Mobile Off-Grid Art Center Takes Off

Program Director Emily Hopkins in a refurbished 1953 Spartan trailer - headquarters for arts non-profit Side Street Projects (Photo: Side Street Projects on Flickr)

Over a year ago, Pasadena's arts education non-profit Side Street Projects was facing a critical crossroads. After 15 years of having to shift between borrowed office spaces, they finally went mobile, but without further funding, they could not afford to power their operations. As an organization completely on wheels, they could not qualify for government funding.

So they did what any nomadic non-profit might do in this situation: with the help of a generous donation, they went totally off-grid — in the process, achieving organizational stability (and some unexpected successes to boot).
All their power is now provided by a bank of 12 solar panels providing 2,400 watts of electricity, housed in a utility trailer hitched to two vintage Spartan trailers which now serve as their mobile headquarters.

All three trailers are now parked in a vacant lot in northwest Pasadena slated for development next year - which means they will then pack up and move onto the next empty lot waiting to be transformed. Because the group gives arts instruction in Pasadena schools, the city allows them to stay there rent-free. A satellite is set up to help them connect to the Internet wirelessly.

Why is mobile better?
Of course, it's not all easy. Some of the downsides of being off-grid in this way include the lack of air-conditioning, heating and plumbing. Program Director Emily Hopkins says wryly that she has to warn business associates who visit for the first time. "You can tell a lot about a person if they're freaked out by a port-o-potty. It's a lot like camping, here."

But some of the greatest advantages include a hassle-free move. "We were down three months when we moved before. This time it took us only 90 minutes," says Creative Director Jon Lapointe.

Also, the soaring costs of office rentals made the move toward mobility more appealing.

"With changes in the economy affecting nonprofits, being off the grid is a plus," said Jose Caballer, a member of Side Street Projects' board of directors. "Costs are really high for office space. With rents going up, mobility is the answer to the problem."

Transforming the vacant into something vital
Founded in 1992, the artist-run Side Street Projects provides artists of all ages with educational programs to support their creative endeavours. In addition to offering local artists with programs that hone their creative and business skills, Side Street Projects has also reached out to 1,000 kids with their innovative and mobile Woodworking Bus program. They also provide free art programs every Saturday for neighbourhood youngsters. Now, as a truly mobile and off-grid organization, they go on to transform vacant urban spaces all over the city into public spaces of community activity, one at a time.

Side Street Projects (via press release; photos of trailers here)

More on Mobile Art
Side Street Projects takes moves in stride (LA Times)
Mobile Living: The Unicat
Sustain MiniHome: Sustainable Prefab Now
Port-a-Bach Shipping Container Holiday Home

Tags: Alternative Energy | Artists | Arts | Solar Power | Urban Life