By Priscilla Stadler/Photos by Juanita Lara.
What do you value? Who do you value?
What does this “valuing” affect where you put your energy?
How does your work produce or retain value for the communities you work with?
Do you think we are at a moment of crisis (economically, politically, socially)? If so, how does your work confront that crisis? What aspects of the crisis are specific to Queens and NYC?
What role do you think a movement to organize artists could play within the broader landscape of social justice? What role could it play in Queens specifically? How could you see your work intersecting with such a movement?
These are several of the questions are selected from the many we developed to prepare for the first Queens Creative Solidarity (QCS) public event: “What it’s Worth: Values and Making Some Money”. In conjunction with our collective Studio in the Park residency through the Queens Museum, Artbuilt Studios, and the NYC Parks Department, the two-part event consisted of an “open table” discussion and a hands-on homemade currency-making workshop.
The Open Table
The conversation started with invited artists and organizers, most of whom are based in or have worked in Queens: Rejin Leys, Tania Mattos, PJ Gubatina Policarpio, Carlos Martinez of Hibridos Collective, and Antonio Cerna (please see below for their bios.)
Inspired by The City as Commons: a Policy Reader I had wanted to make space to explore a broader conversation on value in communities (especially relevant to property value, potential displacement of vulnerable communities targeted for development) and the role of artists and organizers in this landscape. Since we share many related interests, fellow QCS member Sami Abu Shumays and I worked together to develop questions and themes for this event.
All were invited to participate in the open table conversation. We covered topics ranging from the lack of art education in schools to underfunding of culture in Queens compared with NYC’s other boroughs to acknowledging that artists are part of, not separate from, communities – and that all communities already have artists. We noted the problematic of non-profit organizations acting as intermediaries between communities and power structures, and the necessity for working long-term when doing community engaged art, and much more.
Making $ome Money and Playing Patoli
For part two, we shifted to hands-on activities based on value and exchange. Sami Abu Shumays has been making his own currency for months, based on his interest in thinking beyond a traditional economic model. He invited us to “make some money” from art materials and consider how this artwork can be tied to values and exchanged with others who share those values. Artist Rejin Leys is a papermaker who uses junkmail and other discarded paper for pulp, giving it value and another cycle of potential use. She donated some of her paper so that we could use it to make our currency.
Artists Fran Ilich and Gabriela Ceja invited us to participate in another dimension of interaction with value by playing Potoli, an Aztec game based on the interplay of individual and community property, chance, and divination. Several of us used our freshly-made currency to play this challenging and fascinating game.
During the conversation we asked for input about the potential work of QCS and what it should do. Suggestions included:
*Strategize on how to get voices heard beyond the community board structure, which has no legal power
*Make visuals in the street that challenge the term “beautification”
*Occupy the park with art for the people
*Create more visual ways of education for the park and use dance!
*Build on the momentum of Queens is Not for Sale (which held a recent protest against developers conference)
*Use the Queens Museum as a more permanent social justice space, as artists are doing in the Brooklyn Museum, connected with anti-gentrification work
*Connect with other grassroots Queens organizations that do meaningful work for their communities
*Use the museum’s headsets for simultaneous translation in order to include more speakers of different languages
By having these conversations and developing them into actions we can cultivate “an equitable network of artists and creative people in Queens that acknowledges and respects the cultural richness already present in our neighborhoods, learning together how to be involved in community where art, art making, dignified living, learning, parenting and working conditions are an equal right for all.” This commitment comes directly from the QCS mission.
On November 6 we will hold a public meeting to get input on how to create and develop this network. Please join us for that and our other residency activities if you ou can!
Brief Bios of October 9 Open Table invited guests
Rejin Leys is a mixed media artist and papermaker. Her mobile papermaking studio, based in Jamaica, is a site for community building and creative engagement.
Tania Mattos is an immigrant and worker rights organizer who was born in La Paz, Bolivia and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY. She is co-founder of Queens Neighborhoods United, a community-led grassroots organization that builds power to fight criminalization and displacement in Jackson Heights and Corona. Tania is also the Education Director at UnLocal, a non-profit immigration legal organization that represents children in their immigration cases.
Carlos Martinez is a Colombian-born artist, environmentalist, and advocate based in Jackson Heights. He co-founded Hibridos Collective, an interdisciplinary collaborative working to reenvision spaces through community-based art practices. The collective works at the intersection of art and community through collaborations with neighbors and artists in sidewalks, parks, plazas and other unexpected and unprecedented spaces.
PJ Gubatina Policarpio is a community arts engager: a socially-engaged artist, curator, programmer, and educator. His multidisciplinary practice utilizes research, archive, collaboration, curatorial, education and public engagement as both art and tool.
Antonio Serna is an artist, activist, and educator living in New York who, above all, believes in cultural self-determination. His current project ‘Documents of Resistance: Artists of Color Protest’, is inspired by the art and activism of people of color from 1960–2016. A previous project of note was the year long pilot project for artCommons in Jackson Heights that created new relationships between artists and community and provided a total of thirty-six months of artshares within a year, spanning 2013-2014.
Fran Ilich is a media artist and writer based in New York City. He has written novels and a book-length essay, and been a fellow at Eyebeam and A Blade of Grass. Fran was the Editor of Sputnik Culture Digital magazine in Mexico City. He’s taught at the University of California San Diego and the Universidad Internacional de Andalucía in Sevilla. Fran’s work has shown in many venues and festivals including the Walker Art Center, Creative Time Living as Form, Open Engagement, Bronx Museum and the EZLN’s Festival Mundial de la Digna Rabia. The Vera List Center for Art and Politics and No Longer Empty have comissioned Fran’s work.