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Laundromat Art Festival Celebrates Underserved Communities

By Paul DeBenedetto | September 19, 2013 9:13am
 Artists work with children at a Laundromat Project event in Bed-Stuy.
Artists work with children at a Laundromat Project event in Bed-Stuy.
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NEW YORK CITY — A program that uses laundromats to showcase art in underserved communities is celebrating its "anchor neighborhoods" with a three-location arts festival on Saturday, including workshops and walking tours focused on the areas' history and residents.

The first annual Field Day is organized by the Laundromat Project, now in its eighth year as a nonprofit.

Saturday's event will focus on the three neighborhoods where the organization works — Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem and Hunts Point — and the artists-in-residence at each location, a representative for the group said.

"It's sort of an opportunity to celebrate the neighborhoods we work in and the art that's happening there," said spokesman Akiva Steinmetz-Silver. "A lot of people think of the art world as museums and galleries in Chelsea, white walls, and we're trying to emphasize art that's happening in the neighborhoods we work, and try to highlight the artists that are working locally."

Attendees can show up at any of the group's neighborhood sites to pick up a map, detailing programming in the neighborhood from featured artists.

The idea behind Field Day is for people to be involved in the festival throughout the day, Steinmatz-Silver said.

"We don't imagine people being passive participants," Steinmatz-Silver said.

Bed-Stuy's programming features artist-in-residence Aisha Cousins at Marmy's Laundromat at 197 Malcolm X Blvd.

Cousins' work, called "Mapping Soulville," focuses on the practice of renaming neighborhood streets in black neighborhoods to reflect the community's history, the performance artist said. For her project, she is enlisting the help of community members to "rename" cross streets along Malcolm X Boulevard.

"We've been trying to get people to imagine what those streets would be named," said Cousins, 34, giving examples of the other names the activist used, Malcolm Little and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. "It focuses on getting people to imagine Malcolm X Boulevard as a walkable timeline of Malcolm X's life."

In Harlem, attendees can stop at Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard for the Harlem Story Walk, where artists will be drawing chalk murals in front of local businesses. In Hunts Point, locals can stop by the Point CDC, at 940 Garrison Ave., for a walking tour of neighborhood murals.

Cousins, who has been working with the Laundromat Project since April, said the festival highlights the group's overarching philosophy, and it's a philosophy the artist said is in line with her own.

"It's really nice to be with an organization that wants me to make art the way that I make it," Cousins said. "They believe creativity exists in every community already and that their job is to help amplify it."

For the full schedule of Field Day events in all three locations, click here.