Marchers demand cleaner air, healthier food

By Rachel Brown for the Hunts Point Express

Dozens of Hunts Point residents marched with nearly 400,000 demonstrators in the People’s Climate March in Manhattan this past Sunday, calling on world leaders to make drastic changes, all the while chanting slogans such as, “The South Bronx is under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Local marchers gathered at 9 a.m. with the Bronx Climate Justice bloc at La Finca del Sur community garden in Mott Haven, and started the day with some yoga, a contrast to the huge cardboard fists people would soon carry. Led by two yoga instructors, the marchers were encouraged to remove their shoes, spread their toes, feel grounded to the earth and breathe deeply, bringing calm to the already palpable hustle of the day.

Representatives from Sustainable South Bronx, South Bronx Unite, the Green Worker Cooperatives, Mothers on the Move, Percent for Green, The Point, Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition and La Finca del Sur then took turns outlining their platform points, from waterfront access to healthy food. Most of the groups also made the point that while climate change affects everyone, vulnerable communities such as Hunts Point often bear the brunt of the negative impacts. Another common theme among speakers was that the people have solutions for the issues they face, and lawmakers need to listen to them.

By 9:30 a.m., the group dispersed to take the 1 train to Central Park West, where the citywide march began. A faction of the crowd instead mounted bicycles, and several riders wore lime-green gas tanks labeled with “Stop FreshDirect” stickers to symbolize the health effects that the company’s diesel trucks would bring into a community already burdened with very high asthma rates.

“As a mother whose daughter grew up with asthma, I decided to join today,” said Candace Adams of Morrisania, who rode her bike to midtown after the Bronx gathering. The South Bronx bike group later joined with a larger bike bloc, a group advocating for divestment in fossil fuels and calling attention to bicycles as an environmentally friendly way to get around the city.

Also on the bicycle route was Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, one of the co-founders of Boogie Down Rides, a Bronx-based cycling group. “As a South Bronx resident, at a time when the city is making decisions that affect us, I’m here today because I want to be a part of that,” Ramos-Fermin said.

Longwood resident Nicolás Dumit Estévez said he was participating in the demonstration to be united with the people of the South Bronx who are routinely neglected by the city government. He suggested that climate justice is connected to race, class and gender. “There is a reason we refer to the earth as mother,” Estevez said. “I think we need to change that idea to lover. We have to start loving the earth.”

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite, a coalition working to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the area, was also one of 38 international civil society delegates to the United Nations Climate Summit held on Sept. 23. He marched along while monitoring the FreshDirect parade float, which was the size of a delivery truck and bore the message, “FreshDirect aims to bring 1,000 daily diesel truck trips through a South Bronx community where 1 in 5 children have asthma.”

“Hopefully I will have the opportunity to bring issues facing people every day in the South Bronx to the world stage,” Johnson said, interrupting himself to tell marchers to watch their step, and, a second later, to pick up the pace. “And I hope that the governments will create a binding agreement on carbon emissions.”

“Sustainability with Dignity!” was a phrase on Alicia Grullón’s Percent for Green sign at the march. Through months of conversations with Bronx residents, she has drafted the Percent for Green bill, which would require that city-funded development projects dedicate 5 percent of costs to public green space. The youth activist program A.C.T.I.O.N and the circus program from The Point could likewise be seen marching, juggling and holding up a banner that read “The Bronx is Breathing.” “It feels amazing to be part of a huge march like this,” said Twahira Khan, a long-time Bronx resident and volunteer with the Bronx River Alliance. “When you’re in a small community trying to solve problems, it can feel overwhelming. But when you know that others are out there working on the same issues in their communities, it’s inspiring.”

‘Boogie on the Boulevard’ to Turn Grand Concourse Into Thoroughfare for Recreation

By: Erin Clarke for NY1

Link to original article and video

A popular event from the past is being revived that will close the Grand Concourse for three days this summer and turn it into a wide thoroughfare open for recreation. NY1’s Erin Clarke filed the following report.

No vehicles, not even one, will pass along a stretch of the Grand Concourse for three days this summer.

Instead, live performances, music, workshops and more will fill the space as part of Boogie on the Boulevard.

“This idea of being open, inviting community to bring children, bring their families, bring their friends and have fun here,” said Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, curator at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

The event revives the tradition of car-free Sundays, when nearly the entire length of the Concourse closed every Sunday of the summer. It stopped in the ’90s.

“I remember when I was younger, when the concourse on Sundays was closed and all I would see was bike riders and people walking around, and there was this big sense of community,” said Ed Garcia Conde, a blogger with Welcome2TheBronx.

Several community partners are bringing the idea back as a way to showcase the borough, its people and culture, and to encourage healthy lifestyles.

“It’s good to have it for the community, but they should have been done this a long time ago to all the people that get to see different cultures of everything that is going around this city,” said one member of the community.

Another goal of Boogie on the Boulevard is to start a conversation among community members about the Grand Concourse.

“Folks can reimagine the Grand Concourse, where they can look at how they would improve the Concourse or changes they would make so that they can have it, have better access to it all year-round,” said Jill Guidera, filed organizing manager with Transportation Alternatives.

Organizers hope to open a dialogue about the roadway, especially since Transportation Alternatives found that similarly constructed roadways accounted for 60 percent of fatal crashes or serious injuries citywide.

“It’s still sometimes referred as the Boulevard of Death because the cars are really zooming and racing by,” Conde said. “I really would love to see it be more pedestrian-friendly, also friendly for bikers and rollerbladers like myself to be able to experience that. Do we really need all these lanes for cars?”

They’re questions that will hopefully get the wheels moving in the direction of change.

Boogie on the Boulevard will be held on August 3, August 10 and August 17.

WADE IN THE WATER AT BRONX RIVER ART CENTER

http://www.bronxnet.org/plugins/hwdvs-videoplayer/jwflv_html5/player.swf

Hautey Ramos from Bronx River Art Center is back to discuss the Waterfront event happening at Bronx River Art Center.

