Art Beat

Behind the Scenes of Bushwick’s Most Inspiring New Mural

by Sarah Quinter

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This summer, “Guided Gateways,” a 22’ by 109’ mural designed to spark dialogue about reproductive health in was unveiled on Wyckoff Avenue and Putnam Street. The mural was a project of lead artist Crystal Clarity in partnership with teen participants in Groundswell’s Voices Her’d Visionaries leadership development program.

I visited the mural site several times and spoke with the young women working on the mural. They told me that they started in the spring by discussing issues of teen pregnancy and women’s empowerment. They came up with five issues they wanted to address through the piece: consent, the restriction of access to reproductive care, the shaming of teen pregnancy, accessing knowledge around women’s well-being, and communication between generations of women. They then did word association sketches to generate images for the mural. Crystal then helped the young women unify their ideas into a single composition, and the team got to work. They told me that the feedback they got from passers-by was mostly positive, though some males questioned why there were no males on the team or depicted in the mural. This sparked dialog about how women’s perspectives were rarely given center stage, and the importance of providing venues for those perspectives. The teen artists spoke to me about how the project not only helped them strengthen their skills, but gain confidence in their voice and community. After the unveiling ceremony on August 28th, I interviewed Crystal via email about her work as an artist and educator and her connection to the neighborhood:

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What’s your connection to Bushwick? What are your feelings about this neighborhood?

I started teaching at the El Puente Bushwick Center around 2002. It was my first art teaching gig and I found there a community I had been looking for for a long time. I taught there for about five years and watched a lot of young people grow up there. I grew up there too! My first apartment as an adult was in Bushwick on Jefferson Street – it is a very special neighborhood to me. It’s full of families and people like my parents who are here in the US trying to raise their babies the best they can. Working class mostly Latino peoples – my peoples. I feel very much at home here.
The first large-scale community mural I ever painted is here in Bushwick – “Time Flies: A Brief History of Bushwick” on Knickerbocker Avenue and Woodbine Street. I was part of a huge crew of amazing community-minded artists working with El Puente. My mentor Joe Matunis, a serious muralist, gave me the centerpiece to rock and it was everything! I became a muralist here.  I became a teaching artist here – this was the foundation for the rest of my life’s work. Now I feel I have come full circle with this mural I have led and given other young artists space to rock – it is my/our best work to date.  I will always have tremendous love and respect for Bushwick.

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Please describe your current project. What has been the process for the mural, and what do you hope to communicate?

This project is a Groundswell Program called Voices Her’d . It was started by Katie Yamasaki and is designed to give voice and stage to critical issues that young women are dealing with. It is led by women artists with a theme chosen by youth. This year’s theme was teen pregnancy and female empowerment. We started by looking at how this conversation is being held in public space. We looked at the recent PSA’s of crying babies with shaming narratives blaming young mothers for the ills of society. We talked about how this conversation is held at home and in schools if at all and concluded the base of all these conversations was coming from a place of shame, fear and judgment. We decided to construct our narrative addressing that and also expanding the narrative socially, personally and politically. The politics of men making decisions for women’s bodies is addressed — advocacy for reproductive justice is encouraged. Access to sex ed, contraception and abortion should be issues where women have full autonomy. Shaming is present in the mural because it’s a reality, but it’s dwarfed by images depicting the kind of positive and powerful relationships young women need to have with older women to initiate safely into womanhood. Conversations with partners and consent and mindfulness is encouraged. A young woman is shown balancing a child with her school books and talents while standing on an alarm clock, and conversations with families about sex is encouraged.

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In fairness – art has a way of meaning different things depending on the viewer. I’ve noticed people on the street pointing and talking to each other – they talk to us and tell us what it means to them. Some get precisely to the letter what we are saying, some misinterpret, some are offended (mostly homophobic men petrified of being excluded in a woman’s vision of power). Or just afraid of women’s power.
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What themes have you explored in your work over the years? Who are your audiences and what kinds of messages have you aimed to convey?

My work primarily serves and celebrates women of color – women of the Afro-Caribbean and indigenous diaspora. I aim to decolonize the image of black and brown bodies and return us to the throne of our original power and dignity. I want to create images that counter the spiritually and mentally damaging visual culture that surrounds us and programs us everyday.
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You’ve worked with young people for a long time as an artist and an educator. What values and skills do you try to impart to them? What principles or values inform how you interact with youth?

It is important to me when working with young people – especially youth of color – to first create a safe space and a place of mutual respect and appreciation. Non-judgment and gratitude and respect are foundation.  But best practice in anything is emphasized. They need to be prepared to work hard and I don’t give a lot of space for lame excuses that we are programmed with from birth to tame our limitless potential. They have to show up and they have to try and they have to be honest, not for me or for a program, but for themselves. I lead with them as leaders beside me. I value their ideas and objections and respect their concerns and fears, as long as they are not excuses to stop looking for a solution. My major principles are reciprocity and each one teach one and I let them know at any given moment that I have something to learn from them and that I’m not the only one with valuable knowledge and experience.
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Do you have a memorable story to tell about being an educator?

I always tell this story about the first big mural I worked on, the one in Bushwick on Knickerbocker with the two spiraling birds on the corner. I was so intimidated by the scale, it was the biggest thing I had ever been responsible for designing. I was about to start working on the gigantic feathers with one other youth. I looked at him – we looked at each other and he says,” It’s so big, I’m scared to paint this, I’m scared to mess up.” I said, “Me too, all day, but let’s do it anyway.” We just started rocking out and overcame that together. I think it’s important to show kids that it’s ok to be scared or vulnerable and make mistakes. But it’s not ok to let it stop you from pushing forward.
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What artistic and cultural influences have shaped your style and aesthetic?

