Creative Transformations: Partner Projects

NOCD-NY’s Arts, Culture and Public Housing Communities program is focused on what arts and culture are particularly good at accomplishing: engaging creativity and imagination, healing trauma, breaking down isolation and stigma, bringing together diverse people, and connecting public housing communities with their neighbors. Our program began with learnings and recommendations gathered from research and a cross-sector roundtable in 2015, grew into a six-month planning process in 2016, then manifested in 2017-2018 as Creative Transformations, a program of 17 projects involving 19 artist and organizational partners from across all five boroughs of New York City.

NYCHA and Section 8 communities involved have included Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens, Warren Street Houses, Ingersoll Houses, Atlantic Terminal, Jonathan Williams Plaza, Red Hook Houses, Boulevard Houses and Linden Houses in Brooklyn; Claremont Village, Butler Houses and Betances Houses in the Bronx; Fulton Houses, Chelsea-Elliot Houses, Carver Houses and Saint Nicholas Houses in Manhattan; Park Hill Apartments in Staten Island and Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses in Queens. Project activities have included youth media and production, mural making, photography workshops and exhibitions, theater and dance creation, oral history, neighborhood tours, housing advocacy, markets, community councils, and festivals highlighting the creative work of public housing residents.

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Partners have included ARTs East New York, Arts & Democracy, BRIC, Bronxworks Betances Community Center, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education, Christine Licata and Danielle Jackson, Community Voices Heard (CVH), Downtown Art, Educational Video Center, Fifth Avenue Committee, Fourth Arts Block, Friends of the High Line, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Groundswell, Hester Street, Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, MoCADA, Napela Inc, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH), Nicholas Bloom and New York Institute for Technology (NYIT), El Puente, Red Hook Initiative, Staten Island Arts, Theater of the Liberated, and University Settlement Society of New York.

Below, you’ll find summaries of each project. NOCD-NY continues the Creative Transformations program, particularly focused on projects that support cultural workers critical to sustaining initiatives and pilot projects that offer learning opportunities citywide.

Project Summaries

Soul Circle: An Ode to Self Love with ARTs East New York
ARTs East New York, in collaboration with NYCHA, presented Soul Circle: An Ode to Self Love on Sunday, June 24th, 2018. The event has been influenced by the overwhelming amount of domestic violence cases among East New York’s Linden and Boulevard Houses residents between the ages of 16 and 21 years old. The effects of domestic violence are strongly linked to self-esteem, playing a crucial role in the development of one’s self-image. Soul Circle has engaged the population of Linden and Boulevard Houses through music, food, activities, and a fashion show.

BronxWorks Betances Community Center and Educational Video Center
An Educational Video Center (EVC) Media Coach has planned, facilitated and provided technical support for twenty middle school-age summer camp students at BronxWorks Betances Community Center as they created a documentary-style filmmaking project. The collection of public service announcements (PSAs) are built around the beautification initiative at St. Mary’s Park. Work focused on the impact of the park, its resources and how youth can better improve community health. The project has elevated youth voices and has connected them with related community organizing groups. In a time frame of eight weeks from July to August 2017, students were guided through the planning, research, shooting, and digital editing of documentary videos. The project has concluded with a celebration and community screening, which occurred in August 2017.

The Bronx is the World’s Strongest Borough (video)
The Bronx is the World’s Strongest Borough is an artist-led initiative facilitated by Cultural Ambassador of the Bronx Baron Ambrosia in partnership with Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education. This active healthy living project is part of the Claremont Healthy Village Initiative, a partnership with Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, Claremont Neighborhood Centers, American Diabetes Association, Health First, NYCHA Tenant Association Presidents, Fresh Food Box, Bronx Documentary Center and others. The Bronx: The Bronx is World’s Strongest Borough intends to enter collective South Bronx pull-ups into the Guinness Book of World Records. From April to May 2017, Claremont Neighborhood Centers’ youth participants engaged in eight fitness education events and celebrated with a culminating ceremony on May 31. The mobile “Pull-up Bar of Power” has traveled to Claremont Neighborhood Centers, Butler Community Center, PS 219, Betances Houses, Casita Maria and was included in South Bronx Culture Trail Festival on June 8 and at Boogie on the Boulevard on August 20 and September 10. The project also included a healthy themed mural. The project will continue through 2018 to build on the 3,000 plus pull-ups already documented. The initiative is also supported by Bronx Health REACH and the Center for Health Equity.

