Gabrielle Wright reports from Washington, D.C
Gabrielle Wright reports from Bushwick
Struggling artists and hopeful gallery owners fled to Bushwick in search of building a new art scene. They were also in search of cheap rent so they acquired Bushwick’s abandoned buildings. Now, hopes of the area becoming a breeding ground for a new, experimental art scene have become a magnet for more people, more businesses and anything else indicating “next big thing”.
With each next big gallery opening, Bushwick’s art scene moves a little closer to being a pricey twin to Williamsburg’s art scene. As a result, some older Bushwick residents aren’t only priced out of their neighborhoods, they’re also disconnected from the art community coming in. But some artists are attempting to connect.
William Powhida, an artist who relocated to Bushwick from Williamsburg a few years ago, highlights the “social significance of the $13 hamburger”, brought into Bushwick by a wave of artists in his piece, “Things I Think about when I Think about Bushwick”.
“There are changes that people in the community are in support of,” said Powhida. “There’s less crime, less shootings, there’s not a drug war going on anymore, but at the same time, prices of milk goes up. The restaurants come in and the hamburgers are $13 dollars. There’s not a lot of development centered around the community. It’s centered around artists and their tastes,” he said.
In turn, some of Powhida’s work and interests are centered on Bushwick’s art world and how gentrification pushes much of the community onto the outskirts.
“We are the harbingers of gentrification,” said artist, Jennifer Dalton. “One way of looking at it is neighborhoods change and that is natural, but another way of looking at it is artists are on the frontlines of ruining other people’s situations and space. It’s ethically complicated,” she said.
Dalton, co-curator of Auxiliary Projects, an art gallery in Bushwick which sells pieces for under $300 in order to make them available to a wider and more diverse audience. She feels that although many of Bushwick’s changes are centered on artists, they have supported the community by turning empty spaces into useable ones.
“Look, people are here mainly to show their work, not necessarily to represent the community,” said artist, Deborah Brown. “We artists need to think of ways to build their community and be a part of the art dialogue.”.
Brown is the owner of Storefront Gallery and also on Bushwick’s Community Board. Many of Bushwick’s issues, from street lights to education initiatives are familiar to Brown. She’s also very keen on the art community finding ways to become more involved in Bushwick.
“…the community doesn’t really go to galleries,” said Brown.”…it’s presumptuous; they’ve been here for 30 years. They aren’t interested in seeing white artists. Who’s going to do that?”
“No long-time Bushwick resident has stepped foot in [my] gallery,” said Dalton.
Joe Ficalora, creator of 5 Points Bushwick , an ongoing street art project between Wycoff and St. Nicholas Avenue on Troutman Street, said Bushwick residents would probably visit Bushwick’s 50-plus galleries more often if they could connect to them more.
“Kids should go home and pick up a pen after seeing these murals and say I connected to this…”
Ficalora grew up in Bushwick and said his exposure to baseball kept him out of trouble. He feels art could do the same for kids today.
“It’s about sharing,” he said. “Why can’t we be responsible for having that impression for the community, for the kids?”
Brown feels that that despite the changes in the physical landscape, artists should get to know their neighbors.
“We have totally different experiences but it gets you out of your cocoon,” she said. “The art community has their own lives and they’re not drawn into the larger community unless they want to be. Efforts are just at the beginning but artists have to get the ball rolling,” said Brown.
Dawn Critelli tells her story of dating with breast cancer to Pavement Pieces reporter Gabrielle Wright
PITTSBURGH, Pa -In 2011, Dawn Critelli and her date moved in close to one another. Things were starting to heat up, but before they could continue she needed to give him fair warning.
“I kind of have something to tell you,” she said.
She told him that she was like Barbie, that she had a cross between implants, muscle and lumps of fat instead of breasts. She showed him the scar lining the length of her torso. It told the story of a back muscle repurposed across her chest.
Critelli, a 43-year-old mother of two from Pittsburgh, Pa., was dating after breast cancer. She was first diagnosed at 29.
