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The Stories of FABLES: Miguel Trelles & Juan Fernando Morales-Nazario

After four months of exhibitions and public programs for Fourth Arts Block‘s latest public art series FABLES, the project will come to a close this month. Fourth Arts Block opened FABLES: a public art project to coincide with the first annual Lower East Side History Month in May 2014, to celebrate the beauty of our neighborhood, its community, and all the stories that pulse through its streets.

Though we are saying goodbye to the physical manifestations of these projects, we are very excited to share in-depth interviews from each of the artists involved in FABLES, and explore their cultural heritage and relationship to the ever-evolving Lower East Side.

To start things off, we have Miguel Trelles of “Posters on the Wall: Our Nuyorican Story,” a carefully curated presentation of Nuyorican Posters from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies‘ extensive image archive, with prints dated from the 1960s through the 1990s. In partnership with artist Juan Fernando Morales-Nazario, Trelles and Morales-Nazario toyed with the notion of a show within a show for this First Street Green Park exhibit.


Can you give some background into your work with Centro (Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College) and how the Posters on the Wall project came to be?

Back 1993 or so, as I was working towards an M.F.A. @ Hunter College, I became involved with the Wexler Collection of Puerto Rican prints at the Wexler Library. I volunteered and subsequently was paid to create a catalog for the collection, with an emphasis on Puerto Rican printmakers from the Island. It was on again, off again and then I graduated in 1995. It was a long and winding road until 2007, when as an adjunct for the Art Department at Hunter I was given the opportunity to curate an exhibiton of the Wexler Library Collection of prints for the Leubsdorf Gallery. The project came full circle and a modest but handsome catalog was produced. Centro, who has a library that has been my go to for many personal art projects (especially prints), and whose Journal I have followed throughout the years commended me on this Wexler effort and subsequently asked invited me to study their collection of Puerto Rican prints, with an emphasis on Puerto Rican printmakers from New York and the diaspora. The aim is to produce another catalog where I can delve into this fascinating subject.

"Posters on the Wall: Our Nuyorican Story" at First Street Green Park

“Posters on the Wall: Our Nuyorican Story” at First Street Green Park

What was your intention to allow the public to add their own artistic statements to your installation at First Street Green?

As visual artists we are cognizant of everyone’s artistic potential and we believe certain projects such as this, are enriched by public participation. Besides FABLES has set a very high (but constructive and fun) bar in public art projects that dynamize the Lower East Side and its rich heritage.

Do you have future plans for Posters on the Wall and the conversation it’s been fostering?

I definitely think the FABLES forum has paved the way for me to revise the essay I have been working in for the past year so that the catalog can be designed and printed sooner rather than later. Additionally there has been some interest in turning this into a traveling exhibition that after Centro, The Clemente Soto Velez Center, and FABLES, can visit university galleries especially in the North East.

How have some of the artists behind the posters responded to the project?

They have been supportive and seem amused that these time/place specific “notices” can be reactivated in different contexts thanks to the prescience of the Centro archives in collecting them. 

Have you received any interesting feedback on the installation at First Street Green?

My favorite feedback was an email forwarded by FABLES where a very concerned neighbor expressed dismay at the posters (in this case reproductions) where getting pummeled by the elements! More often the feedback came from Puerto Rican residents who had a “Proust” moment. It was also very pleasant to be warmly encouraged by the broader LES community at large who felt the project provided a fascinating glimpse at the travails, concerns and accomplishments of a community that neighbored their own or that they felt close to in some way or another. In other cases, and this was very gratifying, others expressed their excitement at becoming acquainted, for the first time, with our Nuyorican aesthetic. 

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What was the initial draw to applying for this project? How did you hear about it?

After premiering at Centro in 2013, Posters on the Wall was featured as the 2013 Borimix visual arts exhibition at the Clemente Soto Velez Center. The people at FABLES, Tamara and Keith, were then instrumental in inviting Juan Fe and myself to apply for the FABLES 2014 public art venues.

