April de Simone talks about "A View from Kelly Street" as part of The Big Rethink

Community Impact of Designing the We’s “The Big Rethink”

February 20, 2018

(top photo) April de Simone, co-founder of Designing the We, giving a tour of “The Big Rethink”

 

In November 2017, The Laundromat Project launched our Community Artist Residency. Out of our Kelly Street Collaborative space, Bronx-based artists and collectives can engage with Hunts Point/Longwood residents through 3-month, interactive projects. Our inaugural artist-in-residence was Designing the We, a for-benefit design studio with members based in the Bronx. They installed an exhibition “The Big Rethink” in our Kelly Street Collaborative space, designed to challenge local residents and visitors to imagine novel approaches to reclaiming their neighborhoods and public space, especially in the context of City Council’s recent approval of the Bronx’s Jerome Avenue, and ongoing issues with New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

 

“The Big Rethink” was personally significant for Designing the We’s co-founder, April de Simone. While growing in the Tremont section of the Bronx, April experienced a built environment negatively shaped by urban planning policies intended to perpetuate inequality and disparity—especially in communities of color. April and the Designing the We team believe that learning, understanding, and sharing this history of how communities reach “a point of gross inequity and disparity” is important in light of the development, gentrification, and displacement currently happening throughout the Bronx.

 

To inform the exhibition’s content and make it as accessible and relevant as possible, The Designing the We team did extensive archival research and met with different residents and stakeholders around the Kelly Street community ahead of the installation. April emphasized that the point of this project was about “how we use and talk about design in the built environment” and “getting residents to start thinking and perceiving what is their built environment.”

 

“Design informs everything: it’s design of policy, how our laws work, economics. It’s all design thinking that produces outputs that either reinforce or disrupt dominant perception.”

 

- April de Simone

 

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Designing the We presented what can be a complicated subject creatively through visualizations in digestible, interactive pieces. The collective wanted to awaken visitors’ personal connections and show neighbors and everyday people that they have value to add to the urban design and policy conversation, and process. Local groups such as Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and the Black Student Association at Pace University participated in programming for “The Big Rethink.” often paired with a screening and discussion of a related documentary, including “Citizen Jane” and “70 Acres in Chicago.” April observed that the youth were empowered to use this knowledge for change in their communities, with a young resident asking her, “How do we share with elected officials what we want to see in our communities?”

 

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The Big Rethink’s “A View from Kelly Street” section, which comprises of archival photos, maps, and research.

 

For April, “it was great to hear the youth share their different perspectives, and more importantly how they have the power to control narrative through documentation and archiving, which is what the section ‘A View from Kelly Street’ [was] about.” This part of the exhibition was designed as a living archive of the neighborhood for local residents. As participants discovered connections between the history of policy and zoning and subsequent development or demolition in the area around Kelly Street, they contributed documents, photos, and notes from their own research and stories to the archive.

 

DESIGNING THE WE CONNECTED HISTORIC AND CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLES OF HOW HARMFUL RACIAL AND CLASS PERCEPTION RESULT IN LIVED REALITIES SUCH AS OTA BENGA AT THE BRONX ZOO, LUNG BLOCKS, THE WATER CRISIS IN FLINT MICHIGAN, AND THE U.S’S HISTORY OF FORCED STERILIZATION AND EUGENICS:

 

Though Designing the We’s 3-month exhibition and project at the Kelly Street Collaborative ended in January 2018, the team plans to expand “The Big Rethink” and its archive section to new sites in the Bronx. Each satellite site of this exhibition will also feed into Designing the We’s NYC “WeLAB” permanent exhibition space at Andrew Freeman Home home, which is where April and her team will continue to learn, map, design and connect with neighbors, institutions, professionals, and beyond.

 

Notes left by residents and other visitors in response to questions posed throughout the exhibition:

 




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2018 Note from our Executive Director, Kemi Ilesanmi

February 20, 2018

Photo by our Executive Director Kemi from her travel in Havana, Cuba of an Afro-Cuban dance performance at the Hamel Alley Community Art Project.

 

We are already in the second month of 2018, yet experiences and lessons from 2017 continue to resonate in our work at The Laundromat Project.

