An Art Loisaida Foundation & East River Park Action Online Exhibit
Sixteen artists and photographers from the Lower East Side and East Village reflect on the impending demolition of East River Park in their visual work and their words. Here’s Harriet Hirshorn’s video tour of the exhibit at the Theater for the New City.
Here is the art from the exhibit with artists’ statements.
The photos in this show are from a September 2019 protest of the city’s decision to bury East River Park as a move to stop storm surges and flooding as an ill conceived plan that would be better served by following an earlier and sounder plan that had been scrapped at the last minute by city officials.
Many people are included in these photos but there are three individuals that take prominence in them: Nadege Alexis in Tompkins Square Park, Reverend Billy on East 4th Street outside of Carlina Rivera’s office, and Victor Weiss holding a sign I made, that he has carried to multiple protests and I thank him for that. – Sally Young
When I learned that the City was planning to destroy or displace every living thing within East River Park, I used citizen science observations (iNaturalist and eBird, with a bird survey conducted by Loyan Beausoleil) to come up with a preliminary species list. To my surprise, I learned that the Park was home to, or providing resources for, 11 species that are rare in New York State.
I’ve included photographs of a ground-nesting golden northern bumble bee (Bombus fervidus), which is a NY State Critically Imperiled, High Priority Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and two red-breasted mergansers (Mergus serrator), which are classified as NY State Vulnerable. I’ve also included the locust borer (Megacyllene robiniae), which is not a rare species, but was recently recorded for the first time in East River Park. The Environmental Impact Statement did not include any mitigation for biodiversity. – Amy Berkov
Once I wondered….Where have all the elm trees gone….and where have all the artists gone; the art stores; the music shops; the poets…
Where have all the willows gone…the shoemaker; the Jewish bread store; the Italian delis….
Soon I will ponder…..Where have all the gardens gone? Someone will say,
“They’ve gone on top of Condos every one.” – Lois Carlo
Carlo’s watercolors are of a Parrot Tulip, an Apricot Parrot Tulip, a Red-Tailed Hawk and a White-Throated Sparrow.
Chalk Poetry/Protest Triptych by Harriet Hirshorn
“The Quiet of the Branches” – Mary Oliver
“The Tree Inside Its Roots Our Limbs” – Claudia Rankine
“This Bliss is Yours” – Yi Lei
Bomba Plena East River Park and Baby Shower-East River Park-10th St. BBQ – Carolyn Ratcliffe
This series of three cloud paintings on canvas, were a reversal of the views that I concentrated on in my last series, which had been inspired by my drone photography, all with downward facing views.
Lying in the park looking up I shot photos of clouds above me, and took them home to paint the scenes. – Kristan Enos
What Will Be Lost – There are thousands of trees that will be destroyed if the city’s plan to demolish East River Park goes through. Each tree embodies a special life, a testament to the importance of nature in our urban environment. I have many favorite trees in this park. These are some that I have documented after dark in quiet solitude except for the seemingly distant noises of the nearby metropolis. This is when the park is most beautiful to me. – George Hirose
EL MISTERIO DE LAS MARIPOSAS – Walking along the East River Park in autumn, one of the many sights of beauty is the abundance of Monarch butterflies silently floating by. They rest to feed on the nectar plants as they travel their arduous and ancient migratory path along the coastline from Canada to Mexico.
One afternoon, coming upon a buttonbush covered with Monarchs, I was amazed to spot a tiny Monarch Watch tag affixed to one butterfly’s wing. Next day I submitted the tag code to the University of Kansas email which was printed on that tag and listed East River Park as the location of my observation.
Another afternoon walking through a patch of milkweed near the Williamsburg bridge, I spotted a Monarch’s chrysalis dangling from a branch. Slumbering folded wings soon to be transformed into flight could be seen through her dark transparent enclosure. Every few days I would walk by to check, until one day I found the milkweed patch had been mowed down. The chrysalis nowhere to be found. I hoped for the best that this Monarch had safely emerged and had made her way down to Mexico.
Biologists have been concerned about these iconic butterflies, as their numbers in reaching their overwintering sites in Mexico has continued to decline. Conservation organizations have established programs which call upon citizen scientists to help collect Monarch monitoring data. Using such data, a recent study by researchers in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, suggests that along with climate change, habitat fragmentation and the lack of nectar sources also contributes to this decline.
Soon our park, this vibrant source of nectar, will be entirely mowed down. And along with it, the health and well-being of our surrounding neighborhoods will be sacrificed. For the sake of Wall Street, a sterile walled-in park is to be built.