GUEST BLOG: Global to Local, environment and space – ideas from around the world

Excerpt

By Maria Adebowale (Capacity Global) for  Local Trust

Boogie Down Rides: Bicycling as an art (New York, America)

Boogie Down Rides was set up by artists who use bikes and art to start conversations about improving local space and how people access it.

Elizabeth Hambey and Hatuey Ramos Fermin, the two artists who set up the project, were keen to show how riding down a street can be a starting point for turning a place around. The conversation starter they used with the local people they met focused on how bike riding helped to encourage a cycling culture or make an area even safer. If more people felt comfortable riding bikes around the neighbourhood then more people using the streets and lanes could help to reduce crime and give an area a buzz.

Talking about bikes helped people to start thinking about why areas feel unsafe to ride and what the solution might be for people living locally.  Elizabeth and Hatuey noticed that more local people started using a bike, mending their bikes or learning to ride (particularly women) for the first time.

For some residents cycling represents the ability to get outdoors and explore their local green spaces.

To find out more about Boogie Bikes click here.

Citizen Placemakers: Elizabeth Hamby & Hatuey Ramos Fermín Use Art to Bring People Together

By  for Project for Public Spaces

Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos Fermín are people connectors. As artists, activists, and Bronxites, their creative collaborations are all about gathering information from neighbors and presenting it in ways that allow communities to better understand themselves and the urban spaces they create. The two have worked in all kinds of public spaces, from major thoroughfares and street corners to laundromats, grocery stores, and vacant waterfronts.

Recently, they organized Boogie Down Rides: Bicycling is Art. The artists used the social act of biking as a springboard for talking with people about the creation of healthy, active urban environments. Throughout the month of May 2012, they set up many different formats for engaging the public: a temporary bike shop that simultaneously served as an education hub, group rides across the Bronx, and visioning workshops about biking and greenway initiatives in the city.

The project was organized as part of the public art exhibition, This Side of Paradise, by No Longer Empty at the Andrew Freedman Home. I recently sat down with Hatuey and Elizabeth to talk aboutBoogie Down Rides and the other urban projects they have in the works.

 

What was it about your community that inspired Boogie Down Rides? Was there a particular need that you were responding to or wanted to address?

Hatuey: Boogie Down Rides grew out of another project of mine, Transmit-Transit. It explored the idea of taxi drivers as a mode of transport in the the Bronx, and the need for cabs to move around. Public transit in the north-south direction works well but east-west not so much. No Longer Empty first approached me about that transportation project, which became a video installation at the Andrew Freedman Home that connected the gallery space to the outside world. Then we began thinking about how to physically and conceptually expand transportation within the community. Transportation was a major theme extending back to Mr. Freedman’s time, with Mr. Freedman being a major backer of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), New York City’s original underground subway. The IRT addressed the linking of open space from Central Park to Van Cortlandt Park. Extending the idea of Transmit-Transit beyond cabs, we wanted to look at bikes as another viable option to address mobility in the Bronx.

One of the great things about Boogie Down Rides is how it brings together many activities that people may not normally associate but which all contribute to healthy places. Your tagline, for example, is Bicycling is Art. Can you explain how biking, public art, and urban spaces are linked in your project?

Elizabeth: Instead of representing reality as a painting, we live it on a bike. The bike embodied action for this issue of transportation in the Bronx, where biking is a social act and a political act. Instead of designing a solution to a problem, we tried to figure out the questions that exist in real life through the experience of biking. We both live in the Bronx. It’s part of our day-to-day reality, and because we’re artists, we have a compulsion to make what we see public. We often talk to people about the role that artists play as citizens and neighbors in our communities. We hope our work as artists can help make our neighborhoods more safe, lively, and liveable in many ways.

The project also involved community visioning sessions for the Bronx’s longer-term development. What came out of these sessions?

Elizabeth: The visioning sessions were really spearheaded by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which was just launching an interactive toolkit to gather data and address threats to active transportation and public space. They were key in leading some of the concrete visioning work happening around the Sheridan Expressway, where dangerous connections make it unsafe to bike between the parks. Rather than focusing on cause and effect, the visioning sessions were about figuring out opportunities for improvement. Safety—specifically, feeling safe in public—was an ongoing theme in the conversations we had with our neighbors.

Throughout your various interactions with the public, did you come across questions or reactions that particularly surprised you?

Elizabeth: One of the most surprising things that we learned from Boogie Down Rides was the number of adults—particularly women—who had never learned how to ride a bike, and who were very excited to find out about opportunities for biking in the Bronx. In the instance of another project, Mind the Gap/La Brecha, we talked a lot with folks in our neighborhood about their ideas for the waterfront. One of the critical components to the waterfront that came up over and over again was the basic need for clean public restrooms!

Collaboration seems integral to your work. What other community partners were vested inBoogie Down Rides?

Hatuey: Conversations and collaborations were important from the start; we worked with Transportation AlternativesDepartment of Health and Mental HygieneBronx River AllianceBike the BronxBronx Health REACHPartnership for ParksVelo City

Elizabeth: We also had a meeting with City Planning and the Mayor’s Office where we were able to show our recommendations. It was perhaps an unusual case in that the Mayor’s Office and City Planning came to us. Our collaborations really grew organically, and our project was timely in terms of how they related to conversations already happening in New York about biking, complete streets, and the South Bronx Greenway Plan.

And did people express any misconceptions that you were able to address through these collaborations?

Elizabeth: I think that artists working in public the way that we do are often confused with non-profit or other community-based organizations. We often talk to people about the role that artists play as citizens and neighbors in our communities—and the ways that we hope that our work can help make our neighborhoods more safe, lively, and liveable.

Any advice you would give to communities who are trying to build healthier places?

Elizabeth: You have to remember the factor of critical mass. If you notice a problem, someone else probably has too, so it becomes about working together in a long-term way.

Hatuey: It’s realizing there are already resources within the community, and that becomes the main point of departure. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel. You want to create space to bring stakeholders together.

Elizabeth: Also humility and willingness to listen and genuinely collaborate—those are really important, in regard to attitude. There’s a lot of work that goes into working together.

Hatuey: Listening is the biggest thing, listening with a big ear.

