One of the downsides of gentrification is that neighborhood newcomers and long-timers rarely talk to each other. Jealousy, fear, timidity, resentment and ignorance can all contribute to an antagonistic vibe that benefits no one. Sometimes it leads to outright aggression and violence. That's one of the reasons why I knew I had to participate in STooPS, an annual art event meant to unite the community in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. It would help me join the community conversation.
Bed-Stuy, as it's known for short, is New York City's second biggest black neighborhood. Only Harlem is bigger. The presence of African-Americans, Caribbean people, and Africans means a vibrant, diverse mix of black business and culture. As a non-Brooklyner and non-black mixed race person new to the neighborhood, I wanted to be respectful from the moment I arrived here at the end of May. Since I'm often white-passing and married to a white man, I want to be particularly sensitive to my new neighbors. Though I am not trying to infringe on anyone, I'm aware that by occupying an apartment in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, my husband and I may have pushed out a black couple who would have otherwise lived here. Smiling, saying hello, and taking an active interest in what's going on in our neighborhood can go a long way, but it's also just the beginning. I'm still learning the nuances of how to be a good neighbor in a place that's represented a haven for strong, proud black residents for decades. Black lives do matter and I hope to help spread that message, not trample on it. That's why I brought my mixed media collage to the public as a STooPs artist on August 14th.
Here's the event's general premise: Homeowners throughout the neighborhood donate their stoop to a local artist for the day and the artist does multiple performances for the public. Local businesses sponsor the event by providing food and amenities to artists and volunteers. While the performances include everything from readings to music, I chose to work on one of my signature tissue paper collages before a live audience. Audience members even had the chance to learn one of my techniques and add to the collage. I also set up a "collage garden" by filling the stoop with my canvases. This was an opportunity to meet a local Bed-Stuy homeowner, learn more about his life, tell him a little bit about my husband and myself, and interact with other community members throughout the day. After two and a half months in the neighborhood, it was the introduction I needed and I'm grateful I could take part.
Here are a few photos of my prep and set-up for STooPS 2016: