Building Community

A massive renovation will help The Steel Yard become a year-round arts hub

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When Howie Sneider was growing up in Syracuse, New York, he knew he was creative. He liked photography, and he had plans to go to RISD. But if he’d ever thought of becoming a sculptor, that dream felt like a dead-end; there were no teachers, no materials, no spaces for large-scale metalworking.

“I didn’t have the benefit of having a Steel Yard in my community,” says Howie, who first tried welding at a continuing education class. “It’s rare to have sculptural experience at a young age. It takes a lot of resources.”

Today, Howie is a prolific sculptor – as well as executive director of The Steel Yard, the industrial-scale art-making facility on the edge of Providence. An early resident artist, Howie has watched the workshop grow since the early 2000s. He knows how valuable this workspace is, not only for the 500 students who take classes there each year, but for the 10,000 visitors who attend cultural events, most famously the Halloween-themed “iron pour.”

Since December, The Steel Yard has undergone a profound renovation, nicknamed the “Super Studio”: The historic building is gaining 35 percent capacity, becoming fully ADA accessible, and will replace its century-old electrical system. Workers have removed asbestos-laden materials, replaced old windows, and installed a 40KW solar array. Most importantly, The Steel Yard will gain a comprehensive heating system; instead of closing each winter, the facility can stay open all year. Classes will resume in the upgraded Super Studio this summer.

“Generationally, access to building and making things was considered very vocational,” says Howie. “I think our society is getting to a new era, where we’re understanding more holistic needs in education – and in people.”

The Steel Yard is an open facility, and no walls divide one tutorial from another. The staff hopes that renovations will preserve that openness, while also cutting down on the noise and distraction that can bleed across sessions. As before, multiple media skills can be practiced on the same site at the same time, including welding, blacksmithing, jewelry-making, and ceramics in the kiln yard. Many of these classes are subsidized or free.

“That’s the core DNA of The Steel Yard,” says Howie. “Shared studio, shared tools. It’s very technical stuff. But we teach it through creative processes. We try to get students thinking about the possibilities.” 27 Sims Avenue