2 BX artists bring ‘Mind the Gap’ project to Mott Haven

2 BX artists bring ‘Mind the Gap’ project to Mott Haven by Bornx News 12

MOTT HAVEN – Two Bronx residents have launched a project in an attempt to bridge the gap between the waterfront and Mott Haven. ‘Mind the Gap’ is part of The Laundromat Project, which brings artists to neighborhood Laundromats to document what locals think about the waterfront and how to improve access to it. The participants hope the project helps residents appreciate the area’s natural resources. ‘Mind the Gap’ will be stationed at the Blue and White Laundromat on East 140th Street through September.

Mott Haven Artists Transform Laundromat Into Interactive Art Site

By Patrick Wall for DNAinfo

MOTT HAVEN — With its rumbling dryers and stinging smell of detergent, the Blue and White Laundromat on East 140th Street is a fine place to wash clothes, but an odd one to dream about a river.

But that is what two Mott Haven artists are asking patrons to do as they conduct interviews outside the laundromat and invite passersby to fiddle with a whimsical model of the South Bronx waterfront, where popsicle sticks stand in for bridges and blue tape signifies water.

“Feel free to touch things and put things here,” said artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermín as locals approached the tabletop river. “Make your own little place along the water.”

Through the model, the recorded interviews, maps, photographs and riverside walks, Ramos-Fermín and his creative partner, Elizabeth Hamby, want to draw their neighbors’ attention to the South Bronx waterfront, which sits just a mile south but often feels a world away.

“There is a disconnect between people’s everyday experience here and the waterfront,” said Ramos-Fermín, noting that many locals travel some nine miles northeast to Orchard Beach or walk along the Manhattan bank of the Harlem River to spend time near the water.

The piece, which will culminate with a public presentation in October, was commissioned by The Laundromat Project, a citywide nonprofit whose residency program gives artists $4,000 to launch interactive art projects inside laundromats in the neighborhoods where they live.

Other artists have converted sections of laundromats into yoga studios, reading rooms and English language classrooms for immigrants — all with the blessing of the storeowners, who are not paid by the artists or the nonprofit.

The Mott Haven pair hopes their piece, called “Mind the Gap/La Brecha,” can connect residents with the ongoing efforts of local activists, city officials and urban planners from as far away as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge to convert stretches of Bronx waterfront from their old industrial uses into public spaces.

“A lot of plans already exist,” said Hamby, including ones for new riverside parks, pathways and a long-delayed footbridge to Randall’s Island. But, she added, there is a need to carry “that conversation out of those meetings and onto the ground.”

Riverfront access gained new attention this year when some Bronx residents loudly opposed FreshDirect’s plan to build a new 500,000-square-foot facility in the Harlem River Yards in Port Morris.

But when the art project began this month at the laundromat on East 140th St., talk of the water was far less contentious and much more personal.

After shoving her clothes into a dryer, an elderly woman told the artists that she loves dipping her feet in the water. A man passing on the sidewalk pulled out his cell phone to share a picture of his favorite beach in Puerto Rico.

Alex Alonzo, 9, played with the river model until he had designed his dream waterfront, with pipe connectors as telescopes, a plastic badge as a police station and a pack of pink wafers as a cookie factory.

Alex’s older brother, Alberto Alonzo, stopped folding clothes for a moment to imagine fishing and picnicking by the river.

“You sit by the water and feel the breeze and you feel relaxed,” Alberto Alonzo, 25, said. “You forget about the city.”

When the artists asked their neighbors about their visions for a reclaimed South Bronx waterfront, they mentioned shade, bright colors, swimmable water, security and, of course, restrooms.

“What this exercise reveals is that everybody has feelings about water,” said Hamby, while some young children pushed plastic fish through the blue-tape river. “It’s elemental.”

This Side of a Postmodern Paradise: No Longer Empty in the Andrew Freedman Home

By  

The two-month run of This Side of Paradise, the much celebrated exhibit by No Longer Empty, is quickly coming to a close. Last minute viewers have until June 5th to see the works of 34 artists occupying the Andrew Freedman Home (1125 Grand Concourse) before it closes this Tuesday.

Since the opening on April 4th, the exhibit has received over 2500 visitors and significant press attention, making it by far the most successful show for the nascent arts organization No Longer Empty. Founded in the heart of the recession by the prominent curator Manon Slome, No Longer Empty transforms the vacant storefronts littering NYC into temporary art exhibits. Slome, former curator of the Guggenheim, stresses that No Longer Empty’s unique vision does not produce ‘pop-up’ shows; their mission is rather to dissolve the barriers between public and private art through curated, site-specific exhibits which are truly inspired by the empty spaces they occupy. In this way the group also revitalizes forlorn streetscapes; a key part of No Longer Empty’s mission is to provide neighborhood benefits by fostering activity in and around their show spaces.

This Side of Paradise, however, differs from most of No Longer Empty’s previous exhibits as it utilizes a historic site rather than a commercial space. Looming over the 167th street B / D stop, the Andrew Freedmen Home opened in 1924 as a retirement home for former millionaires to live their last days in the manner in which they had become accustomed. Freedman, who died in 1915, used his eponymous project as an extension of his interests in life. He was known as a great connector and developer critical in the growth of New York around the turn of the 20th century. Freedman was a member of the controversial Tammany Hall development machine and a key financier of the original IRT subway line. His substantial wealth funded the Home’s operations until the endowment dwindled in the early 1980s, making the living conditions for later residents considerably less luxurious than Freedman originally intended.

Justen Ladda, German-born artist featured in This Side of Paradise, first noticed the Andrew Freedman Home in this period of decline. Ladda began exploring the South Bronx in 1970s for spaces for his installation pieces. “Coming from Europe,” Ladda said, “I can only compare the state of the South Bronx in the 1970s to Pompeii. Whole streets were abandoned and vacant, like some European cities after World War II. I noticed the Andrew Freedman home then- it was already derelict. The place was dimly lit, and you could tell that the residents were heavily sedated. I was able to enter the grounds and building and look around with no questions asked.” Ladda’s piece, “like money like water” (2012) acknowledges the tension between wealth, death and relationships. “My piece is about pissing money,” said Ladda, “how dead these people are who are constantly buying stuff to fill the content of their lives. It does things on a personal level, and also on a wider societal level, this influences our interpersonal relationships.”