When you came across the application, did you have a pre-existing idea in mind or did the open call inspire a wholly new work?

Both. We were very prepared because Juan Fe Morales had carried out what I consider to be a highly attractive exhibition design. And yet the open call, the potential for outdoor site specificity, the highly contagious and supportive energy of Keith and Tamara (and the whole FABLES crew) and the glorious early summer hanging all contributed to infuse this iteration of Posters on the Wall with a unique appeal. A certain enchanting quality is best transmitted when the public at large, especially our Loisaida folks, decides to pay attention and interact with a project. . .

Was this your first public art project? Did the framework of “public art” change your approach in any way?

I truly think this was a first for me. I have done murals and have been involved in a remarkable NYC Loisaida Cultural Center atmosphere (the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center) since 1995. And yet, this project gave me the unique opportunity to project my scholarship and admiration for the Nuyorican aesthetic into the public arena in a way that made it so much more meaningful to me and, apparently, to other folks as well. And also, the curatorial process shared with Juan Fe, a fellow artist, a curator colleague and a friend, became ever more seamless.

Can you give us a quick glimpse into the inspiration behind this piece?

The remarkable opportunity to experience past “public” art (the poster) in a new context and a new era. We soon discovered that Nuyorican artists crafted prints/offsets that have withstood the test of time and still call a passerby’s attention. Our community and NYC has a collective memory that registered many of these icons so that they endure, and this art with a documentary purpose (the sublime poster), is much more fascinating for its dynamic mix of historical information and artistic means.

What was it like working on your location? Did the history or current use of your specific location have any influence on your project?

Working at the park was a blast. Shade and breeze in the sun thanks to the trees, people hanging out checked out the hanging, passerby’s commented, we had some loved ones get enthused helping us. . . It felt kind of like being Tom Sawyer painting that fence. . . Others wanted to join and whether physically or emotionally they did. Of course the location meant a lot to me. The Lower East Side/Williamsburg frontier has been a destination of the Puerto Rican NY diaspora since before the mid 20th century, when it became a true bulwark, along with El Barrio and The Bronx . Besides, Loisaida became a unique cultural epicenter thanks to Miguel Algarin, Pedro Pietri, Mickey Pinero, Bimbo Rivas, Jorge Brandon, Lucky Cienfuegos, Papoleto Melendez, Sandria Maria Esteves and many other Nuyorican poets that afforded the community a source of pride in good times and through bleak years as well.

Silkscreen print of one of the "Posters on the Wall" for a show at the Teatro de Orilla. Title translates to "Does this train stop at Delancey?"

Silkscreen print from “Posters on the Wall.” Title translates to “Does this train stop at Delancey?” performed at Teatro de Orilla (214 E 2nd St.) in 1972.

How would you describe your relationship to the Lower East Side? How did it permeate into your work for this project?

It has been a love affair full of bliss. “Storm and stress” and also some form of civic commitment, enchantment, disenchantment, re-enchantment and more commitment. In short, it has been wonderful. These days, when things are good (and I arrived here late, in the mid 1990′s when things were improving but latinos were finding it increasingly hard to stay, definitely diminishing the neighborhood’s real life vibrancy) it seems difficult to imagine the epic struggle of so many to survive and even improve the neighborhood around them. I feel humbled by their efforts and encouraged to advocate a neighborhood where all kinds of folks from all walks of life can share–and if not to actively help each other, at least respect and celebrate the differences. Allow me to quote Bimbo Rivas “Loisaida” (1974)

. . .una mezcla, la perfecta

una gente bien decente
de to ‘as rasas
que estiman
que te adoran
que no saben explicar
lo que le pasa
cuando ausente de
tus calles peligrosas

si te aman
A ti, mi hermosa Loisaida

O what a town…..

even with your drug-infested
pocket parks, playgrounds
where our young bloods
hang around
waiting, hoping that
one day when they too
get well and smile again
your love is all
they need to come around.
Loisaida, I love you.
Your buildings are
burning up
that we got to stop.

