We are launching a new series that examines the cultural life of New York’s boroughs and districts through the eyes of its inhabitants. From organization leaders to artists to long-time residents, these varied voices compile to paint a more textured picture of vibrancy in New York’s diverse neighborhoods.
Our inaugural post features Ellen Pollan, Deputy Director of the Bronx Council on the Arts.
Ellen moved to the Bronx in 1984 with her husband and son, migrating from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Mosholu Parkway. Through connecting with other young parents in the neighborhood who were starting playgroups and a cooperative nursery school, Ellen joined a community that initiated several coalitions that still exist, such as the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. “We were a merry group of young moms and dads with a commitment to the Norwood neighborhood: local churches, schools etc. I made friends that I will have forever,” says Ellen.
In 1987, Ellen and her family moved to Kingsbridge Heights and set down roots with the purchase of a house. Her two sons attended the local public school, and the family attended a Lutheran church that served as “an active beacon in a neighborhood in transition.” Having worked in the arts her whole professional life – from the Kennedy Center to the Morse Mime Theater and School – Ellen served as a freelance writer for the Bronx Council on the Arts and eventually joined the staff full-time. Apart from her professional role in cultivating arts in the Bronx, Ellen’s involvement with her local community is varied and rich: she has served as a member of the parents association for 11 years; as a Sunday school teacher, a volunteer with anti-domestic violence outreach and youth instructor at her church; a volunteer and Board member with Bronx Council for Environmental Quality; and with many other committees and cooperative initiatives.
In considering some of the challenges faced by the Bronx, Ellen states a lot it has to do with image. Ellen describes the Bronx as “an amalgam of many diverse, culturally rich neighborhoods” that is often overshadowed by Manhattan. One-quarter of the Bronx consists of open space and parks, and the borough is home to the only true river in NYC: the Bronx River. Other challenges that Ellen points out are in the areas of transportation, equity and sustainability. “What and where is downtown? Can public art animate public space and create value for communities that will create a sense of place and home? Can we raise the profile of the borough as a great place to live, work and visit?” asks Ellen.
For Ellen, the people is what makes the Bronx distinctive. “I have been blessed to be surrounded by a community of activists and thoughtful people who are driven to improve neighborhoods across a variety of platforms: environment, culture, health, education.” In considering her personal aspirations for the Bronx, Ellen speaks of the borough holding its own as a desirable place to work and raise families. “I hope that there can be clean, quiet, safe and affordable places for people to want to live and play, ” says Ellen. “I also hope that the Bronx realizes an increase in socioeconomic demographics, to include an influx of mid-income people who want to live and stay.”
To learn more about the arts and culture scene in the Bronx, hop a ride on the monthly Bronx Culture Trolley, a Bronx Council on the Arts program that showcases the cultural offerings along the South Bronx Cultural Corridor.