entering the U.S. from a list of seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) was the most recent of multiple incidents to cause social outcry, spurring protests in New York City at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and J.F.K. Airport. Additional protests took place at airports all over the country.
Smith and Sinjin took this on with the same firm commitment to all of their work.
Before they joined swarms of community members who rushed to Cadman Plaza to denounce the order, Smith, Sinjin and a host of others draped a banner over the Prospect Expressway which reads “We Are All Immigrants, #NoBanNoWall.”
The stressful and chaotic times have galvanized Smith and Sinjin, yet their actions are consistent with the way they have always engaged with their community. Their classes and programs are a neighborhood staple.
“The executive order put us into emergency response mode. We know that this directly affects people in our community, and we know that our community absolutely cannot stand by while anyone in this country is affected by it,” says Smith.
Hootenanny jumped right into action when Trump was elected back in November. Just four days later, Hootenanny Art House hosted “Rise Up And Sing” and raised $1400 to donate to organizations they believe will be in need of support under a Trump presidency.
Then between Monday, November 28 and Saturday, December 3 of last year, Hootenanny’s “Week of Action” was held at their classroom and artspace at 428 15th Street (just off 8th Avenue). The programs fundraised for Planned Parenthood, ACLU, 350.org, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
When I interviewed them back in November, Sinjin told BKLYNER he believed that providing workshops for children is vital. “With my own kids, I wonder how much are they simply soaking up throughout osmosis?” he said.
But November was only the beginning for Hootenanny.
The two are launching their Activist Coffee Hour today (Mondays from 3:30pm-4:30pm). In addition to postcards available to write, there will be scripts for calling and petitions to sign. “Depending on the issues at hand we will try to find the most accessible and valuable ways to participate,” Smith wrote on their Facebook invitation to the event.
In addition, they are hosting their Activist Happy Hour from 6pm-7pm at their artspace, and it’s BYOB. Once again, activities to address pressing issues at hand will take place.
“With the fundraising and new Monday Activism Coffee and Happy Hours, we also hope to inspire activism among families who might not be able to be on the front lines, but care deeply about peace, justice, the environment, and civil rights,” Smith says.
For Smith, opening up their space to these activities is vital.
“Since the election we have been looking for ways we could mobilize our community towards participation in the resistance,” she says. “Having an art-based family community center in Brooklyn, we first felt the need to show our support to the people of color, people of Muslim faith, LGBT, families and all women who walk through our doors each week and are being threatened.”
The “Small But Mighty Hootenanny” songfest which took place at The Bell House on January 14 featured Sinjin and friends. All proceeds from the wildly popular concert were donated to organizations fighting climate change and assisting refugees.
Sinjin’s musical influences include Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Woodie Guthrie — just some of the artists who he hopes to use as inspiration to continue their tradition. When I interviewed them back in 2015, Sinjin told us that Hootenanny raised money for Seeger’s Clearwater Foundation, which works to clean up the Hudson River.
And the punk rock aesthetic has also been an influence to Sinjin.
The DIY work by Smith and Sinjin is powerful and crucial. Head over there soon. Bring the kids. Their energy is absolutely infectious.
Keep up with all goings-on at the Hootenanny website. There are few better places in the neighborhood to take your kids to be inspired.