I’m a NYC baby – an 80s baby – a child of hip hop and of the inner city. I’m a Boricua – all of these modalities shape my expressions, visual and lyrical/ poetic, etc.
What media have you worked with and what have made them important to you? (murals, printmaking, etc)
Drawing is fundamental, but I regrettably don’t do it nearly enough. Murals have been a huge part of my creative practice over the past ten years and sometimes I feel the need to expand inward from the community to my individual voice. I’m working on giving myself permission to do that. I always feel such a harsh sense of responsibility and obligation to the greater voice and vision of people in struggle. Murals are important to me as a people’s art – a democratic art form.
Printmaking is my second love for similar reasons, but I love its ability to still be a people’s art and tool for disseminating information but while retaining a space for the individual artist to flex. I love printmaking and murals – I could do it till I’m done!
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Where do you hope to take your work as an artist and educator in the future? What’s on the horizon for you?

I really want to create for myself the kind of artist residencies that take what I love doing and help really amazing people and organizations with their visual presence. I want to work more on my printmaking and teach silkscreen 😉

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Is there anything else you’d like to add? Some advice to aspiring artists?

Do what you love and love what you do. Make purpose primary and everything else will line up. Don’t chase money – it’s not real. What you do and leave behind is the wealth you seek. Everything leads to the next thing.  Be generous with your talents and heart but don’t let people exploit you. Be disciplined but live your life! Have fun. Dig deep. Integrity is everything. Say yes a lot but learn when to say no. Hydrate. Exercise. Love abundantly, create constantly.

Love ,
Clarity

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Bushwick Vendors Market

Come out tomorrow September 14th to The Bushwick Vendors Market happening at the Silent Barn. 603 Bushwick Ave From 12-7pm.
BVM is a new community  oriented market hoping to attract people from all walks of life. While creating opportunities within the neighborhood.
Here are a few photos of some of the vendors you will see tomorrow.

        Scented Candles

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               Jewelry

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            Home Decor

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        Stuffed Animals

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DRTY SMMR, BUSHWICK NIGHTS

by Jaz Colon

Ok, so we know that there are a bunch of boutiques, galleries, and cafes popping up in Bushwick. With four coffee shops on one block, it’s all becoming over-rated. Some people have even said that it’s no longer feeling like a community. Why is there a huge disconnect between the new community that is being built and the pre-existing one that has been around for thirty-plus years? It’s not the new businesses that are creating this feeling. It’s the people who run them. However, this is not the story with every new venture in Bushwick. There are a lot of genuine people doing amazing things through all forms of art, from music, dancing, fashion, and more.

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Alfredo Leijia (29, born and raised in Texas) and Shock Vintage (29, born and raised in Atlanta, GA) are among the many talented. They run a collaborative boutique called DRTY SMMR (DS), which lies on 1198 Myrtle Ave. Being under the loud and constantly running M train gives their storefront a chic, yet edgy look. From the outside you can see at least two racks filled with treasures: evening gowns, vintage findings, and punky, avant-garde styles. Inside are enough beautiful accessories to leave you with a completely new outfit.

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Beautiful murals, along with paintings, dress their walls. DS has it all, but the thing that struck me the most was the vibe I got the minute I walked into the space. It felt inviting. Alfredo and Shock were very warm and vibrant and filled with genuine personality. You could sense their joy in having you there. Their whole essence and how they carry themselves represent community. They really have a passion to build bonds with every one who walks in and out of their shop. Alfredo and Shock are very connected to the local youth group, Educated Little Monsters. Shock came and spent a day with them talking about fashion and design. Alfredo created the costume for their first dance showcase. He took care of them. Knowing that this little shop not only offers unique fashion, but also helps the community is a win for any town. Make sure you come out and give them a visit.

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Here’s a little info about the designers:

Bushwick Bridge (BWB): How long have you lived in Bushwick and what made you choose Bushwick?

Alfredo Leijia (AL): Actually, my first apartment was in Bed-Stuy, in 2010. I left there at the time, because I felt like it wasn’t coming up fast enough. You know, that young creative life. The Bushwick art scene was a lot stronger than it was in Bed-Stuy at the time.

Shock Vintage (SV): I’ve been in Bushwick, on and off, for four years. I chose Bushwick for the prices and distance to the city.

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BWB: How long have you been designing?

AL: Wow, I was about fifteen. I designed four girls’ dresses and my suit for our high school prom. I was sketching at seven years old. I always knew that I wanted to make things with my hands and at fifteen I knew it was my passion. I still have the sketch of an off-the-shoulder jacket I made in red.

SV: I’ve been designing ever since I was about 12-years-old.

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BWB: How would you describe your designs?

AL: They are edgy and elegant. I always feel like I’m dressing up a vampire from the 1920s. I wish I grew up in the 1920s and the 1940s. I love [those eras]. [They] inspire my style.

SV: My designer style is a mixture between urban-wear and athletic-wear. And [it’s] slightly couture, due to the authenticity.

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BWB: How has your experience been overall in Bushwick?

AL: I really like it a lot. It’s one of the best communities I’ve been to. So many mixtures of people. I love the diversity. We get a lot of good feedback from people who come by our shop. We had this one lady–who happened to be a native–who told us, “Thank you for bringing some beauty to our community.” It felt amazing to hear her say that. It’s also an overwhelming feeling to see how happy a new client is when they get something custom-made specifically for them. It always feels like my first piece.

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BWB: Do you think Bushwick fits your style?

SV: Bushwick, like most areas, don’t necessarily fit my style, because I’m extremely unique within my style. It’s never planned. It’s inspired by culture and art and fashion.

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BWB: What do you love most about designing clothes?

SV: Designing clothes is very therapeutic. It’s also exclusive, because you are the only person who creates that design. There is nothing like originality.

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An Interview with Angelina Dreem of Powrplant

by Bianca Perez

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***Join Powrplnt this friday for an exhibition of young artists that have completed their fout-week digital art series. The work ranges from video, digital collage, and music. More info here.***

What is Powrplnt? What inspired you to create it? What are your goals for this project?

Powrplnt is a digital art collaboratory. We want to make computers and software accessible to all. We host donation-based classes, free classes for teens, and open lab hours with someone present to answer any questions you may have.

Who are you? What led you to start Powrplnt? Who are the people involved?

I started Powrplnt with the help of my friends Anibal Luque and Sophie Sofar. We each have our own specialty, but came together over a unified vision that access to computers and software should be available to all. We now recruit artists to volunteer three hours of their time. We’re connecting young artists with established artists in the neighborhood.

