Banana Factory Arts Center of Lehigh Valley
Video released on: October 16, 2008
Tracey Werner: Welcome to this edition of Lehigh Valley Visions, a video podcast highlighting area attractions. I’m your host, Tracey Werner. Today we’re taking a tour of the Banana Factory in south side Bethlehem which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. This three story arts facility is home to exhibit halls, artist studios, a gift shop, classrooms, and much more. Let’s go inside and take a tour.
Kim, the Banana Factory really is a grassroots organization that benefits the entire Lehigh Valley. How did it all get started?
Kim: Well, ten years ago Jeff Parks had a vision to be able to celebrate the artistic culture of the Lehigh Valley, and then Mayor Ken Smith of the City of Bethlehem decided to offer Jeff a look at this building which used to be a Banana Factory warehouse. When they came, the building was pretty much in bad shape. Through the efforts of Linny and Beall Fowler, Binney and Smith, the Banko family, they all pulled together and made this vision a reality.
Now we have 28 studio artists, two award winning galleries, a glass blowing facility, an Olympic digital imaging center, and a wonderful clay studio. It’s a really fun time here, and if you come out on a first Friday you can experience it all alive and moving.
Tracey Werner: Speaking of the exhibit galleries, we’re here in the Binney and Smith gallery, the Banko gallery located just down the hall of course. You constantly are changing your exhibits in these spaces. Tell me about them.
Kim: Every 30 to 60 days we have different artists come in from around the world. We have artists that exhibit here before they go on to New York City. It really is a great opportunity for the people of Lehigh Valley to come out and experience art that they may have not seen anywhere else. We’re really pleased to have both the Binney and the Banko galleries in addition to our 28 studio artists.
Tracey Werner: Well, I’m excited to see the rest of the facility. Can we get started on our tour?
Kim: Sure. Come on, let’s go.
Tracey Werner: Okay.
Kim: Tracey, we’re excited to have the valley’s own hot glass blowing studio right here in the Banana Factory. It’s really exciting. Even if you never touched glass before, you can come down and try it out with one of our experienced instructors. Or, if you’ve been a glass artist, come on out and work on some of your pieces. It’s an exciting time.
Tracey Werner: Can we get a closer look?
Kim: Sure, but I’ll have to ask you to put these on.
Tracey Werner: Safety first.
Tracey Werner: Okay. Hi, Jim.
Jim: Hi, Tracey. How are you?
Tracey Werner: Good. I understand that you’re the creative director of Glassworks.
Jim: Yes I am.
Tracey Werner: And this is a new addition, or newer addition, to Banana Factory. When was it added?
Jim: About a year and a half ago, we started building the studio in here. This was a garage work area kind of warehouse area back here. I enlisted the help of John Choi here, and this is Beth Ann Ballek, and we started building this equipment.
Tracey Werner: Excellent. What is John demonstrating for us?
Jim: John’s going to do a little color pickup here. This is blue powdered glass here, and he’s going to show you how we put color on a piece. He’s going to heat that up right now. He just finished blocking it or shaping it. Now he’s going to reheat the surface of the piece and put a layer of color on there.
Tracey Werner: What type of classes could someone take at Glassworks?
Jim: Well, we have beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes in hot glass blowing, lamp working, and a new section we call fusing. We also do demonstrations, and we’re here on first Fridays, and we have a make your own for people that come in who just want to spend an hour, and don’t really want to work too hard at learning glass blowing, but they can experience it.
Tracey Werner: Well, thank you very much for the demonstration, Jim. I appreciate it.
Jim: You’re welcome.
Tracey Werner: Kim, I understand that Banana Factory offers over 75 hands on arts classes each semester. Tell me about them.
Kim: We’re excited to be able to provide that to the community in the Lehigh Valley. We have classes in the Olympus Digital Imaging Center where you can learn digital photography. We have a great clay studio here where you can learn different types of clay molding from beginner to experienced. We have it all here. If you’ve never thrown on a wheel you can come here and learn how to do it, or you can create your own piece of art.
Tracey Werner: Kim, what is it about the hands on arts classes that you think students value so much?
Kim: I think being able to come here and unleash your creativity is something that the Banana Factory provides for the Lehigh Valley. Being able to come in here and touch a piece of artwork, create something out of clay, make something out of glass, take your own picture, it’s just an awesome thing to be able to experience that. I think with our 28 studio artists that we have upstairs; it’s really an added benefit for the people in the Lehigh Valley. We should go upstairs and check out the artists.
Tracey Werner: Yeah, let’s go meet some.
Kim: Okay. Tracey, in addition to clay we have 28 studio artists here in the Banana Factory dealing in all types of mediums. We have Andrew Kish who works in oil and watercolors. Please, come on and meet Andrew.
Tracey Werner: Great, thanks. Hi, Andrew, how are you doing?
Andrew Kish: Hi, how are you?
Tracey Werner: Good. Tell us a little bit about how you became an artist.
Andrew Kish: Well, I guess you always have it. When I was little I loved to draw and do those kinds of things, and here I am.
Tracey Werner: What are you working on right now?
Andrew Kish: This is an oil painting. This is something that is a real conceptual piece. It’s in the really early stages. It’s basically a woman and her reflection, and all kinds of cool symbolism are going to be rolled into it.
Tracey Werner: I like it. Why do you choose to have your studio here at Banana Factory?
Andrew Kish: It’s an amazing community atmosphere. I get to be around other artists, bounce ideas off them, plus it really connects us artists to the community.
Tracey Werner: I like that.
Kim: Tracey, in addition to Andrew we have a lot of great studio artists here in the Banana Factory, lots of different mediums that they work in. I’d like to introduce you to Karen Steen. She works in mixed mediums.
Tracey Werner: Hi, Karen. How are you?
Karen Steen: Good, thanks.
Tracey Werner: Tell me how long you’ve been involved with the Banana Factory.
Karen Steen: Well, I finished up my MFA degree about a year ago, and I was lucky enough to get this studio last September. I’ve been here about six months.
Tracey Werner: Oh, congratulations. Tell me what you get out of being part of an arts community like Banana Factory.
Karen Steen: Making art is a solitary endeavor, and sometimes I start feeling a little wacky sitting in my studio for hours on end. It’s great to know that there are other artists nearby who are working with the same challenges that I am. Even though they may be approaching art in a different way, they still have the same goals about creation and trying to get work out into the world. It’s just a good feeling to know that I have comrades nearby.
Tracey Werner: Excellent. Well, thank you for visiting with us. I appreciate it.
Karen Steen: Thank you.
Tracey Werner: Well, Kim, we’re here in the gallery gift shop. You have some beautiful art pieces for sale. Tell me what visitors can buy when they come.
Kim: When you’re taking a tour of the Banana Factory, anything you see hanging on the walls or in the artist’s studios is available for purchase, but we also have this great gallery gift shop where we feature glass pieces from our glass studio artists, and wonderful digital imaging center photographs, and beautiful paintings by our artists, and even our beautiful clay pots from the clay studio. Anything you see here in the gallery gift shop is available for purchase at the Banana Factory.
Tracey Werner: Well, this is the end of our tour. Thank you so much for taking your time to show me around today.
Kim: Thank you, Tracey. Have a great day.
Tracey Werner: I hope that this tour of the Banana Factory has inspired you to get creative and that you’ll want to visit and sign up for a class soon. To learn more about the Lehigh Valley’s many arts venues visit lehighvalleypa.org or call 1-800-747-0561. Thanks for joining me for this edition of Lehigh Valley Visions.