Loisaida, my love,
Te amo.

How has this project inspired or fostered ideas about how to integrate your community and history into future work?

How to integrate the NY, Loisaida and especially the whole Latino/Puerto Rican family into art and culture projects is perhaps the best way to describe the mission of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Education Center, where I have the privilege of working as an artist, programming exhibitions and serving on the board. Thanks to the Puerto Rican/Latino performers and artists in the centers as well as the many other artists that work there we are constantly looking for and finding new ways to bring Latino/Puerto Ricans into contact with all kinds of art and theater (FringeNYC, Cutlog, etc.) and all kinds of people to experience Latino/Puerto Ricans art and theater (Borimix, Open Studios, etc.).

Curators/Artists Miguel Trelles (left) & Juan Fernando Morales

Curators/Artists Miguel Trelles (left) & Juan Fernando Morales

 

What are your thoughts on the current state of the LES? Hopes, dreams, fears, hesitations? 

As with many historic neighborhoods what has been gained in safety, security and general quality of life improvements has often represented a loss of diversity due to growing unaffordability. Whereas this trend has been both good and bad, it sometimes appears as if Bimbo’s dream will remain unreachable to the children and grandchildren of the people that worked to make it happen. For now, the greatest hope is that new developments consider the plight of former longstanding residents forced to evacuate, but that we don’t shoo away newcomers either, so that young artists and recent arrivals can find a spot and that we develop job opportunities beyond bartending.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

Borimix Puerto Rico Fest 2014 is around the corner. The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center has hosted this festival Manuel Moran and I have worked on for almost a decade. Produced by Sociedad Educativa de las Artes (SEA), the Festival opens in November and includes theater, music, art etc., seeking to mix in Puerto Rican culture and artists with the New York matrix. We showed Posters on the Wall here in 2013 and this year we will hang a group show, Aquous Fervor, of work allusive to water and its imagery in the poetry of Julia de Burgos. Please join us.

Digging into Dance Block: A FAB Minute with Fatima Logan

We continue this month’s Dance Block spotlights with dancer and choreographer, Fatima Logan.  Fatima has been using the Dance Block program for over a year now, and has become a welcomed regular here at Fourth Arts Block.  Fatima is the Artistic Director of Vashitidance Theater, a company that strives to combine live music and dance to uplift the community.  We were able to speak with Fatima briefly to get her perspective on Dance Block.

What initially attracted you to the Dance Block Program?

“We practice and perform with live music, and where we were rehearsing before some of the teachers were complaining about the our drumming.  I needed to find a space that wasn’t inside a dance school so that there wouldn’t be any conflicts with sound.”

How does the space influence your creative process?

“We use the space to set new work, but also to rehearse existing work.  Sometimes we get invitations to be in festivals or performances that may have a time limit that is outside the length of our current repertoire. I’ll use space to re-stage pieces so they fit the requirements for a particular performance.”

What aspects of the program do you find most beneficial?

“I like that scheduling is really easy. I don’t have many complaints about the program.  I can come in to the office, take care of what I need to take care of, and then be on my way.  When I do come into the office, everyone is friendly. The Dance Block program is very friendly, approachable, and is low hassle for artists.”

Our latest FAB Minute video includes some of Fatima’s upcoming projects, as well as some clips of how Fatima and her dancers use the Dance Block program.

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Below are sites you can visit if you would like to know more about Fatima, Vashitidance Theater, or any of Fatima’s upcoming events!

www.vashtidancetheater.com

https://www.facebook.com/VashtiDanceTheater

For more information on our Dance Block program, visit http://fabnyc.org/spaces

Digging into Dance Block: A FAB Minute with Dante Brown

This month we have been meeting with Dance Blockers to see what they’ve been up to, any events they want more people to know about, and their thoughts on the Dance Block program as a whole.  Choreographer and Artistic Director of Dante Brown | Warehouse Dance joined the Dance Block program back in March 2014, and graciously agreed to sit down to talk with us.