 

Ladda’s piece transforms depending on the stance of the viewer. Similarly, the Andrew Freedman Home transforms depending upon the time and space in which the Home is seen. Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, the Executive Director of No Longer Empty, describes her first engagement with the Andrew Freedman Home much differently than Ladda: “My first impression of the home is the amazement that you don’t recognize it exists. It occupies an entire block and you don’t really notice it. The fence around the grounds still gives off its original air of exclusion; it remains a gated space.” Artist Frederico Uribe’s installation “The Fence” (2012) installed on the exterior gate, softens the Home’s disconnection from the Grand Concourse promenade. Similarly, show’s opening drew over 2,400 people thanks in part to the large blue flag flying in the front lawn with a simple word and message: “free.” According to Hersson-Ringskog, the show receives around 60 visitors each day, a record breaking average for a No Longer Empty show.

While the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council currently owns the property, it is no longer used as a retirement community. The Home is in a period of transition; the Council is renovating separate sections of the large building into a bed and breakfast and community arts and education center. This Side of Paradise acts as a bridge between the old and new uses for the space- the exhibit explores the Home’s captivating past and burgeoning future. Hersson-Ringskog describes the show as a celebration of “human ingenuity, the strength of the human spirit and the resilience needed to fashion beauty, hope and rejoicing.”

According to Hersson-Ringskog, Slome conducted over 60 studio visits to Bronx-based artists to ensure the show featured a cadre of local artists. Their pieces explore the different facets of the Home’s past, present and future. For example, Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin’s piece “IRT” (2012) indirectly alludes to Freedman’s impact on NYC’s subways while explicitly illustrating how Livery cabs fill in public transit service gaps in the Bronx. Bronx-based couple Hamby and Ramos-Fermin also collaborated with many existing community groups in the neighborhood to create Boogie Down Rides, a temporary bike shop near the Home. The shop was open throughout May and served the area with bike rentals and repairs. Boogie Down Rides also served as an outpost for residents to learn about the development of bike paths and greenways in the Bronx, as well as the new city-wide bike share. Hamby describes the couple’s work as a means of “bringing about meaningful change in the world. As citizens, neighbors and resident of this area, a better network of active transportation is something that {Ramos-Fermin and I} really want to see. It’s something that our neighbors value as well. Something that has a life beyond just a gallery.”

Boogie Down Rides is an extension of No Longer Empty’s Urban Initiative. An urban planner by training, Hersson-Ringskog described the Initiative as following the same site-specific model inspiring the exhibits: “We noticed that transportation was the issue in the Bronx, and so we formed our partnerships around this issue.” She continued to describe how “ No Longer Empty thrives on hybridity. We like the mixing of things- urban planning with professional art. We wanted to put the Andrew Freedman Home on people’s radars and foster visitors for its future programming.”

This Side of Paradise is open until June 5th.
1125 Grand Concourse
Thursday – Sunday
1 – 7 PM

This Side of Paradise

Rebecca Rothberg for Whitehot Magazine

The conflicted protagonists in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, Amory Blaine of This Side of Paradise (literary inspiration for the title of No Longer Empty’s exhibition) and Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby, are inherently nostalgic characters. Imbued with an innate yearning for what was, what never will be, they are both perpetually dissatisfied by and disillusioned with the present. A life with Daisy Buchanan is paradise to Gatsby; a fantasy personified, she is unattainable. Amory seeks admiration and popularity at Princeton amidst constant rejection. Both characters want desperately to fit into the seemingly glamorous worlds they feel constantly on the outskirts of. Paradise exists only in their minds, in contrast to the lives they live and the realities they can never escape.

Like Fitzgerald, Manon Slome, Ph.D., President and Curator of No Longer Empty, the nomadic organization established to revive and facilitate creative exchange in once-abandoned spaces, has orchestrated an environment of nostalgia and lost paradise in the Andrew Freedman Home. Once a respite for the wealthy who had lost their fortunes in the early 20th century, the home was denied funding in the early 1980s and has been deserted ever since. Thus, Slome’s bold new exhibition implores artists to examine the notion of paradise in juxtaposition to the present-day realities of the Bronx’s Grand Concourse, a place that, like the backdrop of Fitzgerald’s literary realm, was last alive during the Jazz Age.

Beginning with the Princess Ballroom on the first floor, Slome leads me through the 123-bedroom home a week before the show opens explaining that when the chosen artists first came into the space she told them they were free to scavenge for and use pieces of the house and various artifacts found in it wherever they may discover them. The first piece we examine exemplifies this creative repurposing of the past. In Nicky Enright’s audio sculpture The Ravages, the artist adorned an old piano found on the third floor of the house with antique typewriters also found scattered throughout the Andrew Freedman Home. About memory, decay and loss, evoking the fingers of the residents, this will be a sound piece – a precursor to what we call salsa music will be playing at the piano, the rhythm of the typewriters as percussion. This haunting son montuno speaks to both the building’s past and the Latin origin of many current Bronx residents.

“How did this project come about?” I ask Slome. She explains that No Longer Empty had been in operation for about three years when Holly Block, Director of the Bronx Museum, invited her team to come to the Bronx and collaborate with the museum. Holly initially envisioned the location of 900 Grand Concourse, which, in Slome’s words, was the diner of “a fabulous hotel where the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis performed when the Grand Concourse was in its hay-day.” However, as Manon explains, “the building manager of the Andrew Freedman Home met us there that day, too, and said ‘Guys, I have something so much better for you…’ He showed us this place and I immediately said ‘Done! I’ll take it!’ ”

The next piece we explore is a captivating installation by Cheryl Pope called Shove. A slew of Anniversary plates thrust into a wall, it begs the questions about what becomes of memory and how do we celebrate the passing of time. “Is it in your bones, or is it just something you observe by this kitsch?” Slome asks. The front side of the wall is a smooth façade, but the piece is multi-dimensional; when we walk around to the other side, it is apparent that it is all a set.

