Colectivo piloto has made an absolutely beautiful video about activism on the Lower East Side. It’s not to be missed:
Archive for Community gardens
By Grace Dowd
I am an artist. I am an amateur, yes, but I am an artist. When I first saw La Plaza Cultural, I was blown away. In my own art, I use found and reclaimed objects to create a visual narrative, taking the history and lifespan of the object to further my own sculpture. This is why I was so taken aback at La Plaza Cultural. It was on my first tour with Bill Weinberg, radical site expert and general LES legend, when I was speechless because of the incredible art on the fences of the garden.
The community created the garden, out of ruin and out of nothing. Green space created from cement, and art gallery created from household items. You wonder why people need to pay money to see artwork, when they are entirely capable of creating it. Community art holds a certain place in my heart, able to take hold of a neighborhood and change the visual details of the space, and created by those who get to enjoy it.
La Plaza is surrounded by a wall of homemade artwork, used soda cans, detergent bottles, and plastic things, painted, reshaped, and hung, to encourage a neighborhood, a community, a city, to open its eyes. Beauty can be found everywhere, but there is nothing quite like a garden, nestled between buildings, bursting forth with colorful, weird, and exciting sculptures made by your neighbors and your family. THAT is what community is about.
By Brooke Demos
I am lucky enough to live right next to Garden 6B in the East Village. I have four windows in my apartment that look out onto it. I am able to observe the change of seasons and watch the evening dusk change the color of the sky. The garden provides an unobstructed view for many apartment dwellers on the block. It’s an added benefit of the garden spaces in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan that some may not be aware of.
I am also a member of the garden and have two plots of my own to garden in. There are approximately 80 garden members and it is one of the largest gardens in the neighborhood. But it isn’t necessarily my favorite garden. There are two other beautiful gardens on the block, smaller than Garden 6B and completely designed as one large garden space. I’d have to say that even though The Creative Little Garden, with its numerous bird houses and swing, to enjoy is very special, The Botanic Garden is my favorite. It was designed by horticulturists and landscape designers. There are “secret” spots to sit in as well as a small, romantic “house” with a library and porch to enjoy. I like to bring my breakfast there in the summertime and eat it in one of the many sitting areas.
There are many other gardens in the neighborhood. MoRUS gives tours of them every Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 pm. I am looking forward to going on the next tour so that I can meet some other special garden spots in this uniquely community-oriented area of Manhattan.
by John Hudson
As a dramaturg and theater producer I am always interested in new and exciting places for performance, and wonder what stories are associated with a space, and how those stories can be turned into a theatrical performance. That was why I took a photograph of this remarkable stage at the end of the Saturday tour. It looks rather like a gigantic bird’s nest. This reminds me of a story in the Tales From the Arabian Nights of the giant roc (a mythical bird) that picked up Sinbad and put him into her nest. Come to think of it, there are several folk stories about the same theme. This could be a wonderful beginning for a devised theater piece.
In medieval times sailors were often worried about the threat from these birds. sinking their ships. But shipwrecked sailors thought that if stranded on a desert island they could wrap themselves in ox hide in order to be carried off and rescued. Marco Polo describes one of these birds “‘it was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure.” In this painting by Jorden efter Syndefaldet (1690). Rocs can be seen in the air at the left carrying a goat, and in the center of the picture, another Roc is carrying an elephant. I imagine they go home at night to a nest like this one.
by Ben Shepard
Whenever I do a MoRUS garden tour I stop at Creative Little Garden on 520 E. 6th Street. Throughout the late 1990s, early 2000s, the garden was an organizing hub for the Lower East Side Collective. In the East Village since 1982, it was long the backyard of garden advocate Francoise Cachelin, who understood what was truly radical about a community garden and why they were threats to the established order, and who passed in October 2003. “Tout alors we all hate these stinking wars,” she helped us chant in protest against the rising wars, six decades after her struggles as part of the French resistance to the Nazis.
The beauty of the garden movement is all the people we come to know through the years, from Michael Shenker, to Aresh, to JK, LA Kauffman, Ariane B, and so many others. Images of all of them churn through my head as I walk through these tours.
Today’s post is the first in a planned series to highlight the wonderful community gardens of the Lower East Side. Today’s post is courtesy of Brooke Demos of Garden 6B.