Why are the studios that we offer so appealing for you?

“I have dancers coming from Astoria, dancers coming from 34th street, and several dancers coming from Brooklyn. So we definitely use Dance Block as a hub, it’s a good central site for all of us to come together”

How does the space influence your creative process?

“In terms of rehearsals, the studios seemed removed from everything.  We can investigate ideas; it feels like we are creating a world outside of our everyday lives. [The program] allows up and coming choreographers to incubate the space to find their voice as artist, which is important for any dancer, performer, or artist trying to anything in this city.”

What is something you find successful about the Dance Block Program?

“I feel very supported.  I think the staff does a beautiful job of supporting the chaos (all of the needs of choreographers) and really providing order and structure for me to make work.  I think it is rare to have a staff that is so caring, especially for artists who can be a little disorganized sometimes. The staff is definitely top tier!”

What if the Dance Block Program wasn’t around?

“If this program wasn’t around, it would be really expensive for me to keep rehearsing at the level that I am rehearsing at now.  $10 for these resources is very rare. I have come across some studios with the same price, but don’t provide the same services that Fourth Arts Block provides.  I have used other spaces, but it just feels comfortable here.”

 

Hear about Dante’s upcoming projects, and get a preview of the incredible work he’s been creating through Dance Block in our latest FAB Minute:

 

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Check out more of Dante’s work and his upcoming shows here:

www.dantebrownwarehousedance.com

www.facebook.com/dantebrownwarehousedance

www.instagram.com/dbwarehousedance

 

If you would like more information on our Dance Block program, please visit us at www.fabnyc.org/spaces

 

Digging into Dance Block: A FAB Minute with Alex M Schell

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a choreographer making new work, rehearsing with dancers, and preparing for performances? Well, you’re in luck because this month we are highlighting a few members of our Dance Block program!

Dancer, choreographer, and artist Alex M Schell has been in the Dance Block program since October of 2012, originally drawn to the program’s affordable rental rates and central location. Currently, she has been using Dance Block studio space to go over material, remold existing work, and experiment new ways to generate dance. Alex has utilized almost all of our various studio spaces.

“What’s particularly helpful for me, is having a lot of different space options. [Each space] really helps me generate new material, to have new ideas, and to refocus my energy on how the audience is going to watch [the piece]. ”

Alex M Schell shared a few of her upcoming projects with us in the FAB Minute below, along with a peek into her rehearsals. She is the founder of A Motion Scape Project and has several exciting events going on the next few months!

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Check out Alex M Schell and her company here:

http://alexmschell.wix.com/create
https://www.facebook.com/amsproject

Learn more about the Dance Block Program here:
http://fabnyc.org/spaces

Cooper Square Committee hosts First Tenant Rights Walking Tour

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While celebrating Lower East Side History Month, Lead Organizer of The Cooper Square Committee, Brandon Kielbasa shares this post on their first ever Tenant Rights Walking Tour:

The Cooper Square Committee’s Tenant Rights Walking Tour was designed to deliver basic “know your rights” type information for tenants along with nuanced tips on how to organize their buildings and engage the larger tenants’ rights movement.

The tour  concentrates on the problems tenants face in the LES, and highlights how tenants have come together to organize their buildings, creating a successful means for pushing aggressive, speculative landlords. The tour will speak to everything from the very first steps tenants need to take (talking to their neighbors and calling 311) to some best practices in organizing (coming together quickly at the first sign of trouble).

The tour is approximately 90 minutes long and this first version of the tour looks at organizing efforts in five different buildings throughout the LES. Some  buildings have direct connections to one another, while others are connected by shared issues, or by the approach tenants took to organize against their landlords. Though many of the buildings featured are/were rent regulated, the tour will also delve into the larger considerations tenants should be knowledgeable about when organizing in any building.

The Cooper Square Committee intends to continue doing these tours and produce one annually. We hope to make this an ongoing cycle, and for the tours to become a part of our regular educational programming. We expect to add stops on future tours based on the issues that are currently trending in the community, in addition to looking at outstanding organizing practices, and patterns of real estate speculation.

