Art / Culture / Environment

Using Art to Make Change

Angely Mercado

Participants in “Art Sustains” broke into groups to discuss how art can influence public affairs.

Advocates want Hunts Point declared a cultural district

Sixteen-year-old Jordan Phillips thought riding his bike from his home in Hunts Point to a local park would be good exercise. Instead it made him sick.

“There’s a whole bunch of industry around, and as I’m biking there’s an awful smell I didn’t want to breathe at all,” he told a gathering at The Point on May 9.

The group was at the community center  on Garrison Avenue for an event called “Art Sustains,” organized by The Point’s director of art education Carey Clark to discuss ways that art can contribute to improving neighborhoods.

The goal of the gathering, which was joined by representatives of other organizations, including El Puente, the Laundromat Project and the Bronx Children’s Museum, was to work toward recognition of Hunts Point as a cultural district, a long-time goal of The Point.

Phillips was part of a four-member group performed a skit in which art defeats invading trucks. They portrayed two people spray-painting a mural while two more simulated honking trucks zooming toward them. Once completed, the murals force the trucks to leave. Then to celebrate, the group began to dance to salsa music.

Moral? Banish what’s destructive, and residents will thrive.

“Culture in our opinion plays such a vital part in what makes a neighborhood livable, vital and interesting,” said Kemi Ilesanmi the executive director of the Laundromat Project.

The participants will gather again on May 30 at El Museo del Barrio. One of their goals is to find ways to sway policy that affects culture and show how the arts “make other things in neighborhoods thrive, such as economics, school, health and sustainability,” Ilesanmi said.

Ilesanmi and Clark are members of NOCD-NY which tries to recognize communities like Hunts Point that are centers for art and activism. Its members are currently working to convince elected officials to recognize such areas as cultural districts, by providing funds for arts programs that address pressing local issues.

In discussion groups, the participants considered such questions as the health and environmental concerns of their neighborhoods and the way the arts might address those concerns.

Groups took turns presenting their answers in different ways: through writing, drawing, or acting out their discussions using movement and sound, but not words.

Artist Hatuey Ramos Fermin, a Mott Haven resident whose own work addresses environmental themes, enjoyed the creative ways that the participants were able to conduct the discussions “It’s not just sit there and having a Power Point,” he said.

Fermin was grateful that some of the area’s biggest challenges, such as economic inequality, were brought to the table in hope of having more input at the meeting at El Museo del Barrio.

“It’s good to think about these problems in a creative way and how can we as community members, as neighbors, somehow work to find different solutions,” he said.

Hunts Point resident Seth Palm said he hopes the discussions at Art Sustains will make city officials aware that industry has injured local residents.

“Studies show that this neighborhood is high in asthma rates. It’s linked to the highways,” said Palm. “They know it’s there, but somehow it’s been ignored.”

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