The American Cancer Society reports that across the nation, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 2.3 minutes. About 227,000 will be diagnosed next year. One in every 220 of those women will be ages 15 to 40. Many of them, like Critelli, will still be on the dating scene.
Breast cancer adds a unique set of obstacles to dating.
“It can be pretty complicated,” said Jennifer Kehm, co-founder of Young Women’s Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. “You’re watching television and you can’t stop seeing cleavages. ”
Kehm had one of her breasts removed when she was 36. She started her organization to try to help support young women with breast cancer. She tells women that when they look at themselves in the mirror not to focus on what’s missing, but rather on what’s still there.
“I still have my life,” said Kehm. “But for some, breasts are a big deal. They’re beautiful. It’s a part of womanhood.”
She said there are many implications of dating with breast cancer.
“Physically you’re different, and health-wise you’re different,” she said. “Some people back away because they worry about your health. You want to put your best foot forward, and you want that other person to like you but what do you tell them? ‘Hi, I’m Jen, and I just went through chemo’. It takes a lot of courage just to give that information and then you have to figure out when, when is a good time to offer it up?”
Megan McCann, Senior Manager of National Programs at Young Survivors Coalition, an organization that advocates more research and diagnostic tools for women under 40, said that the obstacles of dating with breast cancer are physical and psychosocial.
“There are physical side effects from treatment that may impact a young women’s sex life,” said McMann. “For example vaginal dryness can cause painful intercourse; she may also experience fatigue and decreased libido. Emotionally, though, there are other factors like body image concerns resulting from mastectomy and breast reconstruction, as well as treatment side effects like hair loss and early menopause.”
Critelli, a two time breast cancer survivor, worried that no one would ever want her.
“I was bald,” she said. “I felt deformed. While on treatment I couldn’t taste the salt in my food and sweets were so bland. Not to mention, if a date took me to dinner I was afraid the chemo would make me throw up.”
Married with Cancer
Critelli dated, married and divorced twice since being diagnosed. She was only 29 when she was first diagnosed. Her story begins with an itch that woke her out of her sleep and found under the itch was a lump.
“It was so small,” said Critelli. “You could only feel it if I were laying a particular kind of way.”
Critelli tested negative for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, two genetic mutations that signal a risk for breast cancer. Both of Critelli’s grandmothers had breast cancer, her aunt tested positive for the BRCA-2 gene, and her father had esophageal cancer.
Critelli demanded to have her breasts removed. Doctors turned her down and told her to rethink her decision. They also told her to wait until she was older to get a mammogram. At 29, she was considered too young to get one.
“Younger women have denser breast tissue and this makes mammograms difficult to detect a suspicious mass on the breast,” said McCann. “Currently, there are no effective screening methods for this population.”
“If I would have waited, I may not have been here,” said Critelli. “Because I was young, getting my breasts removed was out of the question. A mammogram wasn’t even entertained. But you have to know how to get what you want in this world. I got my mammogram.”
Critelli got the mammogram, but nothing showed up so she pushed for an ultrasound where they did find a malignant tumor. Critelli’s thoughts raced: her marriage was still new, she had a five-year-old and she was trying to get pregnant again. She said the struggle for women dating or trying to salvage a marriage with breast cancer isn’t about racing the clock to have a baby.
“It’s about telling someone you need to hurry up and have kids, or that you can’t have any more,” she said.
A 2007 study by Demographic Research found that debt, emotional fatigue and possibility of survival were major factors leading to divorce in couples facing cancer. Infertility is on that list. After her tumor was removed, 36 radiation treatments, and the new baby girl she wanted, Critelli got a hysterectomy. She also got divorced.
“He was staying for the kids,” said Critelli. “And then I had cancer so it was like he was stuck. How could he get out then?”
Dating with Cancer
Ten years later, Critelli was four months into a new relationship. One night her new boyfriend felt a large lump near her nipple.
“I told my boyfriend then that this would be a long road,” she said. “I told him my hair would fall out and I would gain weight. I tried to give him an out, but he said he didn’t want one. He just said to get a biopsy.”
