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Activist Tiara Torres at an anti-gentrification protest in the Bronx in March 2019 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A festival in the Bronx organized by the New Museum was canceled today, September 21, less than an hour after it started. IdeasCity Bronx, which was supposed to feature a series of discussion panels, artist talks, performances, and workshops, was shut down after Bronx-based activists disrupted the event’s first session, held at Concrete Plant Park on the Bronx River. A number of local Bronx grassroots organizations that were slated to participate in the festival announced their withdrawal before the events commenced.

The event started around 2:30pm with opening words by the festival’s curator V. Mitch McEwen. The activists interrupted McEwen’s address with a “mic-check” call but were handed a microphone to make their statements. Tiara Torres from the Bronx-based activist group Hydropunk was first to speak.

“Why are we surprised that shortly after the MoMA hosts a rooftop party at Andrew Freedman Home, that another large, rich institution such as New Museum comes next?” Torres asked in her speech to the audience. She continued:

New Museum has never invested anything into the Bronx. This is a one-day event. They are not contributing any long term financial backing or support into any of the ideas that come from today. Half of these employees will never be back here until there’s a Yankee game.

Hydro Punk declined this offer, and refutes New Museum’s presence at this park because we understand what their presence does. Their name erases the work of Black and brown people who have died on this land, who rebuilt these buildings by themselves because the government and institutions left the Bronx to burn.

Artist and activist Shellyne Rodriguez from Take Back the Bronx attempted to deliver a second statement but was stopped by the event’s organizers, she later told Hyperallergic in a phone interview. In response, Rodriguez threw the microphone down to the floor and continued addressing the audience. Soon after, McEwen announced the cancellation of the event.

Themed “New Ecologies 3755,” IdeaCity Bronx was planned to discuss the effects of climate change on communities in the Bronx. The Point CDC, a South Bronx community development nonprofit, objected to its exclusion from the festival. “We find it completely inappropriate and disrespectful that this event … is taking place without the leadership of groups who have been historically leading the fight for climate and environmental justice in the South Bronx,” the organization said in a statement on Thursday. The Point was instrumental in the revitalization of Concrete Plant Park, an out-of-use concrete plant where the New Museum’s event was held. “Only one of the groups in our network ⁠— who was indirectly contacted by a third party ⁠— was made aware that this event was taking place,” the Point added in its statement.

The Point’s statement led to a cascade of cancelations. Take Back the Bronx, No New Jails, and DreamYard were some of the groups and NGOs that later announced their withdrawal from the event. Participants of an IdeasCity panel entitled “A Starter Method to Deconstruct (Or At Least Examine the Intricacies of What Whiteness Actually Is),” have also withdrawn their participation in solidarity with DreamYard and the Point CDC, according to statements published online by panelists Xaviera Simmons and Recess director Allison Freedman Weisberg. Hydropunk was first to reject the New Museum’s invitation about two months ago after it had found out that the event was being promoted by the real estate company South Bronx Luxury, the group told Hyperallergic.

In a statement sent to Hyperallergic by email, the New Museum said that although it invited Hydropunk and the Point CDC to participate in IdeasCity Bronx, they were never confirmed as participants. The museum added:

IdeasCity worked in partnership with many Bronx cultural and community groups to develop the program, which consisted of presentations, workshops, performances, and talks. Over the past 48 hours, The Point CDC raised an objection about not being represented at IdeasCity, and some of the scheduled speakers withdrew their participation. Out of respect for those who raised further objections today, along with concern for the safety of the audience and participants at the event, the program of talks was cancelled.

Concrete Plant Park is located in the Southern Boulevard area in the Bronx, a neighborhood that local activists say is being threatened by gentrification-driven rezoning. “[The New Museum] hosted their event in the middle of the zoning area,” Rodriguez said. “They’re growing art communities that are markets and it’s in tandem with real-estate development.”

After disrupting the festival, some of the activist groups held alternative activities at a community center nearby. “[The museum] didn’t put up a fight,” Torres told Hyperallergic, “the whole thing was over in 20 minutes.”

Update 9/22/19 5:55pm: This article has been updated to add a point of clarification from the New Museum about Hydropunk and the Point CDC’s relationship to the festival.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

13 replies on “A Bronx Event Organized by New Museum Shut Down After Protest by Local Activists”

  1. That’ll show ’em! Stick it to The Man! So, I guess no more events in the Bronx like this, ever? So, who actually benefits from this shutdown, anyay? Even a shitty line of communication can be better than none?

