New Groundswell mural vivifies East Williamsburg; really makes ya think

Early last week, I took a short walk down Manhattan Ave to its terminus at Broadway. It was a nice walk—in part because, on a morning this hot, I found myself actually enjoying being in the shadow of those 2,700-unit Lindsay Park cooperative housing buildings. But mostly it was because I knew what awaited me at the end: not one, but two!, beautiful and moving public murals by NYC’s own Groundswell, a nonprofit that’s been bedecking the city with gorgeous, socially-conscious public art, painted by teams of professionals and city kids, for 20 years.

I’ve been admiring the first mural I passed, “I Just Want To Come Home,” since it went up in 2015. A “contemporary blues piece,” according to the organization, the painting’s moody color scheme and kaleidoscopic arrangement of faces  within the letters of its title make it at once an arresting, calming, and haunting visual experience. With the knowledge that its purpose is to illustrate the complex relationships between police, young men of color, gentrification, incarceration, and a sense of safety and belonging, that experience is enriched many-fold.

Then I turned the corner onto Broadway and joined the dedication ceremony for Groundswell’s newest art project in our ‘hood: “The Fall of Oppression” (so new, it looks like Groundswell’s yet to put it on their website!). It’s a pretty fascinating work.

You can read my write-up of the whole dedication experience—complete with tear-jerking quotes from the lead artist, Groundswell’s program director, and our city council district rep—on Bushwick Daily.

My renewed thanks to all of you for keeping Williamsburg an enjoyable and educational place to live, paint, and walk. And for continuing to fight that good fight.

Readers: Tell me about your favorite public art!

Delicious courage

Although I didn’t attend Sarah Lawrence College, I’m always pleased when people see my byline in their terrific magazine and think I did.

Sarah Lawrence comes out twice a year. It covers all the usual alumni magazine stuff like updates about goings-on at the school and news from notable alums, but blows most other alma mater publications out of the water with its commitment to producing a score of thoughtful stories about fascinating people, places, and projects in every issue.

Rohan Kamicheril Tiffin Club

Rohan Kamicheril at work (photo by Mike Jesson)

Take this sampling from their most recent edition, themed “Finding Courage”:

(In addition to presenting you with these opportunities for top-notch reading, I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out the aforementioned chef’s supper club by name. The Tiffin Club pops up periodically with inventive menus, bodacious wine pairings, and excellent camaraderie. Worth your time!)

The Tiffin Club

My hearty thanks to Sarah Lawrence‘s smart and gracious editors, who are wonderful to work with and who somehow keep inviting me back to write stuff. Coming this fall, an interview with a Davis Projects for Peace winner who’s making cardboard furniture with inner city kids!

Behind burqas, more than bodies

I first became acquainted with the righteous, personable, accomplished (and stylish!) Grace Aneiza Ali when she wrote a guest post for the blog Idealists in Action, which I was co-editing at the time with one of the great platonic loves of my life, Celeste Hamilton Dennis.

To put my introduction to Grace in context, I should begin by saying, perhaps quizzically, that I don’t read too awfully much on the internet. I mean read-read. For sure, I look at the news, I peruse my neighborhood listserv, and I click over when I see an acquaintance has a new job. But—though it’s not a point of pride—after staring at the screen all day in the service of most of my work and life tasks, I don’t usually feel I have the energy to sit down with it for even longer when I actually want to read. (For this, I turn to paper books and magazines.) The loss is all mine, I know!

But occasionally, something does first catch my eye, then keep my attention, then resonate with me enough afterward that I keep a link to it in my “favorites” doc, look for ways to share it, and sometimes even read it again. Grace’s story for Idealist, “Do we miscast rural communities as places to leave behind?” was one such piece.

Grace Aneiza Ali and Celeste Hamilton Dennis

Grace + Celeste (photo by Terrence Jennings)

Grace caught my eye again a while later when I saw her in the New York TimesSunday Routine, and then a third time (the charm?) just last week in NYC. The occasion was the event The Art of the Burqa, produced by the art-meets-activism magazine Grace founded, OF NOTE, and hosted by Pen + Brush (“the only international nonprofit organization offering an outlet for women in both the literary and visual arts in the city of New York”) with help from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

Through the fortitude of their mutual awesomeness, Grace and Celeste have stayed in touch since the Idealist days, and Celeste recently became Editor of OF NOTE, which was pretty thrilling news for me. (And here I’d been thinking that ’90s Hillary and Bill were the world’s most iconic two-for-the-price-of-one!) Naturally, I high-tailed it to Gramercy/Flatiron for the event, and spent the afternoon feeling more enlightened by the minute.

Highlights for me included the conversation between Suzanne Russell—an extremely badass lawyer, writer, and visual artist—and Afghan artist Hangama Amiri about the latter’s portrait series that features her burqa-clad mother inhabiting a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces; and the multimedia artist, educator, and writer Gia Harewood on the artist Behnaz Babazadeh’s Burkaphilia project—especially this wild video. But all the afternoon’s segments went a good distance toward illuminating the meanings and impacts of this iconic garment that extend far beyond the cloth itself and the body it covers.

It’s hard to picture a better event than one that combines a visit with beloved friends and mentors and a timely and affecting program—all in a beautiful space with a rapt audience. So my hat’s off to all of you! I look forward to only more greatness.

Teach a 20-something punk to write a good memo, and she’ll write good memos for life

For a couple of fun, lucky years in my 20s, I worked as assistant to the director at the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), a grantmaking nonprofit that awards cultural exchange fellowships to artists and scholars from the U.S. and Asia.

Looking for a tear-jerker with great music? Look no further!

As well as being fun, the ACC is an extremely classy place, so not only did I get to attend the super-cool performances and openings of loads of top-shelf international artists, I also honed a grip of executive-level writing skills (first forged at ACC’s sister foundation, the venerable Trust for Mutual Understanding) that I find myself coming back to quite often as a full-time freelance provider of editorial services to nonprofits. Skills like:

  • ghostwriting correspondence and statements for a VIP
  • culling meeting notes down from chaos to the essentials
  • drafting invitations to donors that made giving us loads of money sound like a treat
  • and more!

This past spring, I was extremely stoked to see an email from ACC’s current director in my inbox. She said they had some writing and editing needs on the horizon, and wondered if I might be available to help. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Almost six months later, I’m still having a blast popping in on my old workmates in the office, reacquainting myself with all the great things they work on, and helping them craft communications—like this—that speak to the gravity and longevity (and yes, the fun) of what they do. (If you peruse that newsletter, check out the story about Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Definitely my favorite to write.)

You never know when an old skill—or old friends—will show up in your life again. But unless that skill is effectively squandering time or that friend is a psychotic clown, chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised!