By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Upper Manhattan will be home to new a public art installation when its Plaza de las Americas project is completed in early 2013. But the artwork won't come from the neighborhood. It will be imported from Brooklyn.
The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs announced last week that Ester Partegàs, a contemporary artist who was born in Barcelona and now lives in Brooklyn, would be featured in the plaza that's being billed as a new "town square" at Broadway and 175th Street.
That decision left many residents in Inwood and Washington heights scratching their heads, considering the area's rich arts community.
"I share our deep disappointed that given all the artists in Inwood and Washington Heights that they didn’t pick someone in our own backyard," said Community Board 12 chair Pamela Palanque-North at the board's Feb. 22 meeting.
City officials say no neighborhood artists with experience to qualify for the commission applied. Palanque-North said the city didn't involve the community until late in the year-long selection process.
A DCA spokeswoman said several artists from Inwood and Washington Heights were invited for consideration, but each said they could not compete due to other projects and did not apply.
"The team's objective was to select the best possible artist to support the community's goals for the site,” said Sara Reisman, director of the DCA's Percent for Art. "From a wonderful group of talented artists, the panel selected Ester Partegàs, who has extensive experience in creating public artwork for outdoor public sites."
Renderings of her work for Plaza de las Americas were not yet available.
Reisman said the agency worked closely with local nonprofit the Washington Heights Inwood Development Corporation (WHIDC), several Upper Manhattan-based arts professionals, city officials and project architects, to find the right candidate for the project.
Despite conflicting accounts regarding the level of community engagement, CB12 chair Palanque-North said she is now confident she can move forward and make sure the community is better engaged.
"We have to shine the light on this process, because we have so many talented artists here who deserve to be celebrated," Palanque-North said.
Talks about the outdoor market that sits beside the United Palace Theater have been going on for more than a year.
The new design is being designed and implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and WHIDC, a nonprofit that manages the plaza and its vendors.
Last year the plaza was selected to be part of the DOT’s "Public Plazas" program, which works to create open community spaces for residents to enjoy.
In addition to the new art, the newly designed plaza, which has functioned as a ragtag sales space for vendors who once sold their wares on 181st Street since 1994, will feature new amenities such as permanent benches and bistro-style seating, decorative pavements, public toilets, an information kiosk and drinking fountains.
Once the design is finalized and approved by this fall, construction should begin in the spring, to be completed by spring 2013.