Why is New York City failing to be a world leader in adapting to sea level rise? Why is this administration putting a 17th century technology onto a 21st century problem? Why are elected city officials, cocooned in their un-transparent backroom dealings, foisting this short-sighted, greed-driven plan upon our community?
What will emerge and who will survive and thrive in the future? I will not be around in 100 years when some of these answers might be revealed, but I truly hope that the Monarchs are still there, silently floating by. – Alexia Weidler
As the city is planning to bury East River Park much of the biodiversity in the park is endangered. This includes trees, native plants and habitat for birds, butterflies, native bees, insects and animals.
It can take years for certain species to return after their habitat is destroyed. Protecting wildlife habitats and our biodiversity is crucial in keeping our world healthy.
The Bald Eagle was on the verge of extinction in 1978. Thanks to conservation efforts the eagles have started to come back. They are no longer endangered but are still protected by multiple federal laws.
In January of this year at 8:00 in the morning, for the first time, I spotted one in East River Park sitting on one of our London plane trees and took this photograph.
Red Trillium, Trillium erectum, is a NY State protected native plant listed as exploitably vulnerable.
The watercolor paintings were made using natural plant dyes from the native plants and weeds I collected in East River Park while working as a gardener there. All plants are part of the park’s habitat which is in danger of being destroyed. – Melinda Billings
I found this piece of driftwood washed ashore on an embayment in East River Park. It had whales in it everywhere I looked, so I strove to make them visible. I imagined that, as the driftwood floated along at sea, it ran across a few whales (and maybe a hippocamp) on its way here.
East River Park is remarkable for how much nature it encompasses: groves of huge mature trees that shade, cool and clean the air; grassy fields, a variety of bushes and plants that change with every season and provide food and shelter for birds and mammals and insects. So many microclimates and ecosystems support a surprising plethora of natural life. It’s a joy in every season.
For the DeBlasio administration to switch our prior resilient flood plan into a plan to wantonly destroy the entire park was immoral from the beginning – to insist on shutting and destroying this rare natural gem during the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic is grotesquely wrong on every level: economic, health, social justice, climate justice, environmental justice, whatever metric you use. We must preserve every tree and fight to keep the joy of nature within reach of every person in the Lower East Side and East Village. – Deborah Mills
Bicycle powered wind-sound Zoetrope and Food Cycle. – Kathy Creutzburg
How does East River Park make others feel? They come in all shapes and sizes. I recognize so many of them every time I push myself to get up before dawn. The dedicated early morning walkers, moving at a pace almost meeting mine, coming toward me, or I run around them, stretching as far a distance away from them as possible. How do the fishermen think of East River Park? Or the bikers, racing by with lights flashing, or the couple roller skaters, shirts off? And all the commuters that start trickling by when I’ve turned around and aim for home. Their shift starts long before mine—construction workers in their fluorescent vests, medical workers in their scrubs heading north? How Does the East River Park make you feel? – Shawn Dahl
Incertitude, Indigo Flowers, and Lower East Side Ecology Center, watercolors. – Dorine Oliver
“Gull” is a portrait of one of the sculptor’s many friends from the East River Promenade, a particular gull that George observed (and which observed George) over the course of a year living near the East River promenade at Brooklyn Bridge. – George Metritikas
Neighborhood visitors: Baltimore Oriole, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula Warbler, Red Tailed hawk with rat. – Dennis Edge
Kids run and play energetically in the park. It’s just not the same on the street or at home. Adults move more freely, too, in the park. Where will we play when 60 percent of the park is closed off and under construction for years on end? – Pat Arnow
The video features the “Buffering Sea Level Rise – East RIver Park” at the Labyrinth pavement painting by Diana Carulli near Houston Street in East River Park. The Dance with music and choreography by Lemon Guo was created and presented for Earth Celebrations’ Ecological City: Procession for Climate Solutions in May 2019. The Ecological City: Cultural & Climate Solutions Action Project applies creative strategies, co-creating a theatrical pageant, to bring together and celebrate climates solution initiatives throughout the community gardens, neighborhood and East River Park waterfront, and the importance of local sustainability efforts to city and global climate challenges.
The video features the “Save East River Park Dance” by Infinite Movement with youth from NYCHA housing, directed by Shaeeda Yasmin Smith in partnership with GOLES. The dance was created and presented for Earth Celebrations’ Ecological City: Procession for Climate Solutions in May 2019 under the Williamsburg Bridge in the East River Park.
Pat Arnow is a photographer who became an activist when the city announced the total destruction of East River Park in order to build a giant levee—the most destructive possible method of providing flood control to our Lower East Side neighborhood. She is one of the founders of East River Park ACTION, a grassroots organization devoted to saving East River Park.
Amy Berkov – is a 40-year resident of the East Village who made a mid-career change to tropical ecology, with a special interest in plant-insect interactions.