We feel that by offering tenants’ rights educational programming in different formats that we might attract LESers and other NYers who might be less likely to attend general tenants’ rights workshops. In the end, we hope the tours will be a new and interesting way for us to continue to get tenants the knowledge they need to defend their homes and their communities.

Written by Brandon Kielbasa

March 27: Rent-Freeze Rally & Press Conference

rent_freeze

“Come One, Come All” to join forces and make a difference! Join our Member of the Month, Cooper Square Committee and the Urban Justice Center March 27th @ 9AM, 1 Centre Street (The Municipal Building), and let our voices be heard, not silenced, and our words spoken, not ignored!

rentfreeze

Photo by Jefferson Siegel

Join a coalition of city-wide tenants, advocates, and elected officials get together and reform the rent guidelines and policies of NYC. As The Rent Guidelines Board meet, CSC hopes to demand the Mayor’s new Board to vote for what all New Yorkers need –  A RENT FREEZE!

If you’d like to join the fight: Meet 9 AM SHARP at 1 Centre Street (The Municipal Building) March 27th. You can find more information HERE or call Jaron Benjamin from Met Council on Housing at 718-864-3932

rentfreeze

Tenants called for no rent hike before Thursday’s R.G.B. vote at The Cooper Union

Frigid New York Festival 2014

I’ve been familiar with Frigid New York for the last two years, but this was my first year in attendance. Always a bit hesitant of these free-for-all festivals, I carefully chose my picks of a long list of options– Petunia & Chicken by Animal Engine and Basic Help by StrangeDog Theatre. My choices were easy ones; I knew of Petunia & Chicken from their hugely popular, sold-out summer showcase during last summer’s miniFRIDGE, and I have long been familiar with the excellent writing and humor of StrangeDog since seeing Bootstraps last fall.

Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown of Animal Engine

Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown of Animal Engine

Thankfully, both of my choices were excellent. If the only association I had to “clowning” was Animal Engine’s aesthetic, I’d strive to be a clown myself someday. Full of wit, impeccable timing, and the most creative uses of a shawl, a bowler hat, and two spoons I have ever witnessed, Petunia & Chicken is the ultimate American love story. Weaving together three classic novels by Americana author Willa Cather, Animal Engine’s sole members Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown prove themselves as masterful storytellers, embodying what feels like a dozen characters each (including a scarily believable senior Bloodhound). In less than 90 minutes, the range of emotions  evoked feels true to a lifelong epic.

Gavin Earl Johnson and Megan Greener in "Basic Help"

Gavin Earl Johnson and Megan Greener in “Basic Help”

Along a much more linear – yet still rewarding and provoking – emotional line, Basic Help is the story of two people caught in the “vast emptiness” of their lives. The story’s two characters collide during a customer service call over the case of a broken blender, forming an unusual relationship. With such a special show (that should be seen), I’d rather not give the details away. All that needs to be known is that with the help of two exceptional actors at the helm, StrangeDog has mastered the skill of approachable yet surprising theater, making it feel personal and insightful to our contemporary human condition.

With two great shows, my first year of Frigid was a rousing success, wishing I had the time to see more. If you have the chance, take it. Excellent theater at an excellent price, what could be better?

Petunia and Chicken continues at the Kraine Theater tonight at @ 8:40PM, and Saturday @ 3:40PM

Basic Help continues at UNDER St. Mark’s on Sunday, 3/9, @ 12:30PM

The Frigid Festival ends Sunday, 3/9. See the full schedule here.

Speaking in Buildings

Take a look at this fascinating and informative virtual tour of our block (and surrounding neighborhood) made by our friends over at City Lore. By focusing on their morphology, time constructed, context, form, typology, function, style, and technology, we can begin to understand the basic vernacular architecture of these buildings, and see how integral a part these structures played in the cultural history of the neighborhood. Check it out!

