Author Archives: Emma Colón

  1. A moment of reflection & celebration

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    Dear Friends,

    Some moments demand a deep, belly-filling inhale and a long, audible exhale. Today is one of those moments.

    For 17 years, here at The LP, we have endeavored to build a national model of POC-centered institution-building and community-oriented arts pedagogy. Our work is built on a foundation of love and accountability to our community and one another. We operate with a deep, unshakable commitment to a shared vision––a world in which artists and neighbors in communities of color work together to unleash the power of creativity to transform lives. A heartfelt thanks to Hilarie Sheets and The New York Times for the platform to share our story and celebrate our community.

    → Check out the New York Times feature celebrating our beloved LP and Bed-Stuy neighborhood.

    → Read the transition press release

    In that spirit, I breathe in the love and breathe out gratitude as I also share news of my departure from this beloved institution at the end of the year. I want to make room for the next generation of organizational leadership and vision. My time at The LP–– five as a founding board member, two as a friend, and the past 10 as our first full-time and paid Executive Director––have been incredible. I am so lucky and humbled to have been tasked with this work. As The New York Times so beautifully captured across the chorus of voices, the commitment to the work of this organization extends beyond a singular individual and vision. Ours is a shared story.

    Graphic with portraits of Kemi Ilesanmi and Ayesha WIlliams on a black background.

    I look forward to watching with pride as the organization continues its transformative work under the inspired leadership of our current deputy director and next executive director Ayesha Williams. Meanwhile, we will focus on making this a smooth transition over the next six months, and look forward to celebrations this fall!

    In light & breath,

  2. Invest in Rest

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    A Black woman in a rested state is a radical act. —The Nap Ministry

    Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. —Audre Lorde

    I will turn 50 on December 16th. A week later, I begin a two month sabbatical that will be dedicated to resting, dreaming, reading, napping, daydreaming, writing, and just being still for a while. I look forward to this full body and mind reset at my half century mark.  

    This year also marks my eighth at the helm of The Laundromat Project where I began as employee number two in fall 2012. Since then, I have been inspired by dozens of Create Change artists, fulfilled the founding vision of a home in Bed-Stuy, and practiced abundance through art, change, and community across New York City. I am now one of 12 staff members and our budget has grown seven-fold. And thus, now is a good time to rest, reflect, and recharge for a moment.

    It was with abundance in mind last year that The LP overhauled our employee policies to be more in line with our values, especially those based on love and being people of color (POC) centered. We have a majority POC staff and fundamentally believe that if POC staff are thriving, then everyone thrives. With input from staff and full approval of our board, The LP’s new staff culture guide added policies on professional development, articulated guidelines of inclusion, and instituted a sabbatical policy for all team members, among other changes. Regardless of role, every staff member receives seven weeks of paid sabbatical leave for every seven years worked.

    In our POC-centered principles, The LP commits to nurturing leadership. During my time away, the organization will be ably led by Deputy Director Ayesha Williams and Director of Programs Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, with support from Board Chair George Suttles and other board members. We have a collective leadership system that has helped us successfully navigate previous parental and medical leaves. Each of these temporary absences has ultimately led to greater LP strength through useful organizational innovations borne of necessity and circumstance.

    And so, for the first several weeks of the new year (bye-bye, 2020!), I aim to be a Black woman at rest. My spouse and I will be spending most of it on the coast of central California on land stewarded by the yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe. As the health pandemic narrowed our geographic choices, we decided warm, quiet and beautiful were the most important criteria. While my husband works to strengthen national democracy, I plan to read fiction for the first time in a long while, conduct oral history interviews with family members, and to take frequent naps on the sunny deck of our rental home. I know from past experience that my mind wanders in the most glorious ways when I am at rest. Those free-roaming thoughts will surely inform and deepen my future work at The LP.

    I look forward to that and to sharing my reflections when I return in early March — refreshed, recharged, and ready to dive into The LP’s next chapter. I’m so proud to be part of an organization that walks our talk by prioritizing care and renewal for all members of our team. Thanks to Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry and ancestors such as Audre Lorde, we understand that rest is essential for the work ahead. Àṣẹ.

    Illustrations by Julia Mata
  3. Xenia Diente and Hollis King

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    Each year, our artist development program, Create Change, supports 15 to 20 artists developing their socially engaged creative practice through our Fellowship, Residency, and Commissions program. In 2012, we began asking our Create Change artists to pair up for Creative Conversations: open-ended creative exchanges to be published on our blog. Read on to meet our Create Change alumni.

