The NYC Department of Planning recommends a minimum of 2.5 acres of open space for every 1000 city residents. The good news is, New York City as a whole has 3.5 acres. The bad news: Bushwick has 0.6.
These figures – unsurprising to any neighborhood resident – have inspired an effort to carve a new community space out of a little used side street off Flushing Avenue. It’s not easy to notice without a map, but start looking for Vandervoort Place now, because it may soon disappear from the map entirely to be replaced by the Bushwick Art Park.
The Park is an ambitious project by local street artists Skewville, gallery Factory Fresh (standing adjacent to Vandervoort Place, and co-owned by Skewville’s Ad Deville), and community-funded public art experiment Trust Art, with help from quite a few friends. The undertaking began last year with a block party that propelled the transformation of the featureless block of brick and corrugated iron into a veritable Facebook of street art notables, but that was only the beginning.
Chapter 2, which went down last Saturday, constituted a lateral move. The artists brought a piece of Bushwick to the Bowery during the New Museum’s Festival of Ideas for the New City, taking over a prime piece of street in front of the Museum. The scaled down prototype, curated by Factory Fresh’s Ali Ha, might have been business-as-usual in Bushwick, but on the Bowery on a holiday weekend it created a spectacle not seen since the days of Paresis Hall.
Skewville provided most of the infrastructure, from a square of grass to park benches modded from police barricades. Master sign hacker Leon Reid IV took his torch to a pair of pedestrian-crossing signs, turning them into a towering pair of pedestrians (soon to be installed on Vandervoort Place). Also making good use of vertical space – sure to be a running theme of the Park – was Specter with a new piece in his series of shopping cart monuments to New York’s canners (and possibly a nod to Bushwick’s brewery past?). The biggest crowd pleaser, however, was an installation by crocheter Olek, who managed to crochet not just a Downtown-sized apartment but also two human tenants.
The Festival of Ideas was a sprawling attempt to "harness the power of the creative community to imagine the future city and explore the ideas destined to shape it," and the Art Park aspirants made the most of the environment of exchange. While adding to the collection of signatures on their petition (email TrustArt if you want to be on it), the artists met representatives from the Department of Transportation, the Mayor’s office of Longterm Planning and Sustainability, auctioneers, and art-inclined hedge fund managers, all out for a Saturday stroll. "We weren’t expecting to start talking to the DoT for a while," said Trust Art co-founder Jose Serrano-McClain, "and they just walked in and said they’d love to help us out. It’s all moving a bit fast!"
As for when the Art Park will be up and running here in Bushwick, and what it will look like, it’s all a bit complicated – but in a good way. Vandervoort Place is already very much an art destination, with a giant Sweet Toof piece only the latest adornment. The party will kick off all over again on June 4th during Bushwick Open Studios, when the street itself will come alive with "way more art, music, food, City and Borough representatives, participation from community organizations, and way bigger scissors for the ribbon cutting ceremony," according to TrustArt. After that it’s up to Council Member Diana Reyna, who has promised support and is expected to attend on the 4th, to pitch the idea to the DoT. If they agree to de-map the street, the artists will be free to block it off and Bushwick will have gained some intriguing new open space.
With seasonally rotating sculpture and other public art, a few storage units convertible to event booths, and opportunities for local food vendors, the creators hope to develop a permanent space for the entire community. Until then, the spirit of the Park will exist in a series of events bringing artists and community together to dream big. Or as Jose puts it, "we’re just going to keep partying until it happens."