Greenpoint Gazette
Transfiguration Photobooth Art Station

Bridging a Community Divide Through Interactive Art

BY Tanay Warerkar

A new art project is helping to bring together the Southside’s Latino community and its newest residents.

Voices of Brooklyn, a two-month old program started by Ben McKelahan, Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, is using music and story-telling to create a feeling of unity and mutual understanding within the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Each month’s performance follows a similar format, with the church pairing up a local musical act with a longtime Latino resident.

Musician Kelly Jones performed at last month’s event with Rosangel Perez, owner of a South Williamsburg Botanica called Botanikal and Community Relations Director of Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH) shared stories about growing up in the neighborhood.

In March, acoustic folk music group, Take Berlin, will perform and Debbie Medina, Director of Community Organizing for Southside United HDFC – Los Sures, will lead a story session about her experiences in the 1970s when the Latino community reclaimed the burnt down houses in the neighborhood.

Voices of Brooklyn also intersperses art with the stories and musical performances, with several “art stations” placed throughout the space for visitors to participate in a variety of projects. For example, a chalkboard invited attendees to use colored chalk to create imaginings of what their sanctuary could look like.

Another art station featured a collection of jars on a table, with each representing a different belief. Guests indicated which beliefs they agreed with by dropping a marble into its corresponding jar. Those who felt most strongly about a particular belief wore badges and encouraged people to question them about that belief.

Another station, a photo booth, aimed to recreate the Transfiguration of Jesus – with bright lights and white robes allowing people to recreate the New Testament event.

McKelahan grew up in California, where surrounded by creative-minded people, he found himself focused on resolving the seemingly mutually exclusive belief in the codified tenets of religion with the free-spirited mentality of those with whom he was living. He is now trying to apply those same principles in the Southside.

“We wanted to find a way to create a space where two different groups can hear each other’s stories and cultures,” said McKelahan. “Young people today are incredibly open-minded and even if they are not part of religious tradition, if they see church or synagogue doing something interesting, they are willing to check it out.”

The program began just as the church completed a renovation its theater space – abandoned for the last twenty years due to a lack of funding and programming.

The Church was able to restore the theater space with the help of several local organizations and McKelahan hopes the community’s artists will come to see it as a resource for their productions.

Voices of Brooklyn, next event: March 25, 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m., St. Paul’s Theater, 334 South 5th Street, Voices of Brooklyn occurs the final Wednesday of every month, suggested donation $15, for more information visit http://parablesnyc.org/vob/.

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