While the Princess Ballroom is about memory, the Bronx of the past, Slome explains that the next room we step into is very much concerned with the present realities of the Bronx. “One of the really big problems of the Bronx is getting around. It’s easier to get from the Bronx to Manhattan than from here in the South Bronx to Riverdale, so people rely a lot on gypsy cabs.” Thus, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín and Elisabeth Hamby’s work in the Executive Ballroom features an actual loudspeaker and top of a gypsy cab that will beconnected to a cab dispatcher in real time, with a video playing above it showing cabbies driving different routes around the Bronx that will be reflected in a nearby wall drawing of the Grand Concourse and various maps of the Bronx.

Walking up to the second floor, Slome explains that there will be a sound piece in the stairwell of all the artists reading sections from This Side of Paradise. In questioning Slome why she chose to appropriate this particular title, she replies by musing about the Jazz Age, thinking about when the Grand Concourse was in it’s hay-day in the 1920s when immigrants came from Europe, escaping up from the Lower East Side. “The idea of paradise came up right away because when you think of the Bronx and Manhattan and you say ‘paradise’, everyone would say it’s Manhattan. So the title is kind of ironic, but it’s also asking people to question what paradise is. Certainly for the early immigrants here and even for immigrants today, the Bronx is a Paradise.”

Upstairs, every bedroom utilized is devoted to a different artist’s installation; each one is completely different from the next, creating unexpected but welcome and thought-provoking juxtapositions. From an interpretation of a hip-hop recording studio, to a room of photographs from an old Village Voice photographer, to an immersive psychedelic environment, to a cheeky homage to Andrew Freeman complete with a note thanking him for enabling the residents to “live in denial just a little longer,” Slome’s Paradise is a fun-house for the wistful, the forward-thinking, and the provocative.

When I ask about her plans for the home and engagement with the public once the exhibition closes, she explains that the community definitely hopes they will retain a presence there in some way. “No Longer Empty is always going to be nomadic. I don’t want to ever have just one site where we operate, but I have suggested artist residencies for the building, which I think could really turn this place into a kind of cultural hub.” Entering the home on a rainy Saturday afternoon during installation, I expected to feel like I was walking into a haunted house; just the thought of a three-story dilapidated mansion in the middle of the Bronx was creepy. But with dozens of friendly artists and handymen working on getting the show ready to open, the home felt vibrant and very much alive. As youth culture in our generation, just as was the case in Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age, seems relentlessly addicted to the past, this house just might have a future.

For more information on No Longer Empty and This Side of Paradise, visit http://www.nolongerempty.org.

This Side of Paradise: A Bronx Art and Culture Hub

by Christine Licata for Artlog

Through June 1, the once insular and exclusive Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx has been transformed by site-specific exhibition facilitatorsNo Longer Empty into This Side of Paradise, a progressive arts and culture tour de force of thirty-two emerging and established artists, local cultural institutions, and community collaborations. Offering a rare historical and contemporary overview of the Bronx and its eclectic neighborhoods, the project expands the traditional notion of a site-specific exhibition space into an inclusive borough-wide experience.

In 1924 investor Andrew Freedman bequeathed much of his fortune to build and sustain a retirement home for the less fortunate—relatively speaking. These needy were defined as aging, wealthy individuals who had lost their capital worth. Known as the “poor house for rich people,” the Andrew Freedman Home was a free-of-charge, elite sanctuary where the once well-to-do could live out their lives without sacrificing their opulent quality of life. Located on the Bronx Grand Concourse and occupying a full city block complete with gardens, ballrooms, library, dining hall, industrial kitchen, and three floors of accommodations, the home maintained the illusion of wealth and status for its residents.

This sequestered reprieve came to an end in the early ‘80s when the Freedman Foundation depleted its funds. The Mid Bronx Senior Citizen’s Council then bought the building and currently uses parts of the space for Head Start youth programming and party rentals. The rest of the real estate has fallen into disuse, and despite the visible signs of dilapidation, its former affluence is still apparent.

Now, through the initiative of the art nonprofit No Longer Empty, the Andrew Freedman Home once again offers a wealth of opportunity, this time revitalized as public place for local and international contemporary art, as well as a participatory cultural hub for Bronx neighborhood projects, awareness, and education. For No Longer Empty’s President and Chief Curator Manon Slome and Executive Director Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, This Side of Paradise is an impressive testament to the organization’s mission to utilize “the history of spaces to unite communities and act as a springboard for artists.”

What remains of the Andrew Freedman Home embodies the paradoxical nature inherent within the concept of any “ruin.” Within the abandoned site, the crumbling failures of the past confront the aspirational possibilities of the future. As such, this fragmented, complex place echoes nostalgia while whispering the potential of becoming and renewal. The participating artists inThis Side of Paradise not only engage in this dialogue but also extend the discussion beyond the specific location to encompass the Bronx’s diversity, politics, and socio-economic issues.

Some of the artists focus on the phenomenology of architecture, combining the Andrew Freedman Home with experiences of its long-gone tenants, investigating their circumstances and environment with both poignant insight and ironic humor. Federico Uribe’s hypnoticPersian Carpet, on closer examination, reveals that the interwoven patterns of the 22 × 12’ floor rug are made from quotidian materials including hairpins, dominos, golf balls, cutlery, and crutches. These remnants of the independent life the seniors once had are seamlessly merged with tokens of their interdependent existence in the retirement home.

In contrast stands Linda Cunningham’s haunting, ten-foot-long installation of deteriorated drywall, peeling canvas, and broken windowpanes in Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival that incorporates photo transfers of excavated ephemera and personal documents that were left behind by the residents. The work powerfully manifests the sentimentality and loss embedded in the Andrew Freedman Home while alluding to the overall perseverance and tenacity of the Bronx.

Other artists employ The Andrew Freedman Home and its founder as a reference point in investigating the present day Bronx and interacting with local Bronxites. Freedman’s pivotal role in developing The Interborough Rapid Transit, NYC’s first subway and the Bronx’s main line, is alluded to in IRT, a collaboration between Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín. A complex psychogeographic project that ingeniously explores alternative modes of transportation, IRT contains a documentary of local Dominican livery cab drivers discussing their professional challenges accompanied by an installation of the roof of an authentic taxi cab that broadcasts real-time local dispatch radio transmissions. The other component is Boogie Down Rides, an interactive map with video interviews that survey neighborhood cycling experiences, as well as an offsite temporary bike shop for the community with rentals, tours, and educational workshops.

