Karen Merbaum has been active within the art world since the 1980s. She has taught at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, worked in the toy industry, and even opened her own graphic design studio, Barking Cat Studio, in Brooklyn in the early 2000s. In 2009, due to the uncertain economic situation facing many people, among other outside factors, Merbaum decided to switch the focus of her business and began offering art classes in her commercial design space then situated in Boreum Hill. Fast forward to 2014, and Merbaum now resides in Keningston and Barking Cat Studio is thriving in our neighborhood as it continues to offer art classes for all ages.
When I recently spoke with Merbaum, she discussed how she got into the arts, what her various teaching experiences have been like, and what changes she has seen in Kensington.
Although Merbaum has had a lifelong interest in the arts, she didn’t initially plan to become an artist.
“I come from a long line of creative people and I have always been interested in art and I was a musician for a long time,” said Merbaum, who attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “I was originally a science major in college then decided to pursue art. It was an easy transition from science to art, though, and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I had parents who were really supportive and encouraging of me.”
Merbaum’s transition from science to art proved to be successful and she has remained in the arts for the past several decades.
Although a variety of factors influenced her decision to reformat her business, the desire to fill a void that she saw missing in the community was a dominant one. With the many budget cuts to art programs in public schools across the country, and in Brooklyn as well, Merbaum has, in her own way, tried to tackle this issue. By being able to offer affordable – and sometimes free – art classes through various local events, Merbaum is helping to address the lack of art education in her own creative way.
In the nine years since Merbaum has lived in Kensington, she has seen many changes.
“There are a lot of young, progressive families are moving into this area,” she said. “I think this is really positive because many of them seem to really value the arts, which is an important thing.”
The presence of of these new families and the construction of a new school on Caton Avenue in Kensington slated to open in 201 may help to generate more discussion surrounding where the arts belong in education. However, in the meantime, Barking Cat Studio is providing the Kensington area with very important arts-based activities.
Merbaum moved into her current location in October of 2012 on the day Hurricane Sandy hit. Although it was an overwhelming time, she eventually got settled and started to promote Barking Cat Studio once again. Through flyering, a growing online presence, and various events that Merbaum began to do at the local Greenwood Playground, she was able to attract more local families and artists to her studio.
“We aren’t interested in the final product of what kids produce here,” she said, describing her teaching philosophy. “We are more interested in the creative process and want kids to be happy and feel proud of what they are creating. This is what we encourage and foster here as well. We also want everyone to do their best and try and to also enjoy what you are doing, have fun and be kind to others.”
Barking Cat Studio provides a number of art classes for children between the ages of 18 months all the way up to adults. Merbaum and her staff of two are currently in the midst of providing an arts-based summer camp, which runs until August 22. Each week has a different art theme, such as mixed media or abstract illustration, and there are various projects done to reflect it. Children also attend local museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and are given the opportunity to experience the creative world firsthand. They also create various art projects throughout the week-long sessions and go to various parks and sprinklers in the area.
In the fall, Merbaum’s Barking Cat Studio will have an arts-based after-school program for children ages three to 12 years old. These various workshops for different the age ranges will help to teach children about a range of artistic mediums, as well as helping them develop other skills.
In the Creative Cat Pre-K workshop for kids ages three-and-a-half to five, they will learn about different different art practices, among other things.
For the Create Cats After School workshop, children ages three to six will explore a similar curriculum. And in the Art Explores After School Art Immersion Program, which is geared towards kids between the ages of seven to 12, they will help students develop their artistic abilities, as well as investigate different mediums, techniques and processes.
In addition to Barking Cat’s fall after school class lineup, they will also have weekend classes for toddlers ages 18 to 48 months. They also have a Craftastric-Saturday for neighbors of all ages!
Merbaum’s passion for the arts has taken her on a unique, fulfilling path. It is her genuine enthusiasm for the classes she teaches, and the neighborhood she lives in, which have helped her to grow a successful business out of something she loves. As Merbaum’s Barking Cat Studio continues to grow, she is sure to continue to touch the lives of those who come to make art with her.
Barking Cat Studio is located at 219 Greenwood Avenue. It can be reached by calling (718) 686-1132 or emailing [email protected].
First photo via Karen Merbaum.