Critelli’s biopsy came back saying she had stage-two cancer classified as “triple negative”: that meant her hormones would feed the cancer. But the night before she found out, her boyfriend proposed to her.
“Planning our wedding kept me focused on something positive,” said Critelli. “Thinking about losing hair, and what I would look like after the surgery didn’t matter as much. He even shaved my head and he always told me I was beautiful.”
While making wedding plans, Critelli had her breasts removed. Concerned about her image, she chose to undergo a procedure that would push the fat up from her stomach to form a lump of fat in place of her breasts. The radiation made her skin too tight so she had to take more drastic measures to form breast. The procedure took her Latissimus dorsi, the muscle that wraps from the side to the back, and strapped it across her chest along with two deflated balloon-like sacs. Each week she would get the sacs filled to help expand her skin.
“I was going for at least a B cup,” said Critelli. But the sacs expanded in the wrong direction, expanding inward and cracking her ribs rather than stretching her skin. She would have to settle for an A cup.
“I was completely flat,” she said. “But I had small breast to begin with anyway. Image wasn’t important to me anymore, my kids were.”
Being a new bride, albeit in a wig, also kept her hopes up.
After six months of chemo, 36 more radiation treatments, a mastectomy and a second marriage, she discovered her new husband was addicted to cocaine.
“I don’t think the cancer caused it but I don’t think it helped,” said Critelli. “Addiction is a sickness and he stood by me through mine, so I stood by him through his.”
After two years they got divorced.
Dating after Cancer
A year after her second divorce, Critelli was back on the dating scene, peeling herself away from a moment of intimacy to explain her scars and implants to her newest boyfriend, Rick Macfarlane of Pittsburgh, Pa.
He responded that he didn’t care so Critelli braced him for more.
“I don’t have nipples,” she said.
She explained that to get nipples she would have to take some of her vaginal lining to recreate them. She wouldn’t get the benefit of any sensation so she opted not to get nipples.
“I knew her history,” said Macfarlane. “But I didn’t know about the removal of her breasts before she put it out there, but I’m glad she did do it that way.”
He said it wasn’t awkward and his feelings for her did not change.
A year later they are still dating. Critelli said that with or without breast cancer, dating is about whether or not people see one another for who they are, not their wig.
Three blocks away from Evergreen Baptist Church, the site of yesterday’s Bushwick gun buyback event, Akeal Christopher, 14, was shot in the head after a middle school graduation party. He died on his 15th birthday this July.
“My son was murdered in the community he grew up in,” said his mother, Natasha Christopher. “This community is on mute and everyone is acting like this is a normal. This community should be mad.”
But yesterday’s gun buyback event, in the church at 455 Evergreen Avenue, was organized in response to the burgeoning number of homicides and gun violence in the Bushwick community.
According to the New York Police Department January to June 2012, 791 people were shot or killed by a bullet, 1613 total arrests were made in which at least one firearm was recovered. The 83rd Precinct, which covers Bushwick, had two fatal shootings over the last month.
The gun buyback event was sponsored by City Councilwoman Diana Reyna in conjunction with the police department and hosted by the Evergreen Baptist Church.
Flyers were handed out as far as 15 blocks in each direction to persuade community members to hand over their guns. The incentive was $20 for rifles and $200 for pistols and handguns. By 4 PM, the gun buyback collected 85 firearms.
As community members turned over their weapons, police officers stood by to collect them.
“In reality the people who are bringing the guns in aren’t the people most likely to use them in the wrong way,” said the church’s pastor Rev. Gary Frost. “If the guns are in their homes, there are others there who are less conscientious of proper use of a gun or would probably steal them. If you take the guns out of circulation, it’s a better environment.”
Some of the guns that went out of circulation were carried into the church in duffle bags.
“Some of these weapons are like military equipment,” said Frost.
Others brought weapons concealed in small tote bags, and purses. One man stopped a few yards away from the church. He asked church member Anita Haynes if she would turn in a plastic grocery bag half full of bullets for him.