There’s no doubt that computer savviness is essential for traversing the modern world. How will Powrplnt aid in spreading tech knowledge locally? 

We have our doors open and are available to help anyone with anything computer-based. I went around to schools in the neighborhood and met students interested in more creative software. We are here as a resource until August and have been inviting anyone to hang out and ask questions. I’d also like to add that our specialty is creative computer use, using computers for art-making, which is essential for any professional artist.

 Being that it is so relevant these days, what do you think keeps schools (and other learning facilities) from focusing more on teaching computer skills? 

Cost, and lack of skill from teachers. We want to teach skills are useful when you’re trying to get your ideas across, when you are making multi-media art, and when you are experimenting. We definitely aren’t a technical school. We are by artists for (future) artists. School is bad at teaching anything that strays away from the norm.

How do you see the arts and computer technology amalgamating further in the near future?

They have already been sleeping with each other for a while, but I see more 3D printing and rendering being used in sculpture, and more conceptual interactive pieces that will use programming to dictate and emotional response.

What are some specific skills which Powrplnt will be lending training in?

We are finishing our first four-week course with a group show this Friday, June 27th, from 6 to 10pm. This will display work from students that became familiar with Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and Ableton Live. Our next four-week course, beginning the second week in July, will cover Tumblr design, font and poster making, and how to build a t-shirt brand, which the students will then do and be able to sell.

We are trying to keep the structure very real-world based. By showing the student’s work at the end of the month, they are getting first hand experience that is so valuable. We are preparing young artists to be ready and successful in pursuing a career as an artist and creative. There are still spots for some of these classes if you are a teen or know a teen who may be interested.

We also have teaching artists that are leading all-ages classes in Ableton, Photoshop. and web design.

We are looking for teachers in 3D Rendering software like Blender and Rhino.

How can people get involved with Powrplnt, either to take classes or volunteer?

Everyone should follow our instagram for updates. We have a volunteer form on our website or they can just email powrplnt@gmail.com. We have a kick ass Indiegogo campaign that has really awesome perks. Check out our website at http://www.powrplnt.org/.

Also, just stop in and say hello!

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Flyer designs by Bianca Perez.

 

Meet Rudy Dejesus, Up-and-Coming Fashion Designer from Bushwick

by Kassandra Steward

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Rudy Dejesus is a 21-year-old man who grew up in Bushwick. Starting his own clothing line called Intellect Clothing at the age of 19, this young go getter has set standards for the average teen. After starring in an Atlantic City fashion show, I thought this would be the perfect time for him to get the exposure he deserves. Not only is fashion his passion, but when he’s not designing he makes music so his love for the arts is clearly shown. Check out this interview with the ambitious Rudy Dejesus.

Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your educational background? What are your general professional and non-professional interests?

I was born in the Bronx, raised in Bushwick. I graduated from Bushwick High school Academy of Urban Planning. I did some college at Kingsborough Community College and my major was fashion design and then I changed it to fashion merchandising to understand more of the business aspect of fashion designing. As a nonprofessional interest I like to skateboard.

Any plans on going back to school?

It’s all inevitable. Of course, if my business gets to where I want it to be where it can carry itself and I’m able to focus on my education while paying my bills, then absolutely. Especially now with how expensive Bushwick has become.

What does fashion mean to you?

Fashion is everything. Fashion is your costume, your emotions; Fashion is who you are and what you represent. Fashion can be something you can feel physically or emotionally. All your senses combined in one.

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When did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?

I always wanted to be in charge. I changed what I wanted to be in life several times, but I always knew I wanted to have something of my own. So when I got into high school I started at Murry Bergtraum which was a business school and I used those skills and took them with me to Bushwick High School. And for my economics class I had to start printing shirts and that put everything into place.

Why the name Intellect Clothing?

Intellect is something that everybody has. It can be defined as creative thinking. Throughout generations anyone that’s felt cornered has found a way to be mentally satisfied. People in jail, college students only in school because their parents force them to, there’s an outlet a lot of them find whether it’s art, reading or just creative thinking in general. I just feel like everybody has intellect.

What was the first article of clothing you ever designed?

First piece of clothing was me doing a stunt on my skateboard at Knickerbocker Park. A really good friend of mine Anthony Castro took the picture and I was able to print it onto my shirt.

How do you usually decide which constructed piece you want to sell?

I usually start designing one and go into another so by the time I get to the computer I have multiple designs. So within that thought process it filters out on which one I think will sell more.

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What are some of your accomplishments as a designer?

Wow. I would have to say being a man of my word. I wasn’t too educated in business and just doing my research and being committed, it all went through. I was in fashion shows. So establishing a brand is something I’ve accomplished. My designs came out on the NBC news during The Atlantic City fashion show.

Who are some of your favorite designers?

Ralph Lauren. I’m actually reading a book about him.

Where can readers buy your clothes?

http://www.IntellectClothing.com

How do you select your models?

Fashion shows always give me models, but I am looking for models in Bushwick. I just haven’t found people as dedicated. So for me it’s all about profession. Makeup artists in Bushwick are also something I’m looking for.

What are some of your favorite clothing stores/websites?

My favorite store would be Uniqlo. They have everything from casual to business.

What do you believe makes a quality article of clothing?

Content. Whatever you put in a product means value then drops down to comfort and how long it will last. Are you investing in the idea or the actual product?

Do you consider yourself an artist?

Definitely. I draw I skateboard, photograph, I also do music.

Do you have a favorite artist that you look up to and say wow, I want to be in his position?

Jay-Z definitely. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.

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rudy6How do you prepare for a fashion shoot or show?

For a fashion show it’s about what you want your collection to be for the season, so I’ll do my research and figure out what’s going to be in style. For photo shoots you need your models and locations and budgeting.

Do you prefer sketching designs or actually constructing them?

My inspiration will come from anywhere. I would even add my photography into it. I also want to get into sewing a bit more.

What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?

Stay committed. People are always going to judge, but if you stay positive it will always come back to you.

What do you like best about designing clothes?

