Wall Street’s secret society (Kappa Beta Phi) is a little less of a secret after a writer named Kevin Roose sneaked into the fraternity’s recent induction ceremony and wrote about it in New York Magazine During the ceremony new members dressed in drag and made “bad jokes about Hillary Clinton, drunkenly mocked Main Street (the “99%”), and laughed at the financial crisis.” The fact that these authoritarian figures of Wall Street had the audacity to laugh at a crisis (caused by corruption on Wall Street) that resulted in housing foreclosures, ruined retirement plans, and a devastating unemployment crisis for millions illustrates their complete divorce from reality. These individuals have become devoid of ethical responsibility and social awareness.
Roose crashed the party as research for his book called Young Money. In the book Roose investigated the lives of young Wall Street bankers “the 22-year-olds toiling at the bottom of the financial sector’s food chain.” He wanted to know how and why these run of the mill bottom feeders become so ravenous when they reach the top. Roose posed the question “what if Wall Street doesn’t just attract pre-existing douchebags, but actively draws normal people into an inescapable vortex of douchebaggery?”
For our Envision New York 2017 campaign Federico Solmi submitted a video called Douche Bag City. In Solmi’s work he describes his protagonist Dick Richman as “a greedy, dishonest, and selfish Wall Street employee who has been banished to live in Douche Bag City. The City is a hopeless place, where the greedy villains of society are imprisoned for their atrocities committed against the community. There is neither hope nor escape from Douche Bag City; there are no exits and there is no chance for salvation, only punishment and torture. Here prisoners are defenseless against the increasingly barbaric creatures and demons. Money, stocks, and wealth are meaningless.” Solmi’s work is a “satire of the capitalist world that is being drowned in the economic crisis.” Solmi asks the question “How many Dick Richman’s are still out there?” That question might have gained a little more insight in light of Kevin Roose’s expose of Kappa Beta Phi.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has long been a proponent of providing free Pre-K and after school activities to all children in New York City. When the recently elected mayor gave his State of the City Address his focus on strengthening our cities educational structure was one of his main focuses. As one of the major cities in the world, New York is failing in education. The city’s Public School system’s unsatisfactory condition due to lack of resources and funding is appalling. Twenty Five percent of NYC public elementary schools are operating without an art teacher while funding for art materials has declined by eighty percent. De Blasio stated his commitment to not lose sight of the industries that have made us the center of commerce and culture. The mayor also declared that by supporting public school education for kids and strengthening the advanced education provided by CUNY, New York City would strengthen the creative industries and skilled labor in the city. Pair this statement with a recent study showing that arts education leads students to think more critically, and you can see how vital it is that arts education is a key component of public education.
There are many educators who are aware of the benefits of an arts education. We applaud the successes of Principal Ramon Gonzalez of Middle School 223 The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, in the Bronx. The school participated in The Center for Arts Education’s federally funded School Arts Support Initiative, which “seeks to help nine New York City middle schools to develop sustainable education in and through the arts in place of limited, fragmentary and sporadic arts education programming.” The results are encouraging!
It has been our approach from the start to develop an inspirational environment for NYC school children to work with artists both inside and out of the classroom. More Art has organized after-school programs with local schools intended to introduce students to contemporary art and provide an opportunity to collaborate with contemporary artists on artworks.
For our Envision New York 2017 project Coco Fusco focused on creating a message that expresses the opportunity to think about art’s role in the intellectual development of children.
This message should resonate with New Yorkers as we enter a new chapter in city government. It is true that children are our future and if they are taught well they’ll lead the way a bright future. However, we must get over this inequality gap that greatly divides our city and ensure that every child has access to a world-class public education.
Justin Blinder is another Envision New York 2017 artist whose submission addresses gentrification. Vacated uses Google Streetview to highlight the vacant lots where new buildings now stand in gentrifying neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. The work is ephemeral in the psychical world, but online it exists long after these vacant site become shiny new luxury buildings. The result is a virtual walking tour of gentrification. It is interesting to see the history of the buildings surrounding the vacant lots as well. In some areas we can see how remnants of the past –historical turn of the century buildings, graffiti tags, and urban decay – are juxtaposed with box shaped new condos.
We asked Justin some questions about how Vacated manifested and about how gentrification has affected his experience as a Brooklyn based artist:
What is your background as a New Yorker?
I originally moved to New York from Boston to attend Parsons the New School For Design. I’ve lived throughout various parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn for the past 6 years.
What specific issues or ideas have shaped your practice, and what issues continue to inspire your work?