Melinda Billings is a photographer, gardener and volunteer at the Lower East Side Ecology Center in East River Park.
Lois Carlo – is an artist/designer.
Kathy Creutzburg is a public artist whose sculptures, mosaics and paintings are inspired by landscapes. For two consecutive years, she won the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Creative Engagement grant. Between 2018- 2020, Creutzburg and her collaborative team won numerous grants and residencies for their sculptural installation “Figment Summer Long Sculpture Garden” on Soldier’s Field National Monument, Governors Island for three consecutive years, 2012-214, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work has been shown in solo exhibits at Michael Mut Gallery and at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and group shows at Artist Equity, Station Independent Gallery and Central Booking in New York City.
Shawn Dahl is a graphic designer and community gardener.
Dennis Edge takes photos in the East Village.
Kristan Enos is a photographer by trade who studied lighting, filmmaking, and photography at The New School and The School of Visual Arts.
Enos says, “My grandmother Tecla was a painter, and a painting restorer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She first taught me to paint a still-life at the age of 5. In my high school days I painted some. After that I went on, taking my knowledge of light and color and how our eyes perceive it to my photography, in both film and digital formats. Now I have returned to painting after a 45 year hiatus. I am working presently in both realistic and abstract styles.”
George Hirose is a photographer, instructor and community gardener.
Harriet Hirshorn is an indépendent film maker living on the Lower East Side since the beginning of time and whose films focus on social justice issues.
George Metritikas was born in Greece at the end of WWII. He is a self-taught wood sculptor and outsider artist extraordinaire. He recalls as earliest memories his relationships and fascination with animals and birds, his most frequent sculptural subjects.
Deborah Mills has been carving wood for 30 years. She says she is “attracted by something holy in the material. Wood from a felled tree was once alive, and after death it keeps breathing, contracting and expanding in response to weather, sun, humidity. It just feels alive, so I look for the numen or spirit within it, and try to coax it into sight.”
Dorine Oliver is an artist, print maker and community gardener. She paints mostly with watercolors and is also a muralist, printmaker and decorative artist. She is classically trained. She studied at ENsaD in Paris then at the Art Students League in Manhattan. She is regularly showing her work in New York galleries. She currently shows 2 murals on Roosevelt Island at the Motorgate Gallery and at the South tip of the Island painted for RIOC, Fall for the Arts Festival.
Carolyn Ratcliffe is an artist, photographer, curator and preservationist who has lived in the East Village since 1976. She is involved with the East Village Community Gardens and is the Artistic Director of Art Loisiada Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes neighborhood arts/artists and engaging the community in environmentally themed art events, including free children’s art workshops, multidisciplinary performances and visual art exhibits in local venues, including community gardens. She organized and curated this exhibit.
Alexia Weidler is an artist and community gardener.
Felicia Young, a social action artist, founded Earth Celebrations as non-profit organization in 1991 on the Lower East Side of New York City to engage communities to effect ecological and social change through the arts. For 30 years Felicia has applied the inspirational power of the arts through large-scale collaborative art projects, public theatrical pageants, and grassroots coalition efforts to generate change on issues including climate change, river restoration, waste management and the preservation of community gardens, parks, and a healthy urban environment. The successful 15-year Save Our Gardens project (1991-2005), utilized the transformative power of culture and an annual large-scale collaborative art project to mobilize a local and citywide garden preservation coalition effort that led to the preservation of hundreds of community gardens in New York City. Since 2018, she has directed the Ecological City: Cultural & Climate Solutions Action Project, engaging community to bring together and celebrate climate solutions initiatives throughout the community gardens, neighborhood and East River Park waterfront on the Lower East Side, and the importance of local efforts to city and global climate challenges. www.earthcelebrations.com
Sally Young is a painter, photographer, activist, and as of lately, activist/muralist artist, who has made her home in the East Village since 1980. She usually exhibits her work as a painter, but often works in photographic mediums and studied Photography as part of a double-major while attending art school. Sally has been actively working on a photo essay that spans over years of photographs taken from traveling on trains from NYC to the South and back. Many of her paintings are based on these photos.
This exhibit is presented by
Theater for the New City
Crystal Fields, Director
Carolyn Ratcliffe, Curator
This virtual exhibit shows images of work that is actually hanging in the gallery at the Theater for the New City. However, it’s Covid-19’s fault you can’t see it in person. That is why there is a video tour of the works at the head of this post. Some of these pieces will be for sale with proceeds going to Theater for the New City, East River Park Action and the artists. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in purchasing any of these works.
Copyright 2020 by each artist. Please do not download or reproduce any image without the permission of the artist.