The idea of a blank page. I want my brand to represent motivation, striving, thinking outside the box. So if someone else sees you wearing a brand like that they will also feel inspired and so on. It’s the power of giving that’s going to be represented by my brand.

What do you dislike about designing clothes?

It’s expensive. [laughs]

How would you define your personal style?

It goes with my emotions, if I feel like I’m happy I’ll wear my best outfits.

How would you define the style your line exemplifies?

I believe my fashion line is a growth and I say that because I’m only 21 and I’m still growing.  I mean at first I started off with hoodies and t- shirts and as I learn more about the business of fashion I want to broaden my horizons.

What are some of your fashion goals?

Surpass Polo Ralph Lauren… that’s a high goal but that’s what I want. I feel like I have surprised myself with the things that I have done with being only 21 years old so I want to keep striving.

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rudy8What other experience do you have in the fashion industry (stylist, retail, marketing, etc.)?

I haven’t had the opportunity to style other people who aren’t wearing my clothes. I’ve done retail at Macy’s, so it helped me with a bit of merchandising.

What are your favorite patterns [prints] to work with?

Stripes. [laughs]

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Check Soundcloud at rudboysick and my YouTube channel at rudboysick.

Since you live in Bushwick, I wanted your opinion on the gentrification that is happening in our community.

That’s a broad subject. I’m going to give you an example, which is Manifest Destiny, the Western expansion. So it’s more like the idea of moving forward is being enforced. Rather than change the mind of the people, they change the surroundings, and it will either motivate the people or give them the choice to give up.

E.L.M the movement

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Educated Little Monsters has been doing some pretty impactful things within the Bushwick community. 
E.L.M is a performing and visual arts program servicing the youth, ages 10-16. They’ve been running for a little over a year.  Take a look at some  pictures of their community mural done in Bushwick.

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Montana spray can company sponsored this project. They donated 24 cans 🙂
Also a huge shout out to Bushwick Street Art for curating our first project.

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ELM currently has the following       programs.
♥Dance Company
♥Hip Hop/ Poetry
♥Videography
♥Art Classes~TBA
♥Musical Theater~TBA
♥Monthly community events
To register for classes or to try a class out email EducatedLittleMonsters@gmail.com

Bushwick Youth Group Featured on Pix11 News

Educated Little Monsters (ELM) is a completely grassroots youth group founded by Yazmin Colon, who is also a founding member of The Bushwick Bridge team. They do dance, hip-hop, poetry, and more, performing to captivated audiences in Bushwick and beyond. The Bushwick Bridge is working on an in-depth interview with ELM, but in the meantime, we wanted to share this recent story about them that was in Pix11 news.

From Spain to Jesus Saves

by Yazmin Colon

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What is art? I feel that the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder.  Who is to judge and say what art is, when there are so many views and opinions. Everyone has their own focus, like the lens of a camera. We can all look through the same lens and yet focus in on different aspects of that what we see. Again, what is art when it comes in so many shapes, sizes and colors?

I myself was raised in these Brooklyn streets in the 80’s: the era of graffiti, taggers, writers or as some consider it, vandalizers. Our art galleries were the trains flooded with graff, the RIP murals that went up next to the community bodegas. The people we considered artists were the names that you seen thrown up no matter what borough you traveled to. Jesus Saves was one of those very artists. Being raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, I remember seeing a Jesus Saves tag. Today I have the honor to release an interview done with this graffiti legend who has been around for 20+ years in the making. 

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Brooklyn

BWB: Where were you born and raised?

Jesus Saves: “I was born in West Islip, Long Island. My parents moved to Bushwick back in 77. I was only 3 years old and have been here ever since.

BWB: From Spain to Jesus Saves. When did that happen? When was that first itch, that time when you put that marker to the wall and caught your first tag? I know you are now a church man when did that happen?

Jesus Saves: I was 18 years old when I started writing Spain and caught my first tag but I was just tagging just to tag. At that time every one was doing graffiti. It was the thing to do, even if you weren’t a tagger, writer you still had to throw something on the wall. Graffiti was at its biggest back then and so was hip-hop. It was one of the elements of Hip Hop, just like break dancing, b-boying, dj-ing etc.  I was raised with people doing art, graffiti all around me its all I seen.  So at the time I chose the name Spain because I speak Spanish and I’m real white, that’s the name that every one called me so I started writing it. To this day people still call me Spain. I go by MC Spain as a gospel rapper. As a graffiti artist after giving my life to the lord I changed it up and started writing Jesus Saves. After I started writing up Jesus Saves that’s when I really got passionate on hand styles and graffiti and wanted to be everywhere. I like the fact that I am repping Jesus as well as reppin myself as a graffiti artist and that’s the beauty of it. I think that this is a beautiful ministry that God has given me. I can represent for the church crowd and the street crowd.

BWB: Growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn was a pretty rough era in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. What were some or one of the best memories you have of Bushwick from that era.

Jesus Saves: “The best time for me was in 80-85.  In 85 I was about 11 years old. That’s the age I remember we would go to the handball courts in 111 park today known as the park of I.S. 347 Junior High school on Starr and Central and there was mad graffiti everywhere.  All over the handball courts, all over the school, the trains were getting bombed, it was crazy. We would bring rolled up carpets to do our b-boy dances. My uncle would lend me his boom box, and I remember at that time we were always playing Latoya by Just Ice, Run DMC, Just Blow and Menudos, the Spanish band. They did a concert at Knickerbocker Park. It was crazy, those were really good times.

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BWB: Do you consider yourself a graff artist or a street artist or both?

Jesus Saves: I would say both. I do street art. Street art to me would be like catching tags but I’m also a graffiti artist, I do murals, canvases, I love art, and what I do is art. Graffiti is art. Sometimes I like to consider myself as a graffiti artist/writer. A writer is someone who catches tags, an artist is some one who gets productive, puts in beautiful colors and beautifies their pieces. I’m a little bit of both but I’m trying to be more of an artist than a writer because I know that God is opening up doors for me to the point where I don’t have to be a writer anymore. Being a writer I’ve had a couple of arrests and did 30 days in Riker’s Island for the amount of arrest I had for tagging. I want to avoid that life. In ‘95 I was all over Bushwick, by ‘97 I was all city. My tag was everywhere.