Much of my work focuses on the transition of physical artifacts and infrastructure into the digital sphere, and the new criteria for value and ownership that are formed. In the context of physical urban landscapes, my practice often focuses on how urban artifacts can serve as social and cultural signifiers and form narratives about our cities. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to conflate these artifacts with digital tools. Currently, we often see data and statistics represented through data visualizations. New York’s “ghost bikes,” white bicycles indicating where cyclists have been killed or severely injured, could also be viewed as a data visualization, and to me are much more substantive and emotionally evocative than most charts showing a statistic. I often think about what sorts of urban markers can be used in place of graphs and numbers to tell stories about cities.
What role do you feel you have as an artist to create a public discourse?
For the past few years, most of my projects have primarily been dialogic. I’ve been experimenting with building tools and online communities to incite discussions about specific topics. An example of a past project, entitled Dumpster Drive, took the form of a file-sharing network I built in 2011 that allows users to dumpster dive through each other’s digital trash. The software serves a utilitarian purpose, but the real intent of the project was to engage participants in talking about how our notions of sharing have changed drastically when comparing physical and digital media. We don’t think twice about putting an old book on the stoop for someone else to reclaim, but giving someone the chance to do the same digitally raises a lot questions that we often overlook due to the ease of online sharing.
Can you elaborate on your connection between art and activism, what inspired you to make civic-minded art?
Most of my projects focus on hacking or repurposing existing systems to engage others in discourse about certain issues. I don’t think of this process as inherently artistic, but instead as a civic duty. The activist component of my work is not about any specific ideological thesis, but about framing and distilling a slice of everyday life and spaces in a way that, hopefully, incites questions about (and maybe even change) the larger political and economic forces that shape our cities and social worlds.
Your project for Envision New York 2017 is titled Vacated. When did this idea first strike you?
Over the past couple years, “NYC Open Data” has released a wealth of civic data spanning numerous city departments. I wanted to use this data to look at gentrification from a critical perspective. The project originally focused on how graffiti complaints in different Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs could be used as a lens into how certain neighborhoods are becoming increasing gentrified, and also serving as a visual archive for graffiti that had since been erased by the city. My intention was to use 311 data via NYC.gov and show the graffiti that had been removed using Google Street View. Most of these locations still exist online in Google’s cache, but they have since been erased from the physical world.
When I took a closer look at the locations, I began to realize that a large amount of complaints were located in areas that were saturated with new housing developments. These modern buildings often neighbored graffiti ridden vacant lots that had actually been developed since Google’s Street View car had taken these photos. So I decided to use a NYC building footprint dataset to search for buildings that had been constructed in the past 2 years on Google Street View – many of them appeared as vacant lots, gaps where coffee shops or luxury condos now stand in gentrifying areas.
We often think about gentrification as what newly appears in neighborhoods. Vacated uses cache as a narrative tool, showing instead the absence of new establishments that currently exist, and accentuating and acting as a sort of reminder of what is not there, either because it is gone or has not yet been built.
How have you felt the ramifications of gentrification?
In just these past few years, I’ve visually witnessed accelerating gentrification – the sort that only accompanies widening wealth inequalities in the midst of a great recession or economic crisis. Since moving to New York, I’ve lived in 12 different apartments throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn in just the past half decade. Most of my relocations were initiated by rent increases. Besides seeing physical manifestations of gentrification through new housing developments and boutique shops, I’m fascinated with how the names of neighborhoods change over time as well.
As others have discussed and lambasted, real estate agents seem to often use the term “East Williamsburg” to describe developments that are technically deep in Bushwick. Hearing “North” and “South” Williamsburg has also become more common. These toponyms hint at the social cachet that certain neighborhoods carry over time. I find these terms interesting both because they create meta-cartographies that can easily change our perception of certain locations, but also how they can be used as a tool that carries political capital. The modifiers within neighborhoods themselves are either being used to further gentrify neighborhoods, or to strategically fend off developers. The fact that the original plan to repel developers by using the less enticing acronym DUMBO backfired also emphasizes the complexity of the gentrification process to me, and just how many political and economic actors and forces are at play.
How do you see the rapid rate of gentrification affect the arts community?
I think that rapid gentrification has raised a lot of interesting questions regarding the need for physical space within art communities and the political economy of the art world. The Internet has been liberating as a means of creating meta-communities that can be more inclusive and reach much broader audience than physical institutions, but I am not sure that it is enough on its own. Physical space and materiality are very important to me. I hope that members of the arts community (myself included) continue to explore the various ways our online and offline worlds shape each other, and how form influences the types of communities and interactions we experience in each.