Influenced by the Andrew Freedman Home’s custom of appointing coordinators for leisure activities, Laura Napier and Carmen Julia Hernández have formed the congenially educationalActivity Committee. Throughout the duration of the show, all are welcome to discover the Bronx with organized social clubs like the Bird, Plant & Fish Committee and the Eating Committee, or even to start new clubs.

Artists also activate the Freedman Home by creating archetypical spaces that exist in their own spatio-temporal reality, somewhere between the past, present, and future. These works unite viewers in the experience of universal states of humanity. Gian Maria Tosatti’s Spazio #05contemplates the ephemeral nature of memory, the fleeting physicality of life, and the stark loneliness often experienced in communal spaces and crowded city dwellings. Erased by sunlight and the passage of time, the room is bare except for sterile metal furnishings and broken glass covering the entire floor.

This Side of Paradise presents an appreciation of the Bronx that challenges pervasive negative stereotypes and preconceived notions of violence and urban blight. For its size, the borough contains a greater percentage of parks and historical landmarks than any other urban area in the country and is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse counties in the nation. The Bronx has also long been an incubator for revolutionary, vibrant art and music scenes that are supported by historically important alternative and institutional organizations, many of which are collaborating with No Longer Empty, including the Bronx Documentary Center, Casita Maria, Lehman College Art Gallery, Longwood Art Gallery, The Bronx Children’s Museum, The Bronx Council of the Arts, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Bronx River Art Center, and The Point.

The exhibition opens the doors to all who wish to experience a broad cross section of the eclectic arts in the Bronx, either for the first time or perhaps to rediscover it anew. That sentiment, underscored by Nicky Enright’s vivid blue and green The Free Flag on the main lawn of the residence, declares the site a territory for all “global citizens” without borders. The Andrew Freedman Home now has a future enriched through artists and art education, cooperation, and outreach, once again demonstrating that cultural currency is the most enduring sign of prosperity.

Cyclists Plan a Month-Long Celebration of Bronx Biking for May

by Patrick Wall for DNAinfo

GRAND CONCOURSE — Waves of helmeted cyclists could come rolling down the Grand Concourse next month as part of a project meant to draw attention to the Bronx’s fleet of riders, while also highlighting the work that remains to make The Bronx a true bikers’ borough.

A pair of Mott Haven-based artists enlisted some of the borough’s most committed cyclists to help power the project, called “Boogie Down Rides,” that will include a series of free bike tours, workshops and town hall meetings throughout May, which is national bike month.

“There’s tons of people who ride in The Bronx,” said artist Elizabeth Hamby, who hatched the cycling series idea with her creative partner, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, as an extension of their transportation-themed installation in the Bronx art show, “This Side of Paradise.”

Boogie Down Rides, added Hamby, is designed “to take what’s already happening and ramp it up a few notches.”

The series is set to kick off May 6 with a pedal-powered “history ride” past landmarks along the Grand Concourse.

Other events include a free fix-a-flat-tire training, a Mother’s Day ride to the New York Botanical Garden and a brainstorming session about the Sheridan Expressway, a stretch of South Bronx freeway that one community group would like to close to automobile traffic on summer weekends.

Meetings are also planned to discuss reviving car-free Sundays along the Grand Concourse, the Bronx version of Manhattan’s Summer Streets, an annual event in the early 1990s that reserved several miles of the avenue for walkers and cyclists on summer Sundays. The event was discontinued in 1996, then reinstated on a trial basis a few years ago, but has since fizzled out.

Mel Rodriguez, a Bronx cyclist who in 2010 formed an advocacy group called Bike the Bronx, said he joined the Boogie Down Rides planning committee because he believes the month-long series could lead to longer-lasting changes.

“They’re bringing together leaders not only to discuss the event,” Rodriguez said, “but also how the event can be a catalyst for bigger things.”

Rodriguez and other Bronx bikers say cycling conditions in the borough have improved in recent years, but that more quality bike lanes are needed to make local riding safe and convenient.

Since 2006, the city has added 56.5 miles of new bike lanes in The Bronx — far fewer than the 102.8 miles added in Brooklyn, but more than the amount established in Manhattan or Staten Island during that period, according to the Transportation Department.

Several major Bronx roadways, including the Grand Concourse, Park Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, now feature dedicated bike lanes — though most of the so-called protected bike lanes, which are physically separated from vehicular traffic, are located in the north and east Bronx.

The Bronx also boasts 6.75 miles of Bronx River greenways, which are paved trails running through riverside parks such as Concrete Plant Park and Soundview Park.

But large gaps divide much of the greenway into a patchwork of disconnected trails, and plans for a similar greenway along the Bronx-bank of the Harlem River are still in their infancy, said Maggie Greenfield, spokeswoman for the Bronx River Alliance.

“The current infrastructure in The Bronx is not very bike-friendly,” said Greenfield. “There’s not as much connectivity as you might want.”

joint study by several city agencies of bike accident data from 1996 to 2005 found that Hunts Point was one of three locations citywide where a cluster of fatal bike crashes had occurred in close proximity, while the Central Bronx made the list of top three areas with a concentration of cyclist injuries.

(Since the study was published in 2006, the city has added hundreds of miles of bike lanes in an effort to improve cyclist safety.)

Though biking conditions may not be ideal in the Bronx, advocates say, many residents choose to pedal to school or work, as well as ride for fun and fitness.

Karen Rojas began cycling in college when she realized it was cheaper and faster to bike the few miles north from her home on 167th Street near the Grand Concourse to Lehman College than it was to take a train or bus.

Just a few years later, Rojas now interns with the bicycling nonprofit Velo-City, attends Bike the Bronx events, changes her own tires and leads long weekend rides with her family on her vintage cruiser, which she calls “The Transporter.”