Storytelling for Language Justice with CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities
Initiated by CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, and in partnership with teaching artist Melissa Liu, The Storytelling for Language Justice project has engaged Limited English Proficiency (LEP) tenants who live in Queensbridge Houses in four storytelling workshops. The goal of the project has been to connect Asian tenants (Korean, Chinese, and Bangladeshi) who have different cultural and language backgrounds through storytelling. The curriculum has encouraged empathy and building solidarity that will allow tenants across different languages and cultures to work together on CAAAV’s Public Housing campaigns, specifically passing a city level legislation (Intro 1681) on Language Access in housing developments. The result of the project will be collected stories to be published in the first ever CAAAV zine in summer 2018.

Community Development Policy in Mott Haven
In collaboration with urban strategists, city developers, and community leaders, Danielle Jackson and Christine Licata are compiling research on community led development in the South Bronx, while looking to leverage developers in support of NYCHA residents and others. They are examining the promise of models such as The Brownsville Plan, which has brought together fifty community organizations and diverse agencies to propose $127 million to develop a cultural center, housing and workforce development. The research project aims to result in a white paper for policy advocacy.

CVH Vision Team
Creative Transformations has supported the creation of CVH Vision, a Community Voices Heard (CVH) member-led team of designers and artists who are using their skills and creativity within the movement. The team is expanding their reach through new media and helping to envision the future of CVH. Project funds are being used toward artist fees, digital media accessibility, and the purchase of materials. The illustrations and designs of the CVH Vision team have supported the “State of NYCHA” action during Mayor De Blasio’s State of the City address. The team offers support to up-and-coming artists within the community, popular education on the value of art and culture in organizing, and empowers one another to build power and radically change the landscape of their community. Starting in Fall 2018, CVH Vision will partner with Fashion Institute Technology (FIT)’s Illustration department to connect students residing in public housing with opportunities to work on organizing campaigns.

“Resistance is Resilience” on the Lower East Side
Building on Good Old Lower East Side’s (GOLES) community organizing and resiliency planning process, and drawing from Downtown Art’s (DTA) history of creative engagement in the Lower East Side, GOLES, DTA and Fourth Arts Block have partnered to creatively engage community members around the theme of “Resistance is Resilience.” Muralist Raul Ayala and oral historian Antigona Gonzalez have engaged community members and historical archives–developing visual, aural, and videotaped stories of Lower East Side resistance and resilience. From January 2017 to June 2018, the objective has been to support GOLES’ work with the LESReady! network and public housing residents by placing current struggles within a context of historic community resiliency and achievement. They have generated three murals by Raul Ayala that have been sited at GOLES’ storefront office.

Leaders Program at El Puente Leadership Center at Jonathan Williams Plaza
El Puente’s Leadership Center at Jonathan Williams Plaza operates through NYC Department of Youth & Community Development’s (DYCD) Cornerstone Program. Creative Transformations has helped connect El Puente’s Leaders Program, focused on building the academic leadership of high-school aged youth, with arts and wellness. During the summer program, students have created their own art pieces and performances based on themes that affect them personally, such as bullying and lack of resources. Artists–including Joe Matunis (muralist), Lisa Aronowitz (dancer), DJ Ruggz (Breaks Kru DJ) and Shy Richardson (spoken word)–have joined others to engage youth in experiences of step, pop and lock, breaking, DJing, painting, theater and more.

Friends of the High Line Neighbors Council and Youth Participatory Budgeting Council
Friends of the High Line Neighbors Council and Youth Participatory Budgeting Council engage similar models of empowering community members through civic engagement and creativity. For the fourth year in a row, teen staff members of the Youth Participatory Budgeting (PB) Council have partnered with NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office to lead PB efforts in New York City Council District 3, helping to organize its first PB Fest, which included eleven different arts and cultural activities. The Neighbors Council, made up of neighborhood residents and representatives of local organizations helped informed the design of a public plaza adjacent to the High Line and provided critical feedback on other institutional initiatives. Creative Transformations has helped Friends of the High Line support these ongoing mechanisms and connect their work more deeply with others doing related work in the field.

Artivism” with Groundswell at Saint Nicholas Houses
Groundswell’s Artivism (Art + Activism) after school program has explored “what happens when a mural is complete.” The program has given young people the opportunity to explore art and community participation as a tool for social action and change and learn the histories of art and social change movements. Participants have utilized youth-led Participatory Action Research to re-engage and reactivate the Groundswell murals at Saint Nicholas Houses in Harlem, in partnership with the senior center. Youth participants have surveyed residents of Saint Nicholas Houses and NYCHA as an institution to generate ideas that can facilitate necessary change (including creating a stop motion video). Participants have built community and trust as a team and have engaged with community members to design actions that address their needs

The Blue Bus Project at Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement
Rooted in a robust tradition of arts programming through the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Jacob A. Riis used the opportunity of Creative Transformations to build a local, artist-led project that brings together older adults and children, 16 years old and under, from the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses. The Blue Bus Project with Annalisa Iadicicco welcomes new faces to arts and cultural programming through Blue Bus visitations, bridging communities.