BWB: Have you hit up places out of the country and if so where and what’s your favorite piece?

Jesus Saves: Yes for sure, I’ve done murals in Spain, I’ve done over ten pieces out there. Caught mad tags in Barcelona, and Valencia of course. I stopped by Paris for a week on my way to Germany. In Germany did a couple of murals, which are the ones I love the most. I also have done murals in Puerto Rico and just got back not too long ago from Dominican Republic where I did like ten walls.

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Puerto Rico

BWB: What was one of your best bombing experiences?

Jesus Saves: I would say when I was homeless for three weeks. I was a free man. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I mean don’t get me wrong, I had nowhere to live but I would make sure I showered by my mom’s and eat, but again I was a free man. I could bomb anywhere I wanted. All I did was walk. There were times I would walk from Bushwick to the Bronx just catching tags. I’d rest at a park, fall out for a bit, and do it again. I was still selling canvases and was still doing art shows, so when one of my pieces would sell I’d go buy paint.  I always had paint even back at my mothers house I had stashes of paint. I’d go pick up about ten cans, five white five black and just leave. Leave from Dekalb and Tompkins in Bed Stuy where my mother lived at, and walk all the way to Manhatten and Central Park, just walking catching tags on everything, even vans. One thing I didn’t do was tag on clean vans, only if they were already tagged up. I can say I was lost, this being back in 2005, which was the year I think I caught the most wreck. I was all over Dykman Washington Heights, then I’d go to downtown Manhatten, SoHo, the Village, Tribeca, everywhere.  Would go the Bronx, and I’d get lost, I’m telling you, I was everywhere. But I can say those where the best experiences I had in my graffiti life, those three weeks, so free I felt like a bird. Didn’t care if I would get locked up. I got a lot of heat, vandal squad was looking for me. They said I had so many tags that they couldn’t even tell what borough I was from. It was crazy, but those three weeks was the best.  At that time I had nothing lose.

js4

Spain

BWB:  How do you feel about the change that’s coming to Bushwick, the new art scene?

Jesus Saves: I mean I’ve seen a lot of changes honestly. When I look around now I’m like, wow, we’re in the future. Its like we in Manhattan, so the art scene has become very advanced, we have a lot of European artists out here painting as well, so Bushwick is getting its recognition worldwide. People are coming out here to paint, and Bushwick is making noise graffiti wise and in the street art world period. In general Bushwick is changing, new condo buildings. People are complaining because rent is going up, but it some ways it’s better. Bushwick has become a very safe neighborhood, more police than ever before. Back in the days in the 90’s for me it was sweet, there were no cops anywhere. In the late 80’s and 90’s before I gave my life to God I remember my and my boys would hang in the corner just smoking weed, and drinking 40’s, all the drugs and drug buildings. I mean lines of addicts getting served. Cops nowhere. Where was police then? They were nowhere to be found unless something crazy happened. But now they are everywhere.

BWB: From one artist to another, what would you be some advice you would give to other artist coming into the Bushwick community?

I wish them a lot of blessings. I wish them the best, to get productive and to take advantage of being in this neighborhood. Bushwick is a blessing. Being an artist Bushwick is one of the best places to be in.  It’s the heart of art. Get your recognition, legal if possible, things aren’t the way they were back in my era. You can get caught a lot faster. Promote your work online, promote it in the streets. Stay out of trouble.

BWB: What would you tell the native graffiti artists/artist who have been raised in Bushwick to help them handle the new wave?

Jesus Saves: Just go with the flow. We had a good time in the past. It was one of the best we seen. People come and go, but we have to embrace other artists and show them love. Make them feel welcomed because through that you build connections and we can combine and as artists in Bushwick that’s what we need. That competition stuff to me is wack. No one is better than no one, we all are artists. God has blessed us all with a gift. Let’s just do what we love. We have to give Bushwick a good name.

BWB: What are you currently up to?

Jesus Saves: Well as I said I have given my life to God. And I look at everyone as a blessing. I’ve been working with some kids in other churches teaching them the skill of graffiti art and inspiring them not only with graffiti but also as a gospel. Graffiti artists for Christ. These kids love art, hip-hop, and Jesus, so we allow them to be themselves and still practice their religion. Times have changed, we have to be more open-minded with our youth if we want them to be inspired and understand that church doesn’t have to be boring. So their love for hip-hop and graff is accepted in its positive form. It’s all about building the connection with them.

Jesus Saves has proven his talent not only here but many places out of the country as well, as you read.

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Germany

Welcome to the Barnyard

by Camilla Zhang

People getting pumped up for ELM's performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandPeople getting pumped up for ELM’s performance. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

When one takes a gander at Silent Barn, located at 603 Bushwick Avenue, it appears to be just another closed and somewhat ramshackle storefront. Upon further analysis of the oddly electric, pastel mural covering the gate, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that this space is frequented by “hipsters.” What then, makes Silent Barn (otherwise known as “the Barn”) different from other art spaces in Bushwick? For starters, they possess a genuine and proven commitment to diverse programming. They also have a Community Outreach group that is dedicated to ensure that the arts collective is a socially conscious one.

According to its website, Silent Barn “is a multi-functional all-ages art incubation space,” but in reality, it is so much more than that. This is certainly a biased statement, as I myself recently became a member of Silent Barn’s Community Outreach group. I had no prior art collective experience and that’s precisely why Silent Barn is unique. You can just dive in if you want to be involved. For example, the youth group, Educated Little Monsters (ELM) holds their weekly workshops there. Meanwhile, I’ve co-organized an exhibition of paintings by seniors of the Diana Jones Center, which is a block away from Silent Barn. The neighborhood activist group, Northwest Bushwick got their start at the Barn. And the arts collective has so much more in store.

