top of page

VENUE SPOTLIGHT: A Conversation with Kevin Dolan - Founder of Brooklyn’s Hip, New Music Venue Nation

Article by Miranda Woody

What once stood in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the now most hip and happening neighborhood in New York City) as a literal factory has become the area’s premiere music and arts venue. The venue is called National Sawdust (still going by the original monicker from its former factory days) and it houses musical performances of all kinds. From musical art shows to improv to digital concerts, National Sawdust strives to house only the finest, most cutting-edge performances on the NYC music scene. Who is to thank for this beautiful revitalization of the arts in Brooklyn, you might ask? None other than the founder of the new National Sawdust himself: NYC tax attorney Kevin Dolan. I got the opportunity to speak with Dolan on the phone this afternoon and he and I engaged in a wonderful Q&A conversation.

Q.) Hi, Kevin! Thank you for speaking with me this afternoon. I have to ask: first of all, what inspired this whole thing? What made you look at this old, dilapidated building and think, “this could be something new, something incredible”?

A.) Well, I had another building in the neighborhood that was a town house structure, long and narrow. I already had the idea to do this project, in other words, before I found this particular building. I had hired a team of young architects to work on the project, and they told me the original building I’d purchased (the town house) was not going to work for the type of venue I had in mind. So, I went on the lookout for another structure in Brooklyn and I happened to find National Sawdust. It had the dimensions I was looking for in the neighborhood I really liked, so it was perfect.

Q.) So the original name of the structure was, in fact, National Sawdust? You didn’t change it at all?

A.) No, we didn’t change it. It was literally the name on the building when we purchased it. The legal name of our non-profit is Original Music Workshop, though. That’s our legal name as a non-profit organization, just to clarify. The venue, however, is named National Sawdust, and that is where we operate as an organization. Basically, after purchasing the structure we went through a branding exercise and discussed so many names and possibilities and tag lines, but given the location and demographic in the area I decided that no one above the age of 35 could vote on the name of the venue. So, the younger members of the team deliberated and we kept National Sawdust— we had to have a name off the fly when we gave the paperwork to the state of New York, and they liked the name. We decided to just keep it and roll with it.

Q.) How long did it take to make National Sawdust (the structure itself) match your initial vision? Was it a long process?

A.) It took about five years to build the venue and finish it all— to make it look and feel exactly how we wanted. It was built in two phases, and we raised a lot of money to get the second phase done. We are a non-profit, after all, and we are always accepting donations. The work we did on the structure was immense— the only remaining parts of the original structure, actually, are the four outer walls! We took the roof off, we entirely redid the inside, everything.

Q.) That’s pretty incredible. What about the restaurant located in the building? Are they a part of National Sawdust or do they simply service the venue?

A.) Rider, the restaurant that occupies another part of the building, is a free-standing establishment. They are the other tenant in the building, essentially, but they agreed to service our performance venue; it’s part of the whole experience, if you ask me. Their food and drink selection is incredible and it adds so much to the National Sawdust experience!

Q.) How do you go about booking performances at National Sawdust? Is there a specific niche or aesthetic you’re looking to fulfill?

A.) Our artistic director, Paola Prestini, books the performances. She calls it the “discovery” process— any kind of music or musicians that do old things in a new way, or entirely new

things, we are attracted to. Paola seeks out those kinds of performances. Musical style doesn’t matter as much as ingenuity; we prefer diversity in our programming, so that people can experience new, innovative music in any number of genres. We host a rather large artistic board and multiple curators that work with us, and we have a few in-house artists that perform occasionally as well. They help us network with other artists, which is a plus. It’s like a spider-web, honestly— a large network of artists and musicians with a broad scope of opportunities available to us.

Q.) I heard National Sawdust recently hosted a performance featuring the winner of this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. That being said, I suppose the venue also hosts events that aren’t necessarily musical, correct?

A.) Most of what we do is music related, but part of what we do is multi-programming. That means that we do multi-media stuff with music; music along with poetry, art, drama, and so on. A lot of that is community based programming. For example, when we hosted this season’s RuPaul winner we had a “drag show”, which was part of our effort to reach out to the LGBT+ community. I use the term “drag show” loosely, because it was so much more than that. It was a part of the community building we try to do in not only this area, but all across the city.

Q.) That’s fantastic. So, how long ago did you conceive the vision for this non-profit organization? How long did it take to come to fruition? Are you happy with how it all turned out?

A.) Before we opened, which was nearly two years ago now, the non-profit had already been a seven year long project. The project started smaller in my mind and now it’s morphed into something quite large; something much larger than I’d contemplated initially. I never dreamt it would be this gorgeous (in terms of the facility itself). Really, it’s right on target in every aspect. The critical success of our performances has been wonderful. The artistic as well as the broader community really get what we’re trying to do, and it’s just been wonderful. It’s better than I could’ve dreamt.

Q.) Is there anything else you’d like to add about National Sawdust while I have you on the line?

A.) The only other thing would be that this project is entirely “artist lead”, which is a rare institution in this industry. We are a non-profit organization that allows artists to lead and shape our mission. It’s a rather unique situation and it fulfills a critical part of what we’re trying to do here. Also, like all non-profits, we are always looking for donors. Anyone can make a donation at, if they would like to do so!

Any donations or general inquiries can be made to National Sawdust through their website, Their contact information can be found there, as well as a schedule of their upcoming performances, a list of their team members and house performers, and so on.

Related Posts

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
bottom of page