    Hollis King, Public Artist in Residence and Xenia Diente, Professional Development Fellow met up one November evening for dinner and doodling. They met up two weeks after Hurricane Sandy affected NYC and the eastern United States.

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    Xenia: Can we talk about Hurricane Sandy?

    Hollis: OK.

    Xenia: I brought a sketchbook, markers, as we talk let us just doodle and see where it leads us. Is that OK?

    Hollis: Sure, I like it. I am excited, the fact we do not know where we are going to end up, feels right to me. Let us have fun.

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    Xenia: How did Hurricane Sandy affect you?

    Hollis: Sandy was a bitch to me, two sycamore trees sitting in my house.

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    Hollis: A few days later her cousin visited bringing snow and sleet.

    Xenia: Uninvited guests. Day 1 Hurricane Sandy and Day 8 her snowstorm cousin. Today is day 14… you still have no power? No light? No gas?!

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    Xenia: Where did the trees fall on your house?

    Hollis: Both of these trees belong to my neighbor, one fell to the front of the house causing some medium damage, the second fell to the back of the house causing damage to the roof and destroying one bedroom. The impact of the trees’ weight shifted the whole house.

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    Xenia: What were the positives about this experience?

    Hollis: My Joys: doing charcoal drawings and making art inspired by Sandy, and learning new stuff of life. Personally I used the daylight to create drawings and photographs, it was very productive.

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    Hollis: During the storm and temporary displacement, I thought about this lady who sits at the Penn Station waiting room. All my neighbors and I have been going through a tough time. Fortunately for us, our discomfort, has an end date. This lady I call Sandy has no end date. To all the displaced, I think of you during this time.

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    Hollis: Walking around my neighborhood, I was fascinated by the textures. Phenomena you only see from the storm. The other positive was I got to see what happens in nature during a bad storm. Green leaves die prematurely, leaves and dry branches are chewed up by the wind in tiny little bits. They are violently stuck to vehicles. Birds started crashing into window panes. Of course the evidence of the power of wind and rain is a reminder of our place in the world. The power of nature is awesome.

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    Xenia: What were your challenges?

    Hollis: My challenges: Spending most of my day collecting fire wood. Noticed how much productive time you lose in the darkness. Staying healthy without any heat. Disconnected from the world and news. Missed the election coverage.

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    Xenia: What kind of feedback or responses have you been receiving?   Hollis: Lots of generosity of spirit, from people I barely know. Friends from around the world called me. Surprised in all the goodwill. There were also people who wanted to take pics of the devastation of my home. Rubber necking.

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    Xenia: Has Sandy brought you closer to your neighbors?

    Hollis: I think we all comforted each other, we helped each other, shared resources. I live in a cul de sac and we all get along on my block. I met people from other streets in the neighborhood, who wanted to come by and offer their support. It is interesting to me how different people saw what happened, some were positive and some were freaking out. I had to remind neighbors that we are all fine and these are just things that can be repaired or replaced, we will all be eventually OK.

    Xenia: I overheard on the radio, “Sandy has leveled the playing field. Sandy did not discriminate, and left many behind to pick up the pieces.”

  4. Seyi Adebanjo, Dennis RedMoon Darkeem & Priscilla Stadler

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    Seyi, Dennis, and Priscilla created a visual “trialogue” to represent the themes most central to their lives and our work at this time. They sent each other 10 images and 1 or 2 songs, then responded to the group with words and phrases.

    Seyi Adebanjo wove the contributions together, with input from Priscilla Stadler and Dennis RedMoon Darkeem. They submitted their conversation in the form a video, entitled “Soul Spirit Courage”:

    ABOUT THE ARTISTS

    OluSeyi Adebanjo is a Queer gender-non-conforming Nigerian and MFA filmmaker. Seyi raises awareness around social issues through digital video and multimedia photography. Seyi’s work is the intersection of art, media, ritual & politics. Read The LP interview with Seyi here, and visit Seyi on the web at seyiadebanjo.com.

    As a multi-media artist, Dennis expresses these motifs through fine art, performance and photography. Ultimately, he sets out to express a meaningful story about events in his life and those found with the communities with whom he works. Read The LP with Dennis here, and visit him on the web at dennisredmoondarkeem.weebly.com.