Everyone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF ClarkeEveryone boogies to SHAMS, a musical performer. Photo credit MF Clarke

After one of our bi-weekly meetings, I sat with two members of the Outreach group, Brandon Zwagerman and Andrew McFarland, to get the scoop on why Silent Barn cares and how it sees its role within Bushwick. The Barn is referred to as a DIY space, but Zwagerman prefers the term “DIT (Do It Together) culture and [what its] values embrace and put forward: that without a lot of resources anyone can put on cultural events and bring people together. It’s about accessibility to a lot of different people.”

Zwagerman helped the Barn find their current location a little over a year ago. He said, “It was tough because we wanted a space that was both commercial and residential, kind of a holistic 24-hour idea.” When they signed a ten-year lease, they knew they wanted to serve and sustain the community.

 Natives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandNatives and newcomers chill at the Silent Barn Yard Party. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

When asked about their aspirations for the community, Zwagerman said, “My hopes would be more connections made between different sub-communities in the neighborhood; creating new links, cohesiveness, and collaboration between people of different backgrounds, ages, and values, hopefully all with shared goals of making the neighborhood more liveable, safe, affordable, happy. This all sounds very idealistic, but you have to believe and hope for these things.”

Andrew McFarland added, “I’d love to see more social and cultural sustainability. From a DIY scene aspect, I think a lot of people–especially with 285 Kent closing down on the Williamsburg waterfront this past winter– are talking about how scenes are sort of just moving as gentrification moves us. I would love for things to just stay still for a while and for people to actually form connections with cultural resources, like Silent Barn. We can be invested in the community for the long term instead of moving every couple of years to a cheaper neighborhood. Cause I don’t think that’s in the community’s best interest either. I think that our fates are intertwined.”

 Mr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn - Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF ClarkeMr. Xing Yi Tian and Ms. Bei Yu admiring art painted by themselves and by thier friends from the Senior Center. From the Silent Barn – Diana Jones Center joint event, Landscaping for Links. Photo Credit MF Clarke

I interjected, “Pretty soon, there won’t be any place left to run, for any of us!” McFarland echoed my sentiments, saying, “If we want to be sustainable culturally we have to be sustainable socially, which means making the neighborhood affordable and [acknowledging] that we’re connected to certain groups. All people are actors and players in our neighborhood, because we are definitely all in the same boat.”

In regards to noticeable differences Silent Barn has made, Zwagerman recounted March 8, 2014, when ELM had their open mic: “Awesome neighborhood kids performed and the crowd seemed to like it. [There were] a lot of different folks who maybe haven’t been together at the same event at all. I’d like to hope that some crossover happens when you put a bunch of folks in the same room when they don’t know each other. At the very least, there’s shared cultural expression happening between the audience and performers.”

McFarland reminisced about the significant “Tongues” event organized last June by  Amritha [Kidambi] of ISSUE Project Room. “It was traditional Indian music with the Sitar. It was a beautiful night. There were other [non-Indian] artists that played songs inspired by Indian music. The event had different cross-cultural pollination. The great thing about it was that it was on a night in June and it was pretty warm and everyone was sitting on the floor of Manhattan room, the main space at Silent Barn, and it was totally full. Everyone was sitting cross-legged over the entire floor and it was so quiet in there, you could hear a pin drop. Then this beautiful music was just radiating out of the building through the warm air. It was a really awesome night. It had a lot of Indian people, but there were a lot of White twenty-somethings too. It was cool to have [experienced]. It’d be really amazing to have another event like that.

Eventually, I came to the hard, heavy-handed question, “Why do you care?” Zwagerman himself created his own DIY space in Ann Arbor, MI. After hosting a bunch of music shows in his living room, he thought, “‘Wow, you can really just bring people together like that by having a space, seeing if a few people want to perform and telling a few people it’s happening.’ It was like a really simple thing, but also really needed and powerful and people seemed to love it. So I started doing shows regularly and it expanded to some larger things in Michigan.

“But I moved to New York seven years ago and tried booking shows at a bar in Long Island City. I just got disillusioned with the music scene here in particular. I thought it really sucked. They’re really cold and ask you who you’re here to see and check off a tally mark at the door at all these clubs. It’s a very mechanical thing; admitting that people don’t actually want to see a full-billed show, because we’re all to busy. People don’t try to curate holistically. I was really bummed about it all until about five or six years ago when I found the DIY scene, like Market Hotel, etc.

 ELM youth on the micELM youth on the mic. Photo credit Andrew McFarland.

“I think in particular, the old Silent Barn on 915 Wyckoff, was probably the most intimate, homey space I found. People performing in this small space in the kitchen. Really nice people and it felt like those old house shows in Michigan, so I really connected with that. I don’t know. It’s something, I think, a way for people to become involved with the community. It makes the community seem smaller and more personal and [it also allows you to] share artistic expression in an immediate way. That’s just why Silent Barn is important to me in general and why bringing that to the surrounding neighborhood is important to me.

“We’re going to be around for the next nine years. I guess I just have a civic sense about me. I really believe in the small scale democratic values of participatory collaboration between neighbors…If we were to just exist there and serve whomever’s existing friends not the people who live two blocks away, I think it’d be a really sad thing. Spaces are a premium in NYC as is the whole infrastructure for performance in the arts. We could offer that to the neighborhood. Neighbors can take us up on it. I think it’d be a really wonderful thing and hopefully we can be a positive force in the world around us.”

Juggling art, gentrification, and the practicalities of housing issues is a tricky thing, but Silent Barn is doing pretty well so far. McFarland noted that “there was a tenants rights panel back in November; a housing rights discussion with lawyers.” Zwagerman chimed in, saying, “Primarily we’re an arts organization, but we’re also a space for public forums and information and discussion of any type, political, informational or otherwise and we’re very interested on a whole in hosting these types of events and facilitating them.”

 Tres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandTres bonding with the youth. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

In truth, all art is media, and as McFarland explained, “media, especially today with the internet, is such an important tool for bonding and bridging communities.” Silent Barn is still growing, but they’ve made tremendous strides by incorporating the leadership of organizers, like Jaz Colon, who are already tied in with long-term communities. In fact, a few weeks ago, Jaz herself became a “chef,” a term used to designate core members of the Silent Barn. With “chef” status, Jaz can organize and host her own events and daytime programming.

