New-Stand by Isaac Cohen / Liz Parker
Identify a public space
The North East corner of East 106th Street and Second Avenue is a place of compelling contradiction – an oasis of trees and benches amid traffic and construction. Across the street, a Chase bank is being erected. In another direction, a 99cent store appears to crumble. This corner resides firmly in ‘El Barrio’, or Spanish Harlem. Though it is now a predominantly Latino/a community, the area has a tense and sometimes violent history of changing demographics. Once the place of an important Lenape campground, the area has also been home to German, Irish, Eastern European Jewish and Italian American communities.
East Harlem’s 23rd Precinct had more stop-and-frisks in 2011 than any other precinct in Manhattan but crime has increased. Median household income here is one of the lowest in the five boroughs but it neighbors one of the city’s wealthiest areas. East Harlem is a ‘waterfront community’ that lacks easy access to riverfront green space and may be facing the loss of more recreation areas. Recently, NYCHA proposed leasing open land within East Harlem’s 24 housing projects to private luxury housing developers. Already luxury buildings are popping up in the area, producing record high rents.
Corners are ideal places for dialogue and exchange. This particular corner sits at the intersection of tradition and gentrification, passion and politics. The space holds huge potential to amplify voices of an ever-evolving community and to unite residents in civic action as they face the powerful contradictions around them.
The NEW-STAND is a physical and performative intervention. A familiar sight in NYC, the newsstand is a place of consumption where people pay to read current events. The NEW-STAND subverts this model, creating a place for free news distribution that allows community members to stage active responses to information and participate in the life of the community.
In addition to distributing free information, the NEW-STAND will serve as a performance platform for community-created Living Newspaper Plays. The Federal Theatre Project of the 1930s utilized Living Newspaper Plays as a means of broaching complex, current issues. These plays break down complex issues and persuade the audience to take action. Through a process of recruiting and rehearsing, the artists will guide community members to create their own Living Newspaper Plays based on issues the community wishes to explore. These plays will be performed for a public audience in the plaza using the NEW-STAND as a performance platform. Between performances, the NEW-STAND can also be the base for interactive experiences on the corner including workshops, popup performances, protests and gatherings.
The pedestrian nature of this community makes this central corner an ideal location for neighbors to come together to create or witness art. Because the corner is a regular part of many people’s daily experience, there is potential for regular interaction and participation in NEW-STAND events. The corner space is large enough to host performance and audience, but compact enough to feel personal and connected.
The NEW-STAND will be designed to replicate the look of a typical newsstand; using standard construction techniques and materials including lumber, plywood, and repurposed materials. Already an amenity within the public realm, the newsstand will be easily understood by regulators and implemented by the team with community based organizations and local residents. After construction the programming and functioning of the NEW-STAND will subvert the commercial nature of typical newsstands and create a valuable space for engagement and action. The everyday activation of the space through information exchange and gathering will be formalized through the creation of a Living Newspaper play around critical issues facing the community.
Community actors and audience will be recruited from local housing, educational and cultural institutions and through direct engagement and word-of-mouth. Auditions will be open to anyone and the cast will accommodate up to twenty participants. A minimum of twenty rehearsals will be held in a private space. We will seek indoor space donations from community partners. During rehearsals, participants will learn and practice Living Newspaper strategies, they will discuss and determine a topic of interest to the group and of relevance to the community, and they will collaborate to devise a Living Newspaper performance that investigates and communicates the issue to a local audience. Liz will direct the group from recruitment to public performance.
Construction and performance costs will be funded through Kickstarter campaign, in-kind donations and fundraiser events. We will seek other grant opportunities to sustain the project.
Isaac Cohen has a Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia. He is a Community Design Fellow at bcWORKSHOP in Dallas, TX. He will work with the community to design the NEW-STAND and activate the plaza through the creation of theatrical set pieces and everyday amenities.
Liz Parker has a Masters in Applied Theatre from the City University of New York. She has created plays with teenagers, senior citizens and intergenerational groups and has worked with several East Harlem institutions as a theatre educator. Liz will guide the community creation and performance of Living Newspaper Plays.