Art / Culture

Marking the South Bronx’s culture

Courtesy of Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education

Chat Travieso Yeju Choi PLAY BRONX is one of eight proposed cultural trail markers that will be presented at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education on Saturday, Dec. 13.

At Casita Maria, markers created for Culture Trail

A series of megaphones, decorated by local graffiti artists and playing site-specific sounds and music, could soon appear on the street poles of some of the most historically significant locations of the South Bronx.

This is one of the eight design proposals for the explanatory markers that will be installed along the South Bronx Culture Trail, a virtual and physical walking tour that aims to preserve and recognize the cultural heritage of the neighborhood.

The proposals will be presented on Saturday, Dec. 13, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education on 928 Simpson St. The contest was created by Casita Maria in collaboration with two non-profits, City Lore, dedicated to protecting public spaces and community landmarks across the city, and Dancing in the Streets, a local organization that produces public performances.

The proposals will be on view until Jan. 7, 2015. Visitors can choose their top three designs, and votes cast by the public, along with those of the South Bronx Culture Trail Advisory Council, will determine which concept will be selected for production.

“We try to teach a lot about local history, and through the South Bronx Culture Trail, we want to celebrate local community sites that are former or current cultural centers,” said Sarah Calderon, executive director of Casita Maria. “For us it is very important that our community helps vote because those community members are going to be, hopefully, a deep part of the trail.”

The 12 markers along the Culture Trail will highlight the cultural heritage of the neighborhood, from the 1913 Loew’s Boulevard Theatre on Southern Boulevard, to the jazz and Latin music scene’s historic Hunts Point Palace, to Casa Amadeo, the oldest continuously run music store in New York City.

Despite the diversity of medium and content, the proposals all share a singular passion: to preserve the cultural history of the neighborhood for future generations. Sculptures, mixed-media assemblages and installations are all used to express the artists’ and designers’ impression of the historical value of South Bronx culture.

The participants in this contest are: design firm Acconci Studio; artist John Ahearn; architectural firms Beyer Blinder Belle and Cooper, Robertson & Partners; Mott Haven-based artist Linda Cunningham; graphic designer Keith Godard; designers Chat Travieso and Yeju Choi; and artist Duke Riley.

Cunningham’s “Shards of Bronx History” is a series of transparent glass fragments that frame historic photos showing what the sites looked like in the past.

“I often work with found materials, as they speak for the community and the culture,” said Cunningham in explaining her technique. “But in this case I wanted to do something permanent that can really reflect something about the community. Shards of glass represent the broken past of the neighborhood.”

Artist Duke Riley’s project, “Honoring the Bronx’s Past,” is a series of 24 x 12-inch granite stone markers each sand blasted with a drawing that depicts an aspect of the site’s history.  

Keith Godard’s project combines the vibrant colors of Caribbean and Hispanic art with children’ drawings and symbols of the point along the culture trail..

John Ahearn’s Clasped Hands.

John Ahearn’s bronze plaque  is life cast of 4-year-old children’s clasped hands, inspired by a piece he and Rigoberto Torres installed in the Bronx many years ago.

The architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle proposed “You are Here / Estás Aquí,” a series of three panels organized around the topics of history, community and identity of the neighborhood.

Brooklyn-based design firm Acconci Studio presented a project that uses retail clothing as its raw material, which would be cut and hung from metallic structures.

The sounds of the Bronx are celebrated in Travieso and Choi’s proposed “Play Bronx” marker, an installation of graffiti-decorated megaphone speakers that, activated by a button, will play music and audio materials connected to the history of specific South Bronx sites.

“We wanted to use the existing built environment, what is around there, both as an inspiration and also as a support structure,” said Travieso “We also wanted to play with that sort of vernacular, of language that you see on street signs.”

“South Bronx Blue Band,” an interactive project by the design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners, proposes a series of contour-shaped markers evoking the blue banner on the Bronx borough flag. The markers were designed to sit on discs that “would orient the viewer with north-south-east-west coordinates and provide interesting and informative narrative on the specific site.” In addition, the markers will carry a QR code that, once scanned, would display historically important cultural events of that location on the viewer’s phone.

“The cultural markers are very important to enlightening the past for the people of the present who ignore the history of the South Bronx,” said Bobby Sanabria, a Bronx-based musician and member of the Culture Trail Advisory Council. “This is very exciting, and it is representative of the cultural renaissance that the South Bronx is going through right now.”

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