This is only the beginning. We can make our communities better by “DIT”. People who had nothing to do with Silent Barn, like Jaz and I, became involved and so can you. Silent Barn Community Outreach is always looking for new members. If you have a vision for a more sustainable community, don’t be shy! You can contact us at silentbarnispeople@googlegroups.com.

The Yard Party's bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarlandThe Yard Party’s bubble perfectionist. Photo credit Andrew McFarland

An Interview with Brooklyn Acts

By Tres Myers

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As I walk into the brightly lit open space of The Living Art Gallery at 1094 Broadway in Bushwick, I immediately notice an aura of intense focus. Like a force field, it prevents me from entering the deep vortex in which six youth are exchanging dialogue in calculated timing. Even though I’ve worked with some of these kids before, they do not even look up, immersed in the script they are bringing to life. This is my first moment of seeing Brooklyn Acts in progress and I am already amazed. Peppered about, sitting and standing throughout the room are their six instructors, lightly guiding them and inquiring their ideas about the words in front of them. All are engaged and involved in a moment of their creation, stimulated by the process of their imagination.

Brooklyn Acts (BK Acts) was founded in January 2012. Initially, it was a collaboration between Yazmin Colon (Jaz) and Nyssa Frank. Jaz, a local artist, event coordinator, youth organizer and longtime resident, had a vision of a place where young people like her son could have an artistic outlet and learn theater arts. She shared her vision with Frank, a fellow artist and owner of The Living Art Gallery, who had moved to the area with the desire to give young people an outlet through the arts as well. They then recruited theater educators Isabel Shanahan and Tara Elliot who constructed the framework of the class and run the class still. I sat with BK Acts students and talked with Tara and Isabel about what the group is, where it’s been and where it’s going.

Bushwick Bridge (BWB): What does a class look like?

BK Acts Students: We start off with a warm up. We do improv warm ups, tongue twisters, stuff like that to get loose. Then we get into the lesson. We gather ideas together to start a new project. Once we do that, we start working on it slowly. We cut the projects into pieces and then bring it together.

BWB: What have been some of your favorite projects?

BK Acts: Our song. It had a lot to do with the change in the surrounding area. It has a lot to do with gentrification. We wrote down a bunch of lyrics on a big piece of paper. And then our advisors put it all together into verses and then John Burgoss made the beat. We used the beat and laid down the song. It was pretty cool.

BWB: Where did you record?

BK Acts: Flux Studios in New York City. Beautiful place [all laugh].

BWB: I saw you guys did a music video too. What was that like?

BK Acts: We actually picked places to record scenes. We all picked one spot (to record at) and did our verses there.

BWB: What were some of the spots you picked and how did you pick them?

BK Acts: The first verse [We filmed] was across the street from one of our houses near Willoughby. The other one was at Knickerbocker Park [Maria Hernandez] where the skateboarders skate.

BWB: That’s awesome. So who are some artists you guys look up to?

BK Acts: It’s funny cause we were coming up with a list the other day. Jay-Z, Lupe Fiasco, Big Daddy Kane, Common, Nas. It was a great list. We also like Immortal Technique, Tupac, Slick Rick, Drake.

BWB: Anyone else?

BK Acts: Shakespeare was someone we looked up to during our play.

BWB: Did you guys do some Shakespeare?

BK Acts: We had started Romeo and Juliet. It was hard because his language is difficult.

BWB: What was the hardest part about doing Shakespeare?

BK Acts: The language, definitely, and the love story; to stick to the character. We’re like brothers and sisters and we had to pretend we were lovers. It was pretty awkward. [All laugh] We’ve known each other a while from school or living on the same block.

BWB: What would you tell other kids to convince them to join Brooklyn Acts?

BK Acts: That we go to perform different places and it’s really fun. The advisors are great. They help us write our own scripts for our own plays.

BWB: Are you guys writing a play now?

BK Acts: Yeah. It’s like Sci Fi. It’s about a drug epidemic. A drug dealer uses the materials from an artifact that was found in Vietnam to create this drug that people love. It messes with their minds. The drug itself completely eliminates all sense of pain. You don’t feel any pain, not mental or physical. The world could be ending around you and you’d be OK with it. Your leg could be cut off and you’d be crawling like, “Yeah, this is normal, this is cool”. It’s weird. It also makes people ignorant.

BWB: Who came up with the idea for the play?

BK Acts: It’s our play. We came up with the idea by brainstorming in class.

BWB: What are some of the best things and the biggest challenges about growing up here in Bushwick?

BK Acts: The best thing is the [diversity of] cultures. There’s such a variety here; so many fields, like arts and music, that’s so cool. The challenge is that there aren’t a lot of groups like ours. That’s why we started this, cause we don’t have many youth groups in Bushwick and there’s so many talented minds. It’s cool to gather everyone and put their ideas together and it creates a cool mix.

BWB: What advice would you give kids your age based on what you’ve learned at Brooklyn Acts?

BK Acts: Be hungry for your craft. Keep doing what you want to do. Strive for what you want. Be humble. When you’re humble about things it’ll pretty much go your way. If you’re angry all the time it’s a turn off (for other people).  If your humble it will put you into the spotlight and get your attention.

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I thanked the kids for their participation and then took aside Isabel Shanahan and Tara Elliot, the directors of the group, to catch up.

BWB: How did you guys start with Brooklyn Acts?

Isabel: Nyssa [Frank] put out a call for theater educators and so I responded to that call. At the very beginning, I met her spoke with her and Jaz trying to conceptualize the group. I decided I wanted to be on board. I then got in touch with Tara with whom I’d run other theater groups and projects, and she wanted to be a part of it too. We took it from there.

Tara: The way it started was pretty bare bones. We held an open house and some kids showed up. We just started playing improv games. The first week was a little scary, I was thinking, “I’m not from Bushwick. What am I doing? Are they gonna hate me?” But they were really receptive and had a good time. We did icebreakers, basic movement and improv games.

BWB: What are some of your favorite games to play with the kids?

Tara: Human knots[1]. Sometimes it fails and sometimes it’s awesome. You really get a clear sense of their desire to be in contact with each other or not. But this group of kids grew up together [so it was easy].

