Laundromat Project links art and community
Arrows chalked on sidewalks guided the way to art and activism in Hunts Point on Sept. 21.
They led to Lucky Laundromat on Lafayette Ave., to Bronx Auto Glass on Hunts Point Avenue, to The Point Community Development Corp. on Garrison Ave. and to the many murals that brighten the walls of local buildings.
It was first-ever Hunts Point Field Day, sponsored by an arts group called the Laundromat Project, which has been engaging residents at the Lucky Laundromat all summer.
The Laundromat Project’s mission is to “bring art programs to where our neighbors already are,” the place where they wash their clothes. It seeks to help residents of modest means in communities of color to explore their creative side through exhibitions and other artistic endeavors at the local wash-and-dry.
“We want to bring the art that’s already there out and cultivate that,” said Akiva Steinmetz Silber, the Laundromat Project’s development and communications associate. “I think it’s just a great opportunity for us to get to know people better and let residents get to know us better.”
At Lucky Laundromat during the field day, visitors found face painting and crafts, and artist-in-resident Art Jones, who displayed his “Portrait of the Community as a block” a project showcasing the voices of local residents.
Since May, Jones has visited local stores to talk with owners and customers and record stories of Hunts Point life—what people say they need and what they are getting from their community.
He brings each week’s recordings to the laundromat for patrons to enjoy while their clothes tumble in the machines.
“I had signs up that simply said, “Please listen: these are the voices of people in your community,” and it was wonderful to see everyone, especially the kids, put on headphones and listen to the stories,” said Jones of the field day. “People were really engaged.
When the Laundromat Project moved to Hunts Point a year ago, its organizers immediately recognized how important the neighborhood’s colorful murals were to its history and culture. For the past year, the project worked with the local artists responsible and worked to engage the community in that rich tradition.
Hunts Point has been the home base of the famous Tats Cru graffiti artists since the 1980s, and their murals can be seen all over the peninsula.
It’s hard to miss the four-story tall “Live Better” mural on Hunts Point Ave., sponsored by the Majora Carter Group, which also participated in some of the five recently-completed murals executed by local students under the sponsorship of the nonprofit organization Groundswell.
A tour of area murals began at The Point, where visitors could also snack on what project organizers called a “cultural feast,” provided the Hunts-Point-based BLK Projek, which was showing off the refurbished school bus it plans to use as a mobile food market was.
Carey Clark, The Point’s visual arts director led the tour of the “Village of Murals,” a project she directed to lead from the residential section to the East River and the South Bronx Greenway.
“It’s an arts community that has grown up in a very difficult area that’s rife with environmental and social injustices, so a lot of the art is geared towards those issues,” said Clark.
“I think art is a natural antidote to all of those things, either the act of making art or going a step further and making art that has strong content, so I think that makes for some very high quality work,” she said.
Christopher Lopez, a professional development fellow with the Laundromat Project, played recorded interviews with local muralists to tell the story behind the work at each stop. He hoped the project will lead to more mural tours.
“That’s an example of the sustainability of the Laundromat Project–putting something here that can last for a longer amount of time,” Lopez said.
Crystal Clarity, one of the artists from Groundswell who worked on “Bronx Rising” and the “Live Better” mural on Coster Street, walked along with the group to show her support for the project.
“Similar to what mural art does in a community, the Laundromat Project is doing in making creative practice and art accessible to communities and bringing it to peoples’ day to day lives, which is something that museums, gallery spaces and the rest of the art community does not do,” said Clarity.
Residents responded positively. Silber said drivers pulled up to the table he set up outside of Bronx Auto Glass all day long to find out more about the program.
“I loved it,” said Shamilia McBean, a festival attendee. “I’m a big proponent of community-based art and the way it brings people together. It’s important because it can inform people, and it’s important for people of feel involved in what’s going on.”
“It doesn’t stop at the field day,” said Jones. “This is something that is going to continue on.”