Garden 6B is located on the corner of 6th Street and Avenue B, in the East Village.
Until the colonial era, the site was a salt marsh, an arm of the East River. These coastal wetlands provided cover for waterfowl. These marshes were later filled in, and by 1845 the first buildings had appeared on the site, providing housing for tradesmen and artisans. By the 1890′s, the lower East Side had become the home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, densely concentrated into dank, airless tenements, lacking adequate light, air, or green space.
In the 1960′s the outward movement of families began to change the neighborhood into the home of students, low-income working people, and a growing Latino population. In the late 70′s and early 80′s, the energy crisis caused landlords to abandon their buildings, and the corner of Sixth Street and Avenue B was occupied by deteriorating, vacant buildings used as shooting galleries by drug addicts. As the City removed the buildings from six of the lots for safety reasons, the ugliness and uselessness of the debris-filled terrain galvanized the community into action. Seeing the vacant lots as an important opportunity to restore some green to an overbuilt community, in 1982 a committee of the 6th Street A-B Block Association petitioned the City’s Operation Green Thumb for a lease and began the arduous task of hauling rubble and trash from the 17,000 square foot site.
People are encouraged to visit the garden during open hours on Saturday and Sunday, 1:00 – 6:00 pm.
or visit the website.
By Sarah M. Duncan
Last September, myself and my co-organizer, Kate Foster—along with a vast number of dedicated performers, actors, directors, and activists from within and outside the Tri-State Area—held a new ten-minute play festival and teach-in platform entitled Occupy the Empty Space (2): The Human Right to Mobility. For our purposes, we used the word “mobility” in regard to the legal ability to immigrate and emigrate without losing one’s inherent, human rights in the process.
Back in June, before the festival went up in September, we were having a hard time finding a space for the event. Our last festival (Occupy the Empty Space: Housing Is a Human Right) had taken place indoors, inside the marvelous Judson Memorial Baptist Church. Our first event worked wonderfully there, but we had many, many people encourage us to find an outdoor space for our next festival, so as to achieve more visibility. When we began thinking of outdoor spaces and parks, we wanted to make sure wherever we chose was legal. This may seem like a small detail, but our festivals are always non-arrestable, something we decided in our mission. As a result, we abandoned big spaces that required permits, and began to consider community gardens.
We tossed the idea around to a few people, and got a lot of feedback and names of different gardens. Ben Shepard, a friend of ours and long-time activist and speaker for free public spaces, encouraged us to check out El Jardin del Paraiso. This seemed perfect, as we had been hoping to do the event in the Lower East Side, considering the area’s rich history. As securing our event locations usually was my job, I took it on myself (Kate calls me the “Space Queen,” and it has nothing to do with being air headed…I hope) to go scope out the garden.
When I walked up to the gate and peered inside, I felt like the main character in The Secret Garden, discovering not just a hidden slew of greenery, but a surprising desire within to care for it, and to be a part of it. I did not have much reverence for nature as a child, but as an adult, I understand the transcending quality a garden can have—not just on individuals, but whole communities.
“Kate,” I remember typing into my phone, “this garden is perfect.”
Of course, because Kate is a responsible, rational person and phenomenal organizer, she naturally wasn’t sold without seeing it. “That’s great, Sarah, but are there big enough spaces that could be dubbed performance spaces? Yes, Sarah, it’s AMAZING that there’s a tree house and chickens… but do you think that will be truly usable?”
All I could say was, “You have to see the space.”
The rest is history. Once she saw the space, she understood. Then, we contacted those in charge, the garden’s community board approved our proposal to hold our festival there, and the event went up beautifully. And in fact, one of the plays actually DID end up using the tree house, and one chicken demanded some stage time when the day came.
El Jardin del Paraiso is more than adequately named, and we were completely grateful for the opportunity to create within and with such a place. Seeing a garden tended and created by the very community around it, we became joyfully aware of the artistry in not just nature, but in growth, in upbringing. As the flowers and grass seed respond to April rains, so, too, do the people doing the planting and the weeding, The almost “mutual aid” in the relationship between earth and her creatures is exactly what artists and collaborators, like Kate and I, seek to do in creating art and community events.
There is, in the heart of art, in loving, in growth, and in creation, a balance of give and receive. Thank you, El Jardin del Paraiso, for the opportunity to do both.