Isabel: I like a lot of the Boalian games. Augusto Boal[2], who conceptualized ‘Theater of the oppressed,’ has a lot of games that involve freezing or speaking from a role or mixing up instructions to free your mind from rigid constructs. I like using a lot of those. We use [Boalian] images and frozen images that turn into these scenes, which are responses to words like ‘gentrification’ or ‘community’. We did one on [the word group] “home, school, and community” from there we developed scenes from improvisation that turned into scripts.

BWB: If someone was interested in joining Brooklyn Acts or getting someone they know to join, what would they do?

Tara: Come [here to The Living Gallery] on Monday at 6 and see how it feels. People are free to get in touch with either of us anytime. I’m not in the neighborhood, so Isabel might be a better local contact, but we have an open door policy.

 BWB: No auditions then?

Tara: The most important thing is commitment and showing up; Having a positive attitude.

Isabel: It’s not about skill it’s about being receptive to the work.

BWB: How did you two get started in performing arts?

(Both laugh)

Isabel: For me it was putting on plays in my living room for my family. Then that turned into going to acting classes as a kid.

Tara: Yeah, essentially the same thing [for me]. I was a kid who lived inside my imagination. I spent a lot of time playing alone and making up stories. Then acting out plays in my living room or with my friends or crafting magical experiences for other people. I ended up studying it in college. I have pursued it in various ways ever since. Working with kids is a natural segway. Group dynamics and relational dynamics come out of working in theater. That’s something we’re both interested in.

BWB: Tell me about you teaching experience. How did it prepare you for this work?

Tara: My first job out of college was as a drama teacher position at a public school on an island in Maine. I was teaching kindergarten through high school. Prior to that I had done a summer camp and a teaching internship. I had educational experience, but it was always more defined then this, because not only were we teaching when we started this, but we were also creating the structure of the program and at the same time trying to figure out “What is our policy for communicating with parents?” and “What role do we play in the community?” and “What kind of rules do we need to enforce?” So those were interesting questions. I felt that I had teaching experience but not the teaching experience that was relevant to this situation.

Isabel: This idea of creating a community youth theater group is an idea I’ve fantasized about for many, many years. When were we had that first conversation with Jaz and Nyssa about their vision I said, “Yes! I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to build something from the ground up; have it be completely of and for the community.” It was a perfect moment in time.

 BWB: What are some of your favorite Brooklyn Acts moments?

Isabel: It’s hard to pick! Their performances; having people come to watch. Especially with the “Talk Backs” and responding directly to the community about questions that are relevant to their lives. In the performance there are these really beautiful moments. And then there’s moments that come out of rehearsal. Even right now, they’re reading their words and they’re like, “Oh, I said that! It’s on paper and now it’s gonna be in a script!” It’s really empowering when the look at their work and feel that ownership.

Tara: Of course the performances are so impactful. Especially when other kids haven’t shown up and the rest have to rise to the occasion and fill in for each other. That’s been wonderful to witness. Also just the moment when they walk in and give you a hug. Because one of the really wonderful things about this process is it’s totally transcended being a “class”. They have become my friends, and I know that they care for us and we care for them. It’s moved into this really beautiful place. They don’t know whether to call us ‘teachers’ or ‘advisors’ or what. [Both laugh].

BWB: What have been some obstacles you’ve faced?

Isabel: There’s been some obstacles [Laughs]

Tara: Totally. It’s changing. The structure has changed a lot since the beginning. When we started we had about twelve kids involved. In the first three months, we were dealing with discipline issues. There were some kids who didn’t respect us and didn’t seem fully committed to the atmosphere we were trying to create. That was the first obstacle. We were also trying to figure out our identity group and how we functioned as a group. It was really frustrating for us.

Isabel: One challenge has been to convey to families that this is something we want them to be a part of in a bigger way. Knowing how to effectively address invites for performances or other ways to involve parents and families. We’ve now put some of that responsibility into the kid’s hands. Telling them, “It’s us and its you. We’re working together and we need each other in this symbiotic relationship.”

Tara: It’s also totally volunteer-powered. There’s no money. That’s one of our first questions: “are we going to charge for these classes? Do we want it on a sliding scale. Wait, no that doesn’t feel right.” And then we finally got to a place where we said “There’s not gonna be payment.” We can have fundraisers. But that also presents challenges, cause you get to the bottom of the tin can and you ask, “What now? Where’s snack money coming from?”

BWB: What would you say to kids who are skeptical about joining BK Acts?

Tara: Take a positive risk. Come and see how it feels.

Isabel: [I would say,] “You might be surprised.” You don’t have to be an actor and you don’t have to be outgoing. You don’t even have to know what “acting” or “drama” means.

BWB: Have you noticed the kids’ confidence growing?

Tara: Yeah, completely. The confidence, the ownership of their words and their art is pretty huge.

BWB: What are some of the biggest challenges around teaching this age group?

Tara: Well first off, these kids are awesome. This is really a close group of kids who are pretty mature, but there are all of these borderline issues like sex and drugs and gangs. We’re in this role of being the adults in the room, but we’re also relating to them as peers in some ways. Knowing how to address those issues and how much those issues come into the fray is challenging. For example showing them videos: Can we show the more mature content? We know they watch it on their own but now we’re responsible. Also, with the content of this play, it’s all about this drug called ‘Wipe.’ It’s relevant to them.

BWB: Anything else you’d like people to know about BK Acts?

Isabel: Come check us out Mondays from 6- 7:30 PM. If you have a talent, interest, passion, or material thing you’d like to share, come in. We’re always hustling. [If you have something to give], the kids will take it and use it well.

 Tara: We love to grow our network. We are always looking for other individuals or organizations inside the community and outside the community who are interested in us as a group.

Isabel: Performance spaces, anything of that sort, especially needed.

BWB: Thanks so much for opening your doors to us!


 [1] A group of people get into a circle and extend hands reaching it out to hold the outstretched hands of two other members of the group. Then they try to get themselves untangled without letting go of their held hands.


[2] Augusto Boal was a Brazillian dramatist and activist who wrote Theatre of the Oppressed’