 

I’ll start on a personal note. I love to travel. I’ve visited 40 countries and 42 US states and territories. I love being immersed in the unfamiliar—people, places, languages, histories, and perspectives. Last year was no exception, and three travel experiences stood out in particular. Last April, I joined a group organized by Hester Street Collaborative and Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to visit Cuba for a week. I especially cherish the afternoon we spent at the National Literacy Campaign Museum in Havana. During an incredible 1961 campaign, thousands of Cuban youth spread out into the countryside to teach 700,000 of their fellow citizens how to read and write. Cuba now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In August, I learned about the Women in Black movement at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This Balkan-born and now worldwide feminist movement fights for justice and peace—while using creative and performative methods that contemporary artists would find familiar. And they have stopped wars. Lastly, in December, I visited the boyhood home of Leopold Senghor, the poet-president of Senegal from 1960-1980. His commitment to art and culture as central human tenets continues to resonate across his beautiful country today.

 

 

In these histories, I found inspiration and affirmation for the community-attuned work that we do at The LP. At our 13-year mark, we are looking inward and outward, backwards and forwards through a strategic planning process that began last year. In collaboration with board, staff, and Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani of Buscada, we are asking ourselves what it means to be a POC-centered organization that nourishes and leverages socially-engaged artists and creative practices towards freedom in the 21st century. We want to know what artists need to ethically work in tune with community and what communities need to manifest their own dreams alongside artist-neighbors. We have visited and learned from amazing peer organizations such as Arts East New York and Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn and Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia. We have conducted focus groups and interviews with our artists, program participants, partners, neighbors, and supporters. We know we are stronger in unison so we are using this process to intentionally build community. We are also looking under our infrastructural hood to see what resources—financial, human, social, intellectual—we will need as an organization to grow with integrity and impact. Ultimately, we are asking: What does The Laundromat Project need today to build towards an imaginative future for all of us tomorrow?

 

 

 

A recent interview quote by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative reads, “… the policy work is critically important, but it has to be married with narrative work that does work on the hearts and minds.” The Women in Black, Cuban “Maestra”, and Mr. Senghor all knew the expansive power of a changed narrative, especially within and about themselves. At The LP, we believe our work is similarly grounded in visioning, and then manifesting, new stories of self and community—for and about people of color and those living on modest incomes in New York City. Our self-determined narratives are our sanctuary—a theme we will continue to explore across all 2018 programs.

 

We look forward to concluding our strategic planning process later this year and sharing a vision for a change powerful enough to touch our hearts and minds.

 

In the meantime, speaking of self-determined narratives, Happy Black (Panther) History Month!

 

Onward,

Kemi Illesanmi

Executive Director, The Laundromat Project




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Meet Kevin Ruano, Programs Intern

February 15, 2018

Get to know Kevin Ruano, our new Programs Intern:

 

So, what made you decide to intern with The LP?

The Laundromat Project’s mission to proliferate access to the arts in local communities mostly composed of people of color instantly attracted me. I strongly believe members of communities The Laundromat Project prioritizes have the ability, intuition, and vision to truly transform and challenge contemporary artistic and social thought. My hope is that with The Laundromat Project I can facilitate their creative processes.

 

Do you have your own creative practice? If so, tell us more!

I would describe myself as a “diary artist”. The poems, photographs, and videos I create are amateur pieces of art at best that relate to my thinking and feeling of the day. If together they form a trajectory or vision its coincidental not intentional—I promise.

 

Can you tell us about an artist or project that has inspired you?

I am heavily inspired by the work of the Cuban-American artist, Ana Mendieta. She purposely created her “earth-body” sculptures with the intention to deconstruct what I think of as the violent dichotomy between the human body and other organic (vegetable and animal) life imposed by colonialism. Her thoughts and works inform, in particular, my developing relationship with nature, its elements, (including) my body, indigeneity and the feminine.

 

What is your favorite… film?

O abraço da serpente directed by Ciro Guerra

 

…album?

Transa by Caetano Veloso

 

…food?

Mouth watering açai and coxinha.

 

Where do you do your laundry?

The basement of my college dorm building.

 

In your opinion, why does art matter?

I like to imagine art as being the home and medium of the creative philosophers of our day. That said, I definitely believe art to be a major catalyst for critical thought and social change.

 

Follow Kevin on Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/kevinantonix/

 

Kevin Ruano is a Salvadorean-American raised in Washington, DC. He is currently a senior at Columbia University studying Comparative Literature and Latin American and Caribbean Studies.