As sustainable living practices move from the realm of alternative lifestyles into the mainstream, The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) will provide a platform for the public to learn about the reported benefits of effective microorganisms for life and the environment. A workshop entitled, Introduction to Effective Microorganisms and Pickling Food Waste, will take place on Friday, March 15, from 7:00—9:00 PM at MoRUS, 155 Avenue C, between 9th and 10th Streets.
The workshop, which will be led by Susan Greenfield and Shig Matsukawa, both members of El Sol Brillante and Children’s Garden in the East Village, will demonstrate how microbes recycle food waste and improve soil, among other ecological uses. Attendees will also participate in such hands-on activities as recycling food waste at home and making the fermentation starter. There will be samplings of fermented food and drinks prepared with EM at the beginning of the workshop.
While awareness of EM technology in the United States has increased in recent years, the technology has been widely studied and employed in Japan, where it originated more than 30 year ago. Its uses have ranged from farming to composting and waste management.
Please e-mail email@example.com to RSVP or RSVP on Facebook
If, next year in Milan or Paris, the world begins to see high-end runway models sporting grass suits and bottle-cap bras, let the record show the folks at MoRUS (Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space) did it first.
The Direct Action Fashion Show last Saturday, February 9th, was held and produced by Avenue C’s newest member, MoRUS. The event was billed as “a different side of fashion” and it was, at that: the genesis of the show came from recognition of fashion’s role in the LES’s rich history, particularly in regards to various protests and demonstrations advocating for community gardens, community centers, and sustainable living. This show represented these legacies well, and was a mosaic of people, colors, and manifested imagination.
The show was loosely divided into a few segments, the first of which was a romping good performance by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. Following this, the runway parade began with Occupy Wall Street-inspired fashion, which included a wearable sleeping bag, variations on the American Flag, and appearances by Lady Liberty and Monopoly Man, two of many puppets created by the OWS Puppet Guild (aka The People’s Puppets).
Next up was a fashion “line” by Dee Dee Maucher. The costumes were eclectic and artful, and made up of more than a couple hula hoops.
The final (and most substantial, time wise) segment was a collection known as Earth Celebrations, an award-winning costume line almost entirely designed and curated by Felicia Young as a way to bring environmental awareness of the habitat (and maintaining the habitat) around the Hudson River. The collection is vast, and not all the costumes were used in the show, but luckily for the audience, most were. The outfits were bright and elemental, often representing the ocean, sky, sea creatures, flowers, vegetables (tomato bra, anyone?), wind, glaciers, clams, oysters… you name it. There were less predictable designs as well, like that of a “Sun God.”
Personally, my costume was part of the Earth Celebrations collection, but had been designed by Michele Brody The garment was created to look like a blade of grass, with grass and leaves poking out of a long skirt and topped off with a bamboo-like corset and headdress. I tried, in true Walt Whitman form, to represent all “leaves of grass.” (Bad literary pun, anyone?)
Near the end of the Earth Celebrations showcase were a few other costumes of a different theme—recycled goods. There was a dress of cans (really cool!) and a fun tutu-esque dress made of brightly covered plastic bottles. The last in the lineup was a full bodysuit made of beer bottle caps, created and worn by the “can man” himself, Gene Pool. As a special treat for the audience, he jumped up and down on the runway while onlookers ooohed and awed over the impressively loud and percussive noise the costume made.
At the end of the fashion show, we all sashayed back out on the runway, dancing in time with the disco ball, until we were “arrested” by costumed cops in a preplanned spoof.
The audience the whole night was receptive and completely in the mood for what was being delivered. They hooted and hollered, laughed, applauded, and shook their groove things as much as we’d hoped they would. There were refreshments, alcoholic and non, pizza, hummus, (not combined), and people stayed after the event to look around the museum, munch, and mingle.
Although MoRUS is fairly new to the LES scene, the folks there are longtime activists and organizers, evidenced by their ability to pull off such a successful, fabulous, event. I was honored to help out with the event and model the day of, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you, dear reader, were unlucky enough to miss this event, don’t fret too much—they’re already gearing up for next year’s.
By Sarah M. Duncan
Mayor Catherine Peyge of Bobigny, France, visited the museum this weekend. She came to town just for the release of the Mumia Abu-Jamal film, Long Distance Revolutionary. Mumia is an honorary citizen of Bobigny, where there is a street named after him.