    1. Why would there be no more events like this in the Bronx? If the organizers reached out to the local groups who’ve actually been involved in that community it sounds like there wouldn’t have been an issue. The fact that they didn’t, makes this particular event look more like flag-planting for real estate investors. Whether that’s true (I haven’t checked the board of trustees for the New Museum…) doesn’t matter; it feels like erasure to the real artists who’ve been living in the South Bronx this whole time.

    2. I think by now everyone who pays attention has noticed that art and artists are among the primary shock troops of gentrification. If you’re a poor person living in the South Bronx, the appearance of a gallery or a hipster is a disaster. So, what to do? Naturally the elites who pull off these things would like the poor to suffer in silence and move away, maybe leaving a few around for local color. If this does not appeal, there’s always making trouble, which is fun in itself, appropriate vengeance, and may even lead to a payoff.

      The communications in this case would be a series of eviction notices, so, yeah, none might really be better. ‘Fat chance’, you may think, but my spies in the financial industry have told me the present real estate bubble may be pretty near popping time, so, who knows?

  2. We need to beware the fascist right, we must also beware the fascist left, and the professional justice warrior fuelled by anger with benefits. Having decided that the New Museum doesn’t put anything back into the community, they shut down a one-day Climate Change event with community artist. “We have encountered a new type of predatory censorship, a desire to take offense that patrols the world for opportunities. As with the puritans of the 17th century, there is the need to humiliate and to punish.” (Roger Scruton) My opinion is that it’s the power and the spotlight that draws the Justice Warrior to their acts of injustice.

    read more>> Thinking outside the academy
    http://www.mikloslegrady.com/writing/blog/sept.html#105

    1. Comparing artists who are worried that their community is being commodified and erased to fascists is a herculean stretch.

      1. Fascism is not about worries but behavior. I would also shut down a community event with community artists by claiming the community is not involved. The way to stop gentrification is not to blame museums, but for artists to stop moving into poor neighbourhoods and instead move into rich neighbourhoods. It is the community artists who create gentrification, isn’t it? But hey, we never blame ourselves, let’s blame others. Then the Justice Warrior gets to parade with flags, and by closing the event denies other artists their fee for participating.

        1. Calling poor people who are only trying to avoid getting kicked out of their neighborhoods ‘fascists’ and ‘justice warriors’ would be obscene if it weren’t so silly. Pray that you do not meet any real fascists.

          Gentrification is occurring because, in effect, money is being printed and given to the rich while it’s kept away from the poor. Income inequality increases. Rich people demand space and cool amenities, for which they’re willing to pay high rents. Thus people at the top of the financial food chain push those below further down, and as you go down you come to the poor middle-class artists — the kind of people who once occupied the slums of the Lower East Side, then Williamsburg, then Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights and Harlem, and now the South Bronx, as they flee the blitzkrieg. But, as I mentioned before, all that may be over soon. ‘Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.’

  3. This reminds me of the Los Angeles space by 356 Mission. They were stone deaf to the community. Same bubble. The New Museum just harassed their staff because they wanted to unionize. Hello?

  4. All art is about real estate. FACE IT. Stop supporting that corrupt system. As REVS says, when money is exchanged for art, it becomes a fraudulent activity. Well, hello, morons, here we are, the gentrification of the fucking BRONX in full effect, so sad. Onward Capitalism Art World! Bow down and get what you deserve. Wanna be a decorator $lave for the 1% with your pseudo radical “street” art? Go ahead, but don’t complain when you get gentrified out of existence. They own you now. Up go the rents, and the lifestyle colonizers displace more people, thanks to Art Whores and the Art World.

  5. The Point has done great work in the South Bronx and was understandable upset. Grandstanding by The New Museum, MoMA or the local developers is intolerable for those that have spent decades moving the bar inch by inch; However gentrification is over simplified in this analysis and in the responses. As an on and off gallerist in the Bronx from 2005-2017 I could share stories of many past bronxites happy to see a gallery in the neighborhoods they felt they needed to flea in the past and now are happy to return to. Is gentrification all negative? Many galleries support local artists and act as a meeting ground for artists, community and kids and become centers for social change and concerns.

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