    Priscilla Stadler explores beliefs and behavior through drawing, installation, and human interaction, often inviting the public to co-create these investigations. Social practice and physical making are both important in her work. Read The LP interview with Priscilla here, and visit her on the web at solanima.net.

  5. Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Elizabeth Hamby, and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin

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    Each year, our artist development program, Create Change, supports 15 to 20 artists developing their socially engaged creative practice through our Fellowship, Residency, and Commissions program. In 2012, we began asking our Create Change artists to pair up for Creative Conversations: open-ended creative exchanges to be published on our blog. Read on to meet our Create Change alumni.

    Nontsi: Social practice implies collaboration between artists and community members. Elizabeth and Hatuey, you chose to build a project together before bringing other people into the equation. What was this experience like?

    Elizabeth: Our collaborative work is both arduous and incredibly rewarding. I think that the constant work that is required in order to collaborate with each other is a big influence on the way that we work with other people. Hatuey and I hold each other to very high standards, and the accountability that we demand from one another frames our work in our neighborhood. I really related to Urban Bush Women’s presentation about mutual support through collaboration, and the work that is required to achieve that support–their presentation really articulated things that Hatuey and I have been working on and talking about but had not really been able to make clear for ourselves at that point.

    Thinking specifically about neighbors, and neighborhood engagement, can you talk a little about your hair braiding project in Detroit? You were new to that community, but you used the vernacular of hair and braiding as a bridge between a lot of different social, ethnic, and geographic communities.

    Nontsi: When I got to Detroit I realised that I had a very short amount of time to meet people in the community, conduct research, make some artwork and organise an event. I started with the people I had connected with on a previous visit and then met others through their network. I collaborated with a barber, ZooNine Bey and former hairstylist Dina Peace. We spent time together before the event talking in depth about our respective work, cultural differences and similarity. Our interactions culminated in a wonderful event where they demonstrated and spoke to me and everyone that came out about their craft. I really acted as a facilitator and allowed talented knowledgeable people to share with others in their community.

    I stepped into a place that has a rich history and a strong African-American community committed to presentation, culture and craft. It was a great learning opportunity for me. It was wonderful seeing people coming around to share and be involved with leading and listening.

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    Elizabeth & Hatuey

    Elizabeth & Hatuey: Could you share a specific story from your experience doing this project that really captures that sense of people coming together?

    Nontsi: Actually, the best part of the project was when it was all over. People stayed for a long time after we were done, continuing conversations, swapping information asking how and when something similar could be organised again. I am happy that people felt invested.

    Elizabeth & Hatuey: On the website “Brainpickings,” there was recently a quote from Bruno Munari (from 1966) that we think is relevant to this discussion. Munari said:

    “Today it has become necessary to demolish the myth of the ‘star’ artist who only produces masterpieces for a small group of ultra-intelligent people. It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people. Culture today is becoming a mass affair, and the artist must step down from his pedestal and be prepared to make a sign for a butcher’s shop (if he knows how to do it). The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active as a man among men, well up in present-day techniques, materials and working methods. Without losing his innate aesthetic sense he must be able to respond with humility and competence to the demands his neighbors may make of him.

    The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing. … There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.”

    Both your practice and ours vacillates between art and design. How do you navigate the differences between those two practices? Does thinking like a designer (rather than an artist) change your perception of “the public” and the way that you participate in public life?

    Nontsi: I want to make work that has a space in the world and that can speak to or capture the imagination of people within the space of the museum but more importantly meeting people where they are at. Making things that people can hold in their hands, or focusing on ways of making that borrow from vernacular design and craft has been a way for me to move my work towards people. Sometimes the audience is specific, I aim to create dialog at street level or on the shop floor between my neighbours and peers.

    One of the parameters of the Laundromat Project residency is that you produce a project in your very own neighborhood. How long have you been living in the Bronx?

    Elizabeth: I have only lived in our neighborhood for about a year. But I don’t see myself going anywhere any time soon.

    Hatuey: I’ve been living in the Bronx for 5 years total, 2 years near Yankee Stadium and in Mott Haven 3 years.

    Elizabeth & Hatuey: Nontsi, you’re new to New York. How did The Laundromat Project Professional Development Fellowship affect your perception of the city–both as an artist and as an everyday person?

    Nontsi: The workshops for the fellowship were held in different Boroughs. Commuting to and from sessions taught me my first lesson about New York – THE PLACE IS HUGE! The population density is incredible and even more so the diversity represented throughout the city. This has really made me reconsider my definition of community. What is a neighbour? What vocabulary, visual or otherwise, do I use to engage them?

