CROWN HEIGHTS — Twelve months and 200 portraits later, artist Rusty Zimmerman is almost ready to unveil the face of Crown Heights.
The creator of the neighborhood’s Free Portrait Project — what he has called a Herculean effort to paint and interview 200 people to document “who we are now, amid gentrification” — is getting ready to show off the results with a big celebration and month-long exhibit at a local museum.
The portraits will go on display at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum starting Sept. 25, ushered into the space with a party and march (complete with two marching bands, he says) for a final event bringing together the diverse community.
“All the folks who have been painted with their friends, families, community members, representatives from local offices, will take a walk together with people they might otherwise not take a walk with for one mile,” he said.
Fostering a sense of community and neighborliness through the project has been a “gift,” Zimmerman said. In the past year as he’s gotten to know more people in his studio, the artist has introduced people to each other at local viewing parties, on the street and in the portrait sessions themselves, where subjects often sit in on each other’s four-hour portrait-making.
“The opportunity to encourage people to say hello to each other has been wonderful,” he said.
But the full-time project, funded completely by donations and grants, has one more financial hurdle to pass before the final exhibit can go up. Frames for the portraits, costs for the exhibition space and audio editing for the 900 hours of stories Zimmerman recorded from portrait subjects cost thousands of dollars, he said; with an online fundraiser, he’s hoping to raise $5,000 before next week’s event.
Lots of help for the project has already come through, however. Brooklyn Brewery is sponsoring the Sept. 25 exhibit opening, Repair the World, a local nonprofit, is providing kosher wine and the LeFrak Lakeside skating rink donated bicycle rickshaw carriages to help carry the older portrait participants (the oldest subject is 94, Zimmerman said) in the march to the museum.
The event is free and open to the public.
“We encourage everyone in Crown Heights to come out and celebrate the neighborhood and each other,” he said.
The Free Portrait Project exhibition party will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25 with a march starting at Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue. The museum opening starts at 5 p.m. at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum at 145 Brooklyn Ave.