“Before, you could count [Bronx cyclists] on one hand,” said Rojas, 23. “Now, you see them everywhere: families, ladies, people commuting to work in the morning.”

Still, some advocates say that the borough’s many bikers have set to form a cohesive community, which means that, for now, they are often overlooked by citywide cycling groups.

“A lot of people in The Bronx bike, but I feel like the mainstream biking culture doesn’t see them as part of their culture,” said Samelys Lopez, co-founder of Velo-City, which uses bike tours to teach students about urban planning.

Lopez said The Bronx teems with “biking subgenres,” micro-cyclist communities such as professionals who commute to jobs in Manhattan by bike, families who leisurely cruise together or young people who roll around skate parks on BMX bikes.

Boogie Down Rides presents an opportunity to unite the borough’s riders, which is a necessary first step, Lopez said, before they can push for more cycling resources, such as bike share stations, which the city is in the process of locating based on local demand.

“The people want it to happen,” Lopez said of the bike share and other Bronx cycling programs. “It’s just a matter of galvanizing the forces.”

Works by 32 artists show borough’s many sides at Freedman Home

By Amora McDaniel for the Hunts Point Express

Once known as the “home for poor millionaires,” an elegant mansion on the Grand Concourse has burst to glittering life as the home of a new art exhibit featuring 32 artists whose work meditates on the Bronx’s past and future.

Connoisseurs and artists mixed with hundreds of ordinary Bronxites at the April 4 packed-house opening of “No Longer Empty/This Side of Paradise,” which will run through June 5. Work, transportation, immigration, aging and the tension between reality and fantasy are some of the exhibit’s driving themes, all with local flavor as the common denominator.

“Art is about the community it is serving, and it’s very much a celebration of the Bronx’s culture,” said Manon Slome, the exhibition’s chief curator.

The show re-imagines the public rooms and bedrooms of the Andrew Freedman Home, built in 1924 as a haven for rich people who had lost their fortunes. Artists use broken glass and falling plaster, along with images of the burnt-out Bronx to symbolize the destructive years, and use cast-offs, including silverware and crockery, along with murals, videos, paintings, sculpture and photographs to create images of hope.

In a bedroom taken over by The Point Community Development Corporation, a video of “Village of murals,” the mural-lined route leading from residential Hunts Point to the South Bronx Greenway, plays on walls stenciled with flowers and foliage. As the video plays over the stenciled image of an African American girl, she appears to be walking down the industrial streets.

The brainchild of Carey Clark, the Mott Haven-based artists who heads The Point’s arts program, working with Lady K Fever, Alejandra Delfin, Sharon De La Cruz, Chen Carrasco, David Yearwood, Danny R. Peralta and the House of Spoof Artists Collective, the installation combines the pastoral with the political.The little girl is derived from the famous Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old who integrated the New Orleans public schools. Amid the flowers are stencils denouncing the deal to give FreshDirect a huge subsidy to relocate to Port Morris and demanding an end to violence against women.

In “Trades/Oficios/Metiers,” undertaken in collaboration with The Point, French photographer Martine Fougeron uses photographs to underscore the city’s reliance on the industrial waterfront of Hunts Point and Port Morris. Her photographs are mounted on baking sheets to emphasize their connection with artisanal trades like baking and canvas stretching. They portray a worker in a recycling plant walking toward his crane, a fish handler slicing open a huge fish, a baker posing with one of her cakes.

“Through art I believe you can aim to bridge a knowledge gap,” Fougeron said. “Show what are inside the trades, how they work, to the residents—first by the photos, and I hope soon with a large scale installation of the photos outside the industries.”

The multi-media piece “IRT,” by Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin of Mott Haven examines transportation in the borough, with a spotlight on commuters and the workers who shuttle them from Point A to Point B.

“IRT” encompasses a video installation focusing on livery cabs, maps visitors can fill in with specific routes to see how to get around and interviews with passengers and the drivers and motormen who get them to where they’re going.

Other artists focused on the younger crowd.

The well-known sculptor John Ahearn collaborated with children from a Head Start program housed in the Andrew Freeman House to create plaster casts of their hands as a way of introducing the kids to their creative capabilities early on.

“From a very early age, it boosts their confidence and lets them know that they can,” said Marcia Fingal of the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens council, which owns the Andrew Freedman Home.

Not only artists and connoisseurs were welcomed to take in the exhibition. Passers-by were encouraged to see the show, and many did so, joining the standing-room-only gathering.

“The lady said ‘Come, come in! Bring your girls! So I did,” said Maria Bibar, a mother of two. “We liked everything inside.”

Built to house elderly people who had been wealth but had lost their fortunes, the Andrew Freedman Home closed in 1983, and has since served as a community center. Across the Grand Concourse from the Bronx Museum of the Arts, it is now being recast as an arts and cultural space, and will also include a Bed and Breakfast.

“We want an inclusive and interactive relationship with the community,” said Fingal. “We want to make art and culture more inviting.”

The “This Side of Paradise” exhibit is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays between 1 and 7 p.m. For more information on Andrew Freeman House events, visit http://www.nolongerempty.org.

Artists of the Week: Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin

By Cathleen Cueto for Swings and Arrows

My dear friends Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, two Bronx-based multimedia artists, are gearing up for a couple of fantastic projects this month. First, they’re going to be a part of a group exhibition at the Andrew Freeman Home, a former retirement home for the formerly well-to-do ladies and gentlemen of old New York. This Side of Paradise will consist of site-specific work that will reference the space, sometimes using objects that were left behind by residents of yore. It is produced by No Longer Empty, an organization that uses vacant spaces around the city for exhibitions, it opens TONIGHT!, and I can’t wait to poke around and see what everyone’s done with the place. Liz and Hatuey will be presenting IRT, a multi-model installation that explores transportation issues in the Bronx, including a video installation about livery cabs, maps, and interviews. You can read more about it here and here, but if you’re in the NYC area, you should definitely come check it out in person at 1125 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY. The opening is from 6pm to 8pm, with regular exhibition hours Thursday to Sunday, 1pm to 7pm, until June 5th.

