2017 Create Change Fellow Stephanie Alvarado‘s 2017 Public Art Potluck speech:
“Buenas tardes a todxs. Muchisimas gracias por la oportunidad de estar aqui compartiendo este momento con ustedes.
Good evening everyone. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here sharing this moment with you all.
Bronx Team Shoutouts!
I’d like to share a Bronx story with y’all tonight. The setting is a secret garden on Kelly St. in the Longwood area of the South Bronx. You walk down grey concrete stairs into a dark tunnel that opens up to emerald greens overflowing from raised beds of oregano, basil, marigolds and mint. Walk a little bit further you can hear children playing from the 3rd story windows that overlook the garden. It’s summertime. Schools out and all they got is time on their hands. They like to play pranks and watch the neighbors that care for the garden with big eager eyes. So one day, tell me how, a group of six kids on a 85 degree day decided to come down from their apartments and into the garden for an adventure. The moment they stepped foot into the garden their whole spirit changed. You see, anyone who stepped into the garden was enchanted. The garden’s magic was to inject love, imagination, and healing to all that cared for it. The kids were enchanted. For the first time, they spoke up and asked to help protect the garden from invaders.
One neighbor gardener suggested scarecrows and luckily, there was an apartment in the building dedicated to art making, so everything they needed was right where they lived. Together with community artists, the kids brought their scarecrows to life. They used fun materials like pipe cleaners for hair, watermelon floaties for skirts, glitter golden branches for arms, and red gems for teeth. It took them all summer to finish and to celebrate all the hard work and love, they threw a big party for friends and family in the magic garden. The scarecrows were planted on September 16, 2017. They took pictures, made decorations, told stories about the ways community protects each other, laughed, and ate yummy food to celebrate.
The year is now 2027 and the photographs of that day are stored in the Kelly Street community archive. The garden has tripled in size with new locations throughout the Bronx, the majority of them being community land trusts. Gardens and art elementary schools have a partnership where the curriculum includes learning about community land stewardship through art. The Bronx leads the city in youth stewards of gardens and has the most diverse collection of seeds to plant. And yes, scarecrows still protect the magical gardens. By now, the six kids who helped start this tradition are in their early 20s. A local bilingual newspaper reached out to them for an interview for the 10 year anniversary and asked them the following questions:
1. Are you in community/relationship with people who can and do hold you accountable?
2. How do you continue to do this work after 10 years without harming yourself or others?
3. What is the role of artists in communities of color?
I offer these questions to y’all tonight as an invitation to meditate on sustainability of not only the work, but our communities and ourselves as well.