Creative Life in the Gateway Arts District
A few weeks ago I spent an hour of my Thursday at the Gateway CDC interviewing the Office Manager, Carol Binstock. I floated around the rest of the day on a pink tinged cloud. “I just had the most glorious conversation with Carol Binstock,” I breathed happily to Michelle Lee and Anne L’Ecuyer later that day at the Incubator Space. “I think everyone who talks to Carol has a glorious conversation,” Anne answered.
I sat down with Carol to “interview” her about who she is, how she got here, and what she’s working on now in regards to the Gateway Community Development Corporation. The interview turned into a conversation that felt more like a sharing of stories than answering questions. Talking with Carol felt like a combination between a meander down memory lane, a relaxation focused yoga class, and a spiritual empowerment seminar.
Carol told me, “there are certain of us who come down on the planet to hold the room. I hold the room,” she put her hands to her heart, “so no one goes flying away!” Sitting in that office with Carol I felt tethered and connected, she definitely held the room that day.
Carol is, at her heart, a teacher. “That’s how I view the world,” she said, being a teacher means “caring about people… having compassion for them, and also listening to them.” She chalks up this viewpoint to the five people who raised her, aunts and a grandmother, and in particular, “my Aunt Connie, she was like the baby whisperer.” These aunts imprinted some important life skills on Carol that can only be taught by ones we love, “caring, compassion, and that everybody is the same.”
Binstock entered her first professional job at the age of 16. “I worked for the Beneficial Finance Company, I worked with two vice president secretaries and president secretary. That was my first on the job training, they spoon fed me. They took me to my first play, took me out to my first restaurant, and I was just in love with the place.” When the company headquarters moved to Long Island, she moved on to the Greater New York Hospital Association, another “equally wonderful” job.
These two jobs, she said, were the ones that shaped her work ethic. They taught her, “to pay attention to detail, and that no detail is too small, every detail matters because it builds until you get to the final product.” It’s in the detail work that “builds character and teaches you respect for what came before and how a company got built.”
As I regard Carol surrounded by, what I deem to be, ancient file cabinets, stacks of old documents, and binders upon binders with obscure titles, I realize Carol is more than an Office Manager at Gateway CDC, she’s an archeologist. An anthropologist.
A woman trained in the art of discovering and respecting what was, excavating the foundation of the past, in order to help build a better structure for the future. Carol doesn’t reinvent the wheel, she completes it.
Carol discovered yoga thanks to 1969’s Woodstock. Because, “after Woodstock the whole yoga thing exploded.” She found the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City around 1970. After the class her friends looked at her and asked, “what happened to you… you look absolutely gorgeous!” She loved the deep relaxation, “the sitting still and being calm, I immediately got centered and was able to start meditating in like a second.” From there, a yoga teacher was born.
Carol’s journey to the Ashram is an intriguing one. If you want to hear it I recommend stopping by and asking her yourself. Suffice to say, she told me “I needed a place to chill… so I ran away to the Ashram.” Makes sense.
At the Ashram Carol very quickly was made the preschool teacher. She describes it as, “the happiest time of my life.” There also she met Alan Binstock, the man many of us know as Gateway Arts District’s Sculptor of Light. How did they meet? “He spotted me,” she said with a mischievous smile. “He met his match.” Over the 6 years she lived in the Ashram, “[Alan and I] used to go back and forth a lot,” but then, “something happened … the easiest way to describe it …. this time I got the cupid’s arrow.” She smiled, “we got married 3 months later … it was unbelievable.”
So how did Carol and Alan end up in Mount Rainier? “We outgrew the place.” They were all living in an old Tudor style castle at the Ashram, and “outgrew the place like crazy.” The whole Ashram moved down to Virginia and is now Yogaville. Instead of Virginia, the couple ended up in Maryland because Alan was to attend the architecture program at University of Maryland. “He did it in four years, very few graduated, I didn’t see him for four years.”
They ended up in their current home in Mount Rainier nearly 30 years ago thanks to a friend who bugged them to move to the neighborhood. “It took two years, we searched and searched and searched, and finally we found the house in Mount Rainier… 1986… oh my goodness… 29 years ago.” She smiled at me and the world seemed to pause for a moment as she said, “let me tell you, life goes by in a blink. Live every moment to it’s fullest.”
She told me then about a memory she had “at 5 o’clock this morning” about Alan and Mary Beth Shay sitting on the front porch talking about a grant they had received from the Mount Rainier Business Association to do research about the possibility of low-income housing for artists. “There was no money at the time, but they did that study.” And now Mount Rainier is home to HIP Homes and the Mount Rainier Artist Lofts. “That’s how it all began, and that’s why I’m here,” Carol gestured to the office and laughed, “coming full circle.”
“I feel really strongly about this community,” she told me, “I’ve seen it evolve… especially the Route 1 corridor and our neighborhood… it was a mess.” She followed with stories of liquor stores, prostitutes, abandoned homes and all the work that went into changing that vibe. “Finally the whole thing just broke down. I’ve seen a lot of amazing revitalization.”
Carol came to the Gateway CDC through her love of this community. “I’ve never really looked for a job,” she said, “when I’m needed they’ve opened up.” Her journey to the Gateway CDC began last December (2014) when she started to chat with board member Laura Rogers at a 39th Street Gallery opening. Having previously been a business manager for 8 years, Carol saw a space where she was needed. “So I called Anthony [Henderson],” she told me, “and he says ‘what are you doing right now? Come on over.’ So I did and we sat here and that was it!” She clapped her hands together. “Boom!” I said, “boom!” she repeated. She smiled, “it was a boom.”
Carol came to the Gateway CDC and immediately began to fill what she saw was lacking: connection. “People should not feel disconnected, should not feel alone, coming to work everyday is not easy, to do your tasks is not easy, to stick to them is not easy, to see them to completion is not easy… and I feel like I fill in those gaps to keep people connected.” She looked at me sternly and told me, “you can’t come into the world knowing all this stuff, that’s why you need each other to share, to teach, to learn. “
These days in the office Carol does a lot of filing, categorizing, and helping bring the organization back on track. She described it as “basic stuff nobody knows about because it has to be behind the scenes.” Carol told me the Gateway Arts District is on track to succeed. “I wouldn’t have bothered to work, to come back to work, they took me out of the mothballs to get here, if I didn’t see the potential for this Gateway Arts District to succeed. I see a hub of people working hard to make it work.” She continued, “You can’t rush it. A lot of people want to rush it. It’s not possible. You have to be patient. Do good work and build on that good work. Build upon a good foundation. Starting with the brand new filing system” she laughs. “We’re here to serve all the artists, the community,” and, she concluded.
As I packed up to leave after the interview, I told Carol I simply had to see some photos from her and Alan’s wedding at the Ashram. The next week when I was in there she had brought the album. As she flipped through it showing me photos of the cake her friend made, her students who held ribbons making up the aisle, her and Alan, young and beautiful, the smell of vanilla filled the air. “What is that?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied, and we bent our heads towards the album. The vanilla scent was definitely emanating from it’s over 30-year-old pages. It seemed fitting that Carol Binstock’s wedding album would smell warm and delicious, like cake.
For those of you who still have yet to get to know the Gateway CDC and the incredible folk who work there, I encourage you to become a member and get some face time with Mrs. Binstock.
She holds the room, and that room has enough space for you too.