In conjunction with their piece at the Andrew Freeman House, Liz and Hatuey will also soon be launching Boogie Down Rides, a temporary bike shop and public education hub on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It will be open throughout the month of May hosting educational events, something they call “community visioning sessions,” and group rides, as well as providing information on ongoing cycling projects in the Bronx that include the development of greenways, bike paths, and bike shares. Visitboogiedownrides.tumblr.com for more details.

It’s more than just art—these two crazy kids are deeply involved and in love with their community, working hard to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives by teaching them that there is more to their neighborhood and history than they might realize; more out there that connects us all. I really admire them as artists and people and friends! And I can’t wait to see what they do to the world next.

– Cathleen

Uptown Palazzo Project

By RANDY KENNEDY for the NY Times

When the Andrew Freedman Home opened in the Bronx in 1924, it looked like a limestone luxury liner sailing up the Grand Concourse, a grandiosity that advertised its odd function: a privately endowed retirement home for the formerly well-to-do, those who might have lost their money but not their manners or manorial tastes.

“They were expected to have attained a state of reasonable culture,” commented an article in The New Yorker at the time, “and not to eat peas with their knives.” Freedman, who died in 1915, had been an owner of the New York Giants baseball team and a financier of New York’s first subway lines, and his unusual will created a retirement home as palazzo, with plush carpets, plentiful servants and formal dress required at dinner.

By the 1980s the home had fallen on hard times. And though the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council, which came to own it, has made good use of parts of it with a day care center, community programs and an events space, much of the rest of the vast building has been kept sealed off like a tomb, a time-capsule monument to the Bronx’s grand past, awaiting a new kind of future. In other words, exactly the sort of place that site-specific, history-scrambling, entropy-obsessed contemporary-art dreams are made of.

For the last several weeks a group of more than 30 artists — some well known, like Mel Chin, Sylvia Plachy and Bronx veterans like John Ahearn and the collective Tim Rollins and K.O.S. — have been at work in the home, turning old bedrooms and bathrooms into installations that mine the building’s eccentric history as a way of drawing in the life of the borough around it.

An exhibition of the pieces — organized by No Longer Empty, a nonprofit art group that got its start in 2009 by using spaces made vacant by the recession — will open April 4, granting the public access to one of the city’s stranger Gilded Age palaces for the first time.

“As a kid I used to walk by here all the time, and I never knew what it was for or what was going on inside,” said the painter and graffiti artist John Matos, better known as Crash, as he worked one recent morning on a subway-theme piece that will cover the walls of a second-floor corner bedroom.

For many years the landmark building, on the corner of East 166th Street, has existed in a kind of open-but-closed limbo. Its ground floor is almost always full of children, in day care and in a Head Start program. Two elegant ballrooms and a book-filled library above have been maintained for weddings and other events, and for several years the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a block away, held outdoor film screenings and other programs at the home.

But Walter E. Puryear, the Mid-Bronx Council’s project manager for the home, said that almost 60,000 of its 100,000 square feet remain closed off, and that art collaborations are one way the organization hopes to draw attention to the building and generate support for plans to make more use of it. The hope is to create a small-business incubator, a culinary training program and other socially minded businesses at the home.

“Beauty by itself is a wonderful thing,” Mr. Puryear said of using parts of the building as a kind of kunsthalle. “But beauty that inspires people to greater endeavors is even better.”

The artists involved in the project, titled “This Side of Paradise,” have been given free rein to rummage through the near-abandoned parts of the building, which have the look of a well-lived-in place left in a hurry: old turntables and VHS cassettes (“Double Dragon in Last Duel”); a black nightgown draped over a closet rod; a pair of plastic leg braces standing together in a hallway; a sheaf of Physicians Mutual insurance papers dated 1974, addressed to a man named Henry Ward.

The artists Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín plan to use an old hook board where the keys of dozens of the home’s residents once hung, labeled with plastic lettering tape that has memorialized only their surnames: Mrs. Kovacs, Mrs. Whipple, Mrs. Bosky, Mrs. Jimenez, the Echts. In one of the preserved ballrooms, the artist Nicky Enright recently created a musical assemblage out of a badly decayed Walters upright piano found upstairs; it now sits with old Remington, Smith-Corona and Underwood manual typewriters atop it like oxpeckers perched on a hippo. Many of the rooms on the third and fourth floors are filled with broken furniture and covered in snowdrifts of paint chips from the crumbling ceilings.

“When people said to me, ‘Are you going to try to clean up the hallways?’ I said, ‘No, there’s no way you can put a Band-Aid on something like this,” said Manon Slome, the president and chief curator of No Longer Empty, who was introduced to the building with the help of Mr. Puryear and Holly Block, the Bronx Museum’s director. “I think you have to start by working in the decay, and then as this place gets more funding, that kind of work can be done.”

Some is already under way, tentatively. Ten of the home’s old high-ceilinged rooms have been beautifully restored in a wing that will open in April as a small bed-and-breakfast, furnished with original 1930s and 1940s furniture that has been refinished and reupholstered.Cheryl Pope, a Chicago artist whose piece will feature a choir of strangers she met and recruited from Bronx streets and barbershops, recently spent a night in one of the rooms and said being alone in the cavernous building was a little more than what she had bargained for.

“It felt like I was in ‘The Shining,’ ” she said, adding that a caretaker, before leaving for the night, handed her a two-foot-long machete. “I said, ‘What’s this for?,’ and he said it was in case I came across anyone who broke in during the night. Nothing like that happened. There were just a lot of weird noises.”

But Ms. Pope’s installation, which involves an artificial, meticulously gold-leafed version of a paint-flaked ceiling, channels a more benevolent supernatural ethos, transforming two of the residents’ abandoned old rooms into more of a chapel than a corner of a haunted house.

“There’s something about those rooms, left the way they are,” she said. “They definitely have a holy quality.”

“HIP-HOP: THEN, NOW & TOMORROW,” PANEL on News 12

Bill Aguado, Bronx Music Heritage Center

The Shifting Communities Exhibition Series at the Bronx River Arts Center highlights the initiatives in culture and the arts that are currently instilled in American society. One of the goals is to bring together different cultures in the hopes of strengthening the artistic community.