This spotlight begins with a little back story.
Last year I spent some time studying the programming of an organization called the Bronx River Art Center (BRAC) through a Development course at NYU. We used their work as a case study for capital improvement, grant-writing, and integrated educational programming within the arts. Along the way I also became familiar with a bit of New York that is often overlooked.
Some may associate the Bronx with tales of gang violence, or recall news reports of arson, but these days it seems a bit more low-key, a bit slower. It has taken on a personality that is more demure, possibly suspicious of too much change too fast, and with good reason! Though the damage done by Robert Moses to this outer borough is irrevocable*, a story full of displacement and disenfranchisement, out of this a slow and steady development toward reframing their community has emerged. The Bronx’s current story is being painstakingly re-written, not by development moguls, but by environmental renewal and the reclaiming of space.
Ms. Meaghan Richey, originally from El Paso, Texas, attended a small Christian College and went on to study Political Philosophy at Kings College in New York. She quietly and thoughtfully experiences the city while keenly observing her surroundings. She is currently employed as the Program Coordinator of the International Arts Movement (IAM) and is also the Managing Editor of their online magazine, The Curator. Their headquarters are in Midtown Manhattan, which strings her daily life between the most extremely contrasting spaces that the city has to offer.
Ms. Ritchey is now living in Mott Haven, a historical district of the Bronx, near the 87 Expressway and 3rd Avenue bridge. She has directly observed the backlash I had only read about. She walked with me around the block, past the Projects, and scoped out the two restaurants that would be open on a Saturday afternoon. Both spaces functioned as multi-use, with local artist’s work on the walls and evidence of hosting other community events. She acknowledged challenges that the area still faces, such as abandoned buildings falling victim to the aforementioned arson and the failure rate of small business. By and large it seemed a slow and quiet locale, not daring to exert itself beyond what it might sustain.
With her background in ideas rather than images, Meaghan entered into her role with IAM, a visual art organization, by attending lectures, and was drawn in by the thoughtfulness of a few interactions with artists as they discussed their practice. Her taste has its root in classical literature (Tolstoy,) classical music (Bach,) and the Abstract Expressionists. With her background in philosophy and economics she is still searching for the permission to enter into visual art practice, but rather – she is more comfortable with seeing, knowing, hearing, reading and digging into the ideas of the work, which gives her more insight than she may accept credit for.
Her role at IAM has not been one of a curator, so she has not been in the position to choose work that resonates with her the most. It has been more singularly about serving the community to meet their mission as a greater organization, with her role being more akin to a gate-keeper of their space. Her work focuses on personal relationships and propelling forward the ideas presented to her. That being said, more than with any previous project, she is very excited to present the current exhibition of work by Lindsay Kolk. Ms. Kolk’s work is up now in their Midtown gallery space, and embodies both the ideas and an aesthetic that excites Meaghan.
When I asked her if there was some wisdom she could share with the readers of this blog, she stated that she observed “no lack of opportunity or resources for artists, (although the trickle-down is messed up). There is, however, a shortage of good, consistent work.” She encourages the mind-set of making an art practice into a life’s work with a long-term view, ongoing and dedicated. “Foster good habits, structures and discipline,” she urges. “Allow space in your life for the work to flourish. Keep carving out the space to make good work consistently.”
Along these lines Ritchey compares the discipline of a pious individual’s faith and encourages that kind of devotion to meld with one’s creativity, citing an article by Carey Wallace. As an example of a prolific life’s work by a creative person, she mentioned Joan Didion. Didion penned memoir, essay, and simply wrote a lot. This is the kind of work Meaghan thinks will last.
While Ms Ritchey gave me a tour around the neighborhood of Mott Haven she assured me that change to this area was slow, but, that there was more than meets the eye. This was reinforced by a chance run-in with her neighbor who quickly invited us up to his home for a look around his study – a modestly restored walk-up where, we were told, Theodore Roosevelt once came to dinner on a campaign for re-election.
I am not on board for naming the South Bronx (SoBro) the New SoHo. But I do think the long-term investment toward restoration of space and renewal of any natural beauty will reinvigorate this borough. Similar to what Meaghan suggests for the individual artist, here also, the long-term pay-off is sure to come to those with commitment to their work.
*Though Robert Moses battered and rammed right through the heart of the Bronx, displacing thousands for his expressway, he is also responsible for a great many beautiful things in New York – revamping Central Park, re-imagining the west side highway, and conjuring the Worlds Fair site in Queens out of a former ashen dump site. A true visionary – he spun out of control and simply went too far with unchecked power – beyond that of any other New Yorker (or of any New York entity for that matter) with the strength of the great “Authority”backing him.