When Rev. Frost watched the exchange, he said he believed the buyback event was like one person on a shore covered with thousands of starfish.
“You can’t save them all, but you can save this one,” he said.
Lynette Frost, the pastor’s wife, recalled a moment this summer when tears prevented gun crime. She called out to two teenagers running towards a fight asking them not to make their mothers cry that night.
“And the boys, they came back,” Lynette Frost said. “They asked me why I cared and I said, ‘because I love you’. They started to tear up and didn’t fight that night. That’s what we’re doing here today.”
Lynette Frost said that this year’s turnout was an improvement. Last year only 32 guns were collected. Out of the 85 guns collected this year were 74 handguns, 4 shotguns, 6 rifles, and 1 assault rifle.
Ariel Salazar, Councilmember Diana Reyna’s Community Liaison, said that the very last weapon collected was brought in by two teenagers. It was a Tech-9.
“The police department was very excited about receiving this specific weapon,” said Salazar. “It’s the one that could have done the most damage.”
Farming in Bushwick
If it’s hard to find quality cucumbers or carrots in your neighborhood, just grow them. That’s the thinking at Bushwick-based educational non-profit, Boswyck Farms.
Boswyck Farms is a hands-on garden and woodshop where children and adults can learn how to make an everyday use of hydroponics, water-efficient drip system farming techniques. The urban basin of plants located near the DeKalb Avenue stop on the L train, houses dozens of fruits, vegetables and herbs nurtured by nutrient rich water and blue and fuchsia heat lamps. It also houses Lee Mandell, the founder and chief hydroponicist of Boswyck Farms.
“I believe a farmer should live on their farm,” said Lee Mandell, whose loft doubles as the farm. “I have become an agricultural pioneer in the 21st century in Brooklyn which both sounds really weird and makes complete sense.”
Mandell uses his home as a 1000 square foot example of how people living in urban areas with little access to green grocers and supermarkets like Bushwick, can proactively access healthy food. It goes hand in hand with New York City initiatives to eradicate food deserts such as the Healthy Bodega and Adopt-a-Bodega programs. Boswyck Farms suggests communities take initiative by building water-efficient gardens in rooms, food co-ops and pantries.
“We’re just trying to show kids that food comes from some place other than aisle nine in a supermarket,” said Mandell. “Especially in a city where a lot of kids will grow up having never seen anything grow.”
Now, in its 5th year, Boswyck Farm is maturing at a critical time. According to the New York City Department of City Planning about 3 million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods in high need of access to supermarkets and grocery stores. Bushwick is one of them.
“It’s not hard to find fresh food,” said Bushwick resident Jen Holmes. “But it’s hard to get quality fresh food.”
The Adopt-a-Bodega Initiative is a program that works to promote and stock corner stores with healthy foods in areas particularly affected by chronic diabetes and obesity. These areas tend to be where grocery stores are a mile or more away from residences. So far, three Bushwick bodegas have expressed interest in joining the program.
“We are talking to our local bodega here to see if we can encourage them to actually start growing some of their own food,” said Mandell. “The owner of our bodega is opening a green grocer…so this summer we’re going to be showing him what can be grown on a rooftop right here in Bushwick.”
Mandell’s hope is that wherever there’s a neon sign drawing attention to fatty foods and sugary drinks, there will also be a rooftop or food pantry nearby with all the ingredients for a salad.
“Growing food and farming is a part of the human condition,” said Mandell. “And by reconnecting with it, you reconnect with more than just the food, you build communities.”
Residents of Bushwick on gentrification
Looting, fires and closed down business brought Bushwick, Brooklyn to a standstill during the historic black out of 1977. But ash and vacant buildings are fertile ground for revival. Since then, Bushwick has become a magnet for struggling artists and Williamsburg overflow, and now like most gentrifying neighborhoods across the nation: a clash of cultures and agendas.
“The population changed,” said resident Alex Johnson, 36. Looking out the window and firmly planted against the sway of the J train, he pointed out new housing developments as they whizzed by. But it isn’t just new developments that have taken over, a neighborhood that was primarily black and Hispanic for decades is seeing an influx of white residents.