A few pages of the virtual tour of "Seeing East 4th Street: Vernacular Architecture in NYC"

A shot of the Greek Revival style columns of Horse Trade‘s entrance from “Seeing East 4th Street: Vernacular Architecture in NYC

Call for Applications: EMERGENYC

Are you an emerging activist/artist/performer who lives in (or can easily commute to) New York City? Consider applying to EMERGENYC, the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politic’s annual program to train emerging New York-based artists through a yearly program of workshops, lectures and other events.

Applicants must have prior experience in activism and/or various performance genres. The program welcomes applications from individuals enrolled in the City’s colleges and universities AND from those who are not currently pursuing formal higher education.

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Between April and June, participants will take part in weekly workshops led by George Emilio Sánchez as well as by invited artists such as Susana Cook, Fulana, The Yes Lab,  Peggy Shaw (Split Britches), Dan Fishback, Ed Woodham, Daniel Alexander Jones, and others TBD. The program will also include a teach-in on Performance (“PerforWHAT?”) led by Hemispheric Institute Founding Director and NYU University Professor Diana Taylor. (We are in conversations with other artists and activists for additional workshops/presentations—check emergenyc.org for updates). We ask applicants to define social issues that are important to them and to find a bridge to communities around those issues. Past participants have explored themes of racism, racial stereotypes, and racial violence; LGBTQ rights; war and human rights; gender and sexuality; religion; and gentrification, among others. They have created performance pieces around these issues, interviewed members of various communities, and led workshops in community programs (such as GLOBE/Make the Road New York), etcetera.

FIND THE APPLICATION HERE - DUE FEBRUARY 3RD, 2014

May is Lower East Side History Month

Logo B&WMay 2014 Marks First Annual Community Celebration of Lower East Side

 NEW YORK, NY – This May, more than thirty Lower East Side-based cultural and community groups are collaborating to launch Lower East Side (LES) History Month, an annual celebration of the rich, diverse history of New York City’s Lower East Side.

During May 2014, dozens of public events, exhibits, tours, and learning opportunities will take place at more than thirty sites, all within in the historical definition of the Lower East Side—which includes the East Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, and Alphabet City.

Conceived and launched by LES-based cultural and community groups, LES History Month aims to connect our present to our past, exploring how our history can inform and inspire our future.

Special kickoff activities will include a community picnic at Pier 42 with performances and activities for all ages on Sunday, May 4; and ‘Chalk LES’, an interactive project running from Friday May 2nd through Sunday May 4th, encouraging anyone and everyone to share memories and images of the Lower East Side on the city’s pavements.

Following these two kickoff events, there will be dozens of ways to engage with the history of the LES. Sample events include:

  • ‘THE NEWS,’ an outdoors music-theater work performed by teens from Downtown Art at multiple sites in the LES, based on a dozen neighborhood newspaper articles from 1914.
  • Presentations by both Good Ole Lower East Side (GOLES) and the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space on the history of activism in the Lower East Side.
  • Walking tours by the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, Lower East Side History Project, Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
  • FABLES, a mural series produced by Fourth Arts Block, exploring the Lower East Side’s living cultural heritage, rich history, and current issues in storytelling through public art.
  • Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant’s Illyria/Loisaida, a modern language take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, presented as theatrical and historical walking tour of the LES, led by characters from the play and featuring visits to local establishments and iconic locations.
  • Weekly Television and Livestream broadcasts of 28-minute biographies from the best of the The Lower East Side Biography Project.

A calendar of events, upcoming news and a list of participating groups will be available at the Lower East Side History Month website: www.leshistorymonth.org.  Interested individuals and organizations are welcome to participate. Please send your inquiry at http://www.leshistorymonth.org/invitation-to-participate/.

Twitter: #LESmonth
Facebook: LES History Month

Logo Design: Meredith Doby Designs
Photo credit: Meredith Doby (Magical Garden, Astor Place); Sally Young (E 6th & 5th St, Bimbo Rivas on Avenue C)