Pictured here: Teresa Adams
Once the decision is made, after all the options are weighed, it is relatively easy to get a plan and work the plan. Interdisciplinary art discipline is a great tool-box. If there was a need to build, direct, fix, design, clean, solve, invent, create, conceptualize etc.... - then being an artist works well but if the goal is to influence NYC legislative policy - that was my Waterloo. Individual artists are arguably a strong force for economic empowerment so beginning in 1990 I began lobbying Borough Hall City Hall, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, NYC Council, NY State Assembly and US Congress for fun. They would have to listen to me for 3 mins and the questions often asked were "why does artist's sweat equity matter since it cannot be measured?" or "why should I care if artists cannot make a living? They must be terrible artists." So meeting up with those powerful people was a tad discouraging, even tho for me it was still fun, since I was striving as a mother of 2 elementary students to have an experience that was out of my maternal elements.
Fast forward to 2015, NYC Council is involved in developing a new city wide cultural plan. The NYC Council members believe their plan could begin being implemented in 2017/2018. As I attended the announcement meeting at NYU with a diverse group of interested players, one by one by one young artists expressed that their personal/professional needs were dire. They needed help yesterday with housing, public presentations opportunities and various health/human services. Since bureaucratic wheels turn very slowly in big city life I, for one, hope artists can hold on because NYC is a very sad place without them. However individual artists have a shorter rope to hold onto than the average citizen. Micro Museum has made it our mission to create a vibrant place for a tribe of achieving artists. I have seen their determination up close. I sincerely hope this NYC cultural plan comes with a serious budget because you know.... 'if wishes were horses beggars would fly."
Recently watched BANKSY DOES NEW YORK – a documentary about the 2013 residency in NYC. Banksy’s 31 days of art initiatives became an internet sensation and by extension became a form of virtual graffiti. The filmmakers followed the art journey by turning NYC into a progressive art treasure hunt. The residency exploded into 31 collisions with art relatively unbound by ownership, like a donated painting to “Housing Works”, that eventually was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Later the painting went to the 2nd bidder since the top bidder could not deliver the money; or a rock formation in Queens that was dismantled and reassembled in an undisclosed location for later resale; or neighborhood guys who actively charged viewers to look at the art work under a piece of cardboard. Zabar's installed a plexiglass piece over the one on their building. It did not take long for NYer’s to get creative. It is kinda the reason I love this place.
I am further impressed by Banksy’s ability to remain unidentified, although my sense is that these art actions might not be one person. The works were brilliant and accentuated complexities of life in the 21st Century for artists and others. They brought out a deep agonizing desire to “get rich quick.” It was a great art experience as a citizen of NYC and re-visiting it through the film directed by Chris Maukarbel for HBO got me thinking more about my theme of “artist as hero” and feeling that truth, justice and the American way are still good reasons to pursuit art. I regret that young individual artists are migrating away from NYC because there are few options and scant resources to keep our local artists, local? It is still advantageous for the NYC powerful to care about individual artists. I am hopeful NYC Council will recognize artists as inventive economic development catalysts but also people who desperately love their city.
I am a very slow reader. So it is with some pride I can say that I finished reading Jonathan Letham’s “Fortress of Solitude” recently. The story tells of several boys and their families as they grew up in the Gowanus area of Boerum Hill. My backyard. One of the character was named the same name as my son, so what mother doesn’t love reading that? It turned out to be a pure pleasure read. The story involved aspects of gentrification, public schooling, race relations for children at an early age, drug use or abuse, vandalism and comics book fantasies. All of this instantly shot me back to my youth. Mine was not a neighborhood decaying like the demanding urban “fixer-upper” Gowanus. Mine was a newly tilled sub-development that encouraged America’s metropolitan sprawl. I was keenly aware of race/class structure. I encountered systemic sexism that scarred me more than I understood at the time. All I know is that I had to get outta there if I wanted to survive. Seven days after high school graduation, I left and never looked back. Letham’s characters, much like myself used their imaginations to evolve out of a dead end situation. There was no future in the past.
Letham’s “coming of age story” is universal. NYC is a city where one could sustain a whole career with a fraction of recognition, spotty financial support, or the satisfaction that your work will be exhibited in a meaningful way. Instead NYC artists find happiness with dedicated viewers and uneven moments of pure accolade. I remember being a Texan artist where all we had to do was take out one little ad in the local newspaper and the place was packed with curious minded people willing to pay money to see what we were doing. There was literally nothing else interesting to do. I sold artwork, without even trying. There were large commissions and pre-sale opportunities but I yearned to break away. NYC is my adopted hometown. The youngster in me identified with Letham’s wayward boys as they reacted to their world in irrational ways, ways that prevented positive results. The characters spoke to me because I know how a dangerous childhood can encroach on decisions years later. The one major difference was that none of these boys could become pregnant, unwillingly. This was the fear that so many girls lived with because there was so much violence around them. Imagining girl life –vs- boy life with fictional characters is my idea of an intellectual month well spent. However living people struggle long past the end of the page. So while I manage to make artworks to share, while I sustain a proud partnership for nearly 4 decades, while I enjoy my children as they became men, while I support my friends through their ups and downs, I hope all living youngsters will find a way of expressing themselves through another medium like dance, paint, words, object, music, and media as an alternative to self-destruction. It is possible to embrace a future through friendships that sustain us over a lifetime but you have to get through adolescents first.
When there were regular weekly gallery hours at Micro Museum® I greeted visitors. Two women from Canada who ironically I meet on the F Train platform the day before, came for a visit. During their visit one announced that they have been friends for 45 years. I asked them what allowed them to remain friends all that time, through marriages, children, different cities, different careers, and obviously different fashion since one was decked out in 100 colors and the other wore jeans and t-shirt and they both answered “ART”. Apparently they love it and because of that answer I loved them too. It was that simple. Slow friendships that evolved over many years are worthy investments plus I should add so is art.