“This is one of the closest [neighborhoods] to Manhattan so there’s a lot of white people in the area now,” said Johnson. According to the U.S. Census, non-Hispanic white population more than tripled between 2000 and 2010.
Johnson said with his new neighbors comes more police and organic food stores.
“They got a lot of things that haven’t been here five years ago,” he said.
Beneath the Flushing Avenue elevated train stop on the JMZ train lines are bars and cafes retrofitted into spaces that once belonged to family owned businesses. Street vendors sell the same goods sold in the Walgreens they’re set up in front of and an IHOP, not yet two years old, shares the block with small delis selling similar breakfast items.
Between the Flushing Avenue and Kosciusko Street stops along the J line, older residents say Bushwick is truly found on side streets like Hart or Dodworth where residents have childhood memories and have seen the streets go from drug infestation to “ghost-town”. Yet, newer, younger residents point towards a different Bushwick, found in loft spaces turned into farms and auxiliary art projects near the L’s Jefferson Street stop. The train lines stretching and screeching across Bushwick dot the gradient of gentrification throughout the neighborhood.
Each train stop spills out Bushwick newbies attracted by affordable housing and art gallery space alongside long-time residents with a hunch their rent may be going up soon. As Johnson, who has lived in Bushwick for ten years, stepped onto the J’s Kosciusko Avenue platform he grimaced at the renovated spaces on the avenue.
“Money makers are coming out here and can rent an apartment for $2500,” said Johnson.
“Affordable housing so they say. Section 8 doesn’t apply to that which is what we need. We can’t afford that,” he said.
According to PropertyShark.com’s Brooklyn home price map, homes in Williamsburg, the gentrified neighborhood next to Bushwick, are priced 174% more than they were in 2004. In Bushwick, the increase is by 14%. Condos are selling fast but Johnson said the increased rent and influx of new residents prices long-time Bushwick residents out. As rent goes up, businesses close down or move out.
“We may not be able to stay here,” said Lars Kremer, founder of Airplane, an art gallery on Jefferson Street . “There are four new buildings going up. We’re probably going to have 200 new people on the block by the end of this year. A new bar just opened up down the street,” he said.
Kremer has lived in Bushwick since 2000.
“I’ve seen it change a lot,” he said. “In many ways it will be good because of the increased exposure, but then there is also the looming threat of rent increase that might happen. I have mixed feelings about Bushwick,” he said.
The increased exposure has brought The Center for Urban Future’s 2012 State of the Chains study reports that there is a 2.6% increase in the number of chain stores across Brooklyn. Fifty-five chain stores are in Bushwick. An additional 34 chains are shared by both Williamsburg and Bushwick where the 11206 zip code is shared.
For Meagan Davis, a newcomer to Bushwick from Dallas, Texas, there are just enough familiar coffee shops and stores with newly hung drywall to not ruin the “gem” of her new home. However, if it becomes too much like Williamsburg, Bushwick’s gentrified neighbor, she would move.
“Williamsburg just doesn’t have enough grit,” said Davis, who has been in Bushwick for about six months. “Williamsburg is like Disney Land. Bushwick still has family, still has grit. Bushwick has something that to me is just real,” she said.
To Johnson, that “realness” is just a freak show for new residents. Beneath the Myrtle Avenue stop on the J line, a woman who was visibly incoherent rolled around on the ground reaching for her purse as stereotypical hipsters stepped around her.
“You’re in the hood, you see what’s going on, that’s real,” said Johnson, who believes Bushwick is becoming more racist. “They’re scared so they keep walking,” he said.
Torn between the pros and cons in his neighborhood, Johnson believes that gentrification in Bushwick can be felt more than it is seen. He said drug dealers weren’t on his corner anymore, but on the other hand, the family-owned dry cleaners that would clean clothes for free were also gone.
“They’re taking the danger out of Bushwick but taking the people out with it,” said Johnson.