Making Gowanus and Theater of the Liberated
Initiated by Hester Street, the Making Gowanus project has taken place in a community undergoing many planning processes and initiatives. In collaboration with Creative Transformations, the project has catalyzed a network of community leaders, artists, non-profit organizations, political representatives and public housing residents to connect many of these initiatives, fostering collaboration, peer exchange and community partnership. Through the summer of 2017, led by artist Imani Gayle Gillison in partnership with Hester Street and Arts Gowanus, Making Gowanus engaged residents through a local artists search, The Gowanus All Arts Forum Summertime Arts Camp, and Making Gowanus and Theater of the Liberated: Soft, a social justice performance and exhibit at BRIC. Local artists who live in public housing shared their gifts and residents, including cherished elders, to a packed house. As part of the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, the Making Gowanus network is advocating for the permanent re-opening of the Gowanus Houses Community Center (video) and greater recognition of public housing in Gowanus as a cultural asset in the neighborhood and city. Theater of the Liberated and Arts Gowanus continue to present scenes from Soft as part of community activism.

Public Exchange Photography Workshop with MoCADA and Lee Jimenez & Jendog Lonewolf
Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) Public Exchange program has hosted a photography workshop with Lee Jimenez and Jendog Lonewolf at Ingersoll Community Center, exploring the concept of “home,” giving participants the tools to visually document their own community in their own voices. Workshop participants have been instructed on photography fundamentals and methods of capturing one’s community. MoCADA’s Public Exchange provides arts programming in unexpected Brooklyn venues and to bring art to local communities.

Nicholas Bloom and NY Institute of Technology (NYIT)
NYIT is training NYCHA-resident facilitators to run workshops with other NYCHA residents to generate a conversation about how public housing has been represented in art, film, television, newspapers, and more, with the aim of collecting these conversations as part of a book/exhibition project that considers the representation of public housing projects over time in the media and the arts.

Park Hill Community Market
Creative Transformations and Staten Island Arts are reinforcing the ongoing work of Napela Inc, a non-profit organization on Staten Island’s North Shore. Napela organizes Park Hill Community Market and is committed to English language aptitude, improving knowledge around citizenship, small business development, cultural preservation, and health and safety for immigrant groups, especially West African women and their families. Every summer, vendors set up stalls and create an open-air cultural marketplace in a former parking lot at Parkhill Apartments, a HUD Section 8 development. In 2018, the event is Saturday, September 8. Creative Transformations’ partnership has helped the market supplement needed physical infrastructure (in the form of durable tents), hire event promotion and production support, purchase general liability insurance, and secure space for a fundraising dinner. The project has also produced a case study document that Napela will use to refine goals, recruit audiences, fundraise, and share lessons with a citywide audience.

“No Cuts to HUD” youth video by Red Hook Initiative
Through a video produced in collaboration with BRIC, the youth organizers of Red Hook Initiative (RHI), all public housing residents, have shared how young people would be impacted by the cuts to HUD proposed by President Trump. The PSA shows two young people, one who lives in public housing and the other who does not, demonstrating the differences between their lives. The person living in public housing has to work to help his parents pay the bills so he is not able to study or make it to school on time, while the other student has extra time to study and is doing well in school. The PSA production process has culminated in a public screening held with key stakeholders. The video will be used as a tool to advocate for RHI campaigns such as “No Cuts to HUD” and will call for increased funding for public housing.

Intergenerational Community Arts Council
The Intergenerational Community Arts Council (ICAC) is a multi-generational team of 14 public housing residents and neighbors from Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn who have joined forces to actively shape the artistic and cultural life in their community. Supported through a partnership of BRIC and University Settlement, the ICAC plans and produces arts programming by and for community members at Ingersoll Cornerstone Community Center. The ICAC formed in July 2017, meets monthly or semi-monthly, and members receive stipends for their participation. In February 2018, ICAC members created the call for and selected artist-in-residence Najee Omar to help lead the group. Opportunities for training in curation, production and marketing for members of the ICAC were identified during the planning process and realized throughout the year. ICAC members exercised their cultural organizing skills by curating a Black Arts Story Kick-off at Ingersoll Community Center and a Black History Month SHARE! for the Atlantic Terminal Tenant Association. The first year culminated with a We Are Brooklyn! community block party on August 4, 2018 and workshops designed to continue after the block party. This pilot year will close with founding members leading evaluation and planning for the next iteration of the ICAC.

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