Art / Food

Kelly Street neighbors unite around garden

Shawn Blagmon

Rob Foster digs in the Kelly Street Garden on Field Day.

Laundromat Project brings art to local gathering spot

For The Laundromat Project, this is a season of change. The non-profit cultural arts organization held its annual Field Day last month with the residents of Hunts Point in the Kelly Street Garden as a way to start a new tradition and bring back unity into the neighborhood.

The scene at the garden included tables with children and elders alike working together to paint and create art, games like hop scotch and jump rope, and displays of artwork around the garden and neighboring buildings. Participants seemed to be in high spirits across the board.

“The garden started for me as just something to do because of convenience, but when you see the positive effect it has on the community, it’s worth it,” said Fay Bonas, a visual artist and member the garden’s board whose work can be seen throughout the garden.

The Laundromat Project’s mission is to go into communities and amplify the creativity that already exists through art and culture, solve problems and build community networks. Started in 2005, the members believe that art and culture are the catalyst to turning strangers into a neighborhood. Hunts Point, along with Bed-Stuy and Harlem, are the organization’s three target areas.

In a separate program called Create Change, artists from The Laundromat Project, including Sasha Phyars-Burgess and Alison Hall, used testimony from members of the community to share the life, struggle, and love that comes with living in this neighborhood. Board members of the Kelly Street Garden and members of the community showcased the history of the neighborhood at Field Day through the art of storytelling.

The Laundromat Project has rented an apartment in 920 Kelly Street, and has turned it into something of a gallery, where artists have a year to transform the space.

“They could do what they want creatively that would work for the betterment of the neighborhood,” said Kemi IIesanmi, The Laundromat Project’s executive director. Written stories and photographs were spread across the walls showcasing local artists and their creativity.

Kelly Street, nicknamed Banana Kelly for its distinctive curve, is a block rich with history. At a time when buildings around the neighborhood were being destroyed by arson and abandonment, during the 1970s, the residents of Kelly Street created what is now known as the Kelly Street Garden. They started planting as a way to showcase their resilience during the rebuilding process.

The garden is now booming. With fresh veggies such as cabbage, tomatoes and string beans, the eight women who head the board are trying to grow more than food, said Yvette Ramirez, a program associate for The Laundromat Project. “While growing community,” she said, “we’re growing resources and opportunities.”

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