Artists and their admirers filled the Visitor Center at Newtown Creek, last Tuesday, for the latest in the Center’s Spring Speaker Series, “Dissecting the Greenpoint Art Community.” The thought-provoking panel discussion focused on the unique attributes of the North Brooklyn arts community.
“Greenpoint and North Brooklyn is an enclave of artists, and we wanted to explore who’s a part of that scene. How is Greenpoint in conversation with art?” asked artist Shawn Shafner, who runs the nonprofit POOP Project. “Also, why should there be an artistic hub here that’s separate from other places, like Manhattan?” Shafner moderated the panel along with Jess Bergeron of NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Katie Denny of the North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition (nbART) and Juliana Cope of the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) rounded out the panel.
nbART collaborates with artists and community stakeholders to produce public exhibits, such as the India Street murals and an LED-lit sculptural exhibit in McCarren Park. “There’s a huge influx of artists here, and public art’s popping up organically everywhere,” Denny said.
The ISCP is a Williamsburg-based artists’ residency. “We support emerging to mid-career artists and curators,” Cope said. “We get over 100 residents a year from 50 countries.” Many of their artists’ projects involve the surrounding community. For example, an ISCP artist shot a film on the Polish community in Greenpoint. “She explored the neighborhood, interviewing,” Cope said. “It’s a humorous film about trying to find your own people.”
Denny and Cope spent the evening fielding questions from Shafner, such as: Who are the artists in North Brooklyn and who is their audience? What causes something to be considered “art”?
A discussion about the innumerable forms of creativity pointed to the artist using the world around him as a canvas a la an nbART exhibit. It also highlighted performance art, with Shafner describing an outdoor performance in which he and a friend dressed up and enthusiastically applauded passerby on the streets.
“Artists create interactions that don’t happen otherwise,” said Shafner. “Some people thought it was weird, others were like, ‘You made my day!’” Added Cope, “One of the greatest things we do is change people’s ideas about what art is and what it can be.”
The panel ended on a philosophical, age-old question—what’s the purpose of art? According to Denny, it beautifies the landscape, as nbART’s India Street murals did. “The street was desolate, almost scary, so we wanted to bring people to the space and let the murals draw their attention,” she explained.
Art can also create social change, as Shafner’s street project did. “People are so closed off everyday, so if they wanted to make eye contact with someone on the way to the train, this [performance] was their chance!” Shafner declared. Finally, art can serve as a cultural documentation, as the ISCP film on Polish Greenpointers did.
The Visitor Center at Newtown Creek made for the perfect setting. With its cascading waterfall sculpture and sleek glass chandeliers, it awakens an appreciation of artistic design.
“We’re planning to open up the center so that artists can show their work here. We want to start doing a lot more here,” said Bergeron, adding that she would love to see more people attend the Speaker Series as the Visitor Center becomes a part of Greenpoint’s artistic sphere.
Newtown Creek Visitor Center
329 Greenpoint Avenue
Visit www.nyc.gov for more information on the Speaker Series