    Do you feel you had a connection to your community before the Laundromat Project residency?

    Elizabeth: Absolutely. We are very lucky to live in a neighborhood with a lot of people who are very committed to achieving social justice through coalition and community-building. We have a lot of neighbors who are organizers and activists, as well as artists, which creates a really amazing space for the kind of work that we do. There are a lot of people who really want to work together.

    Hatuey: Yes, we’ve been involved directly and indirectly with this project and other projects as well with our neighbors and organizations. So, we are present.

    Nontsi: How did you decide on the issue to tackle for your project? Have you been doing other work around this theme?

    Elizabeth: Last spring we did a project called Boogie Down Rides dealing with bicycling as a form of transportation, recreation, and art in the Bronx. We built relationships with a lot of organizations who were dealing with different aspects of the built environment in the Bronx, and we wanted to build on that. But we didn’t feel like bicycling was the right project for The LP.

    Hatuey: Also, since we have to be in one place to do the residency (at the laundromat, as opposed to biking around) we chose the waterfront that is within our neighborhood to focus on. So, when we talked about the waterfront with our neighbors they could relate to it or not, but it was something tangible, a specific place that they could go to (even though with difficulty). It is the first time we tackled the idea of the waterfront, but we are interested in places and how they can tells us or give us clues about how they are, the way they are and how they affect, influence and in a way define neighborhoods, boroughs, cities etc

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    Nontsi: Can you highlight something that you felt was most effective at reaching your goals or fulfilling the needs of the participants?

    Hatuey: The goals of the project were to interact with our neighbors about their waterfront, to listen to what they have to say about it and the neighborhood, and to use all of that information for the future. It is hard to meet people’s needs, but at the very least we served as a “channel” for people to tell us things that they saw and wanted to improve and we learned a lot from active listening.

    Elizabeth: It’s similar to what you were saying about your project in Detroit– the best moments of the project were when we were talking with our neighbors about the next steps, the future, in our own terms.

    Nontsi: Your project seemed interactive on so many levels, could you tell me about the range of activities you set up at the Laundromat?

    Hatuey: James Rojas, an artist/urban planner, helped us set up an interactive model making project where people came to our table and played with different toys and objects by placing them in different configurations that transformed them from their regular uses into buildings, trees, slides, parks, boardwalks etc… It was the most successful activity since it is very easy to interact with, it is totally non-threatening and can engage multi-generational participants.

    We also had a backdrop of a photo of a place within our waterfront and asked people to write on a speech bubble what they wished the place could be and we took portraits of them, we also recorded audio interviews with neighbors about the neighborhood, their stories about the water, etc.

    Nontsi: I like the combination of activities you folded into your bigger project. My own work seems to be moving in that direction. The recording of oral history is as important to my investigations as making interactive tools. You’ve mentioned how you worked with participants of all ages. I was very impressed by that. It is so important to harness the energy of all the people to whom a project is relevant.

    I also liked how your interactive model utilised everyday objects. This is a great way to get people to feel comfortable with touching and moving pieces around. Also it is a way of working that is not out of the reach for others, the children and adults that participated could easily use this format to extend the work you begun or build their own self-initiated projects.

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    Elizabeth & Hatuey: It’s similar with your braiding project. Hair braiding is certainly aesthetic and artful, but it is also an activity that takes place within people’s everyday lives. By framing it within an art context, you’re able to simultaneously amplify the “art” of braiding and hair and to (literally as well as metaphorically) weave together art and life.

    Nontsi: My own practice as an artist is process-based. Iteration and labour are an important part of all my projects. Braiding embodies these aspects. For me it is very performative, both the learning and practising. It was interesting to see this played out in the space of a museum. I have also been collecting images and objects associated with this craft. It is important to take a close look at things that seem mundane. There is so much richness and variety around us, even in the things that are most familiar to us.

    Video about Elizabeth and Hatuey’s project Mind the Gap / La Brecha.

    About the Artists

    Elizabeth_HatueyTo learn more about Elizabeth and Hatuey’s collaborative work, visit metalocal.net. You can also visit Elizabeth’s site at space-place.net, and Hatuey’s at hatueyramosfermin.com.

    NM_Headshot2See more of Nontsi’s work by visiting her artist website.

    You can also click here to watch an interview with Nontsi about her ongoing research project investigating the environments and politics of hair.