It was a sunny day in Harlem and quite an interesting afternoon when we met with Artist-in-Residence Havanna Fisher Newby. It is always exciting to see how an artist is coming along with his or her project and Havanna expressed enthusiasm during our discussion. Her “Harlem Motion” project is a vehicle for Harlem community members to discuss the changes being made in the neighborhood.
Harlem is truly in motion and Havanna could not be any more excited about the project and working with us. She wanted to leave the readers and viewers with a preview of what to expect from “Harlem Motion.” Take a look below at her video and interview.
What does Harlem mean to you?
Harlem to me is home but it is also a community. So when I think about Harlem it means that I am going to see people who support me, who love me, who push me on and who hold me accountable. It is my village as it the place where I was made. Everything from the environment to the people carry so much weight into who I am as a person and how I even interact with the rest of the world. If I go anywhere it is just like my base training I received in Harlem just comes up with the way I interact with people and then the way that I listen to people; it is a part of my DNA.
Why did you choose to work with The Laundromat Project?
I heard about The LP through a mentor I was working with and I have been working with her since I was a teenager. She introduced me to The LP and said, “Hey I think that this might be something that is for you as it is an organization that supports artists, especially artists that come from a lot of these different communities that have been disenfranchised and they are really about bridging the gap between art and community.” It really is rooted in love.
In terms of why I felt it was a perfect match for me, as an artist what drives a lot of my passion and what drives a lot of the work that I do is love. At The LP they let that be the standing base of their foundation in which they support so many different people, not just artists but also communities. They train you how to interact with communities and how to be accountable to communities, at the same time, which I think is so important because a lot of people just want to do art. You have so many artists that run around and use communities which could be so dangerous, so unhealthy and The LP works against that. They work hand-in-hand with the community and they really try to make sure that artists understand the importance of it but also understand their roles within the arts and the community in moving in and out. There will always be a need for this organization because it is rooted in giving and exchange and that is the basis of life. I really appreciate The LP and I am so honored to be able to be a part of this organization and just to be involved.
What impact do you hope to achieve with “Harlem Motion?”
What I hope to achieve with my project is I am literally conspiring to bring the community together and what I really hope that comes out of this project is the building of a Harlem coalition. I want East Harlem, West Harlem and Central Harlem to work together instead of operating separately. We battle a lot of the same issues so I really want everyone to be aware and I think it is important because the gentrification kind of carries this divide and conquer element where it feels like a lot of people do not know what is going on in other areas when it will actually be coming to affect them next. So many people who are just now waking up to the fact that gentrification is a thing and there are community members that are just like I do not know. It is coming at a perfect time because a lot of people are becoming awake and they are fed up; they are ready to fight even though they are weary. I want it to be something that is healing but also inspiring. I really hope to be able to build that loving and caring base that Harlem already has but to amplify it to its highest point.
In terms of The LP, with this particular project, this could be a way to organize mass mobilization of people and organizing people to rally up against different causes pertaining to Harlem. I hope that with ‘Harlem Motion,’ along with future LP art projects people will start to mobilize, with mass groupings of communities, taking action in the community to create change in policies that affect us Harlemites.
How has the support been up until this point?
The project so far is going really well and I say that because so many community members within The LP and even just outside are so supportive. I am not alone in this; it is very heartwarming as it is a healing experience for me. As someone that is dealing with a lot in terms of gentrification I tried to create a project that speaks to a lot of the pain that a lot of other people are facing.
I have been working with my community partners, Community Voices Heard. They actually are in love with the project and they are happy to do something different. That has been really really helpful to have the community backing me but then also just random people. We did a workshop last week for the Harlem Arts Festival with tons of little tiny tots and it was really awesome. A lot of people like the project and they want to participate in the project and so that went really smoothly. I mean as smooth as smooth can go when you are working with a lot of people and so this next up and coming weekend we are going to have the first workshops with “Community Voices Heard” which I think is going to go really well. The plan is to have a couple of other workshops since I only planned to have three workshops but based on the positive response I hope to do a few more.
What obstacles are you facing?
One constraint that I’m working with is numbers. I planned to have workshops that only reached reached a capacity of like twenty-five to thirty people but seeing the added interest at the Harlem Arts Festival I saw different ways to include more people. One thing that I am afraid of is the project not reaching enough people by its end. I am really trying to get the word out and just making sure that people have the ability to participate.
Another obstacle I am learning is who to go to when you want space in the community, such as a park. For a longest time I wanted to do an event at one of my favorite parks. I thought it belonged to somebody but it turns out I needed to get permission from the NYPD. This process is teaching me how to conduct proper protocol for public events which I am appreciative of. The project will be ending with a Harlem Barbecue summit instead of a conference. You know barbecues always end up being quite revolutionary because you have the community come out, there is food and the conversation is just so thought provoking. The idea is just to end the project on a note where people can collectively come together and see people they have not seen in a while but also just meet people that they probably have not met either. Also, to learn what their neighbors’ struggles are and how they sit hand-in-hand. Hence, the different ways that we want to move forward with gentrification. The cherry on top is of all of the stop animations that were created in the workshops will be shown.
For more about Havanna Fisher Newby’s project “Harlem Motion”, click here.