LOWER EAST SIDE — A colorful new art installation along South Street beneath the FDR overpass, designed in collaboration with more than 100 neighbors, is hoping to shine a light on the unique diversity and energy of the Lower East Side community — amid a push to improve safety.
The "We Call This Place Home" installation was unveiled Monday by the Department of Transportation, the Hester Street Collaborative and State Sen. Daniel Squadron in conjunction with a handful of safety improvements to the stretch of South Street near Clinton Street.
The outdoor exhibition comes alongside several safety improvements to the intersection at Clinton and South Streets, identified by DOT and elected officials as a particularly hazardous spot for pedestrians and bicyclists due to the lack of traffic signals for oncoming cars.
The DOT added signals and a crosswalk across South Street, allowing safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as a new 6-foot concrete median separating an existing bike lane from vehicular traffic.
As DOT planned to put in the much-needed safety improvements, Squadron suggested beautifying the corridor as well — in response, DOT and the Hester Street Collaborative put out a call for artistic proposals in January.
Artists Chat Travieso and Samuel Holleran's community-centric pitch was the winner.
"These artists came up with an idea that isn't just beautiful, but also literally engages the community," said Squadron. "As I say, it's the trifecta: More safety, more beauty, and more community engagement."
Artists worked closely with the community throughout the design process by soliciting feedback outside nearby housing developments and organizing workshops with kids in local after-school programs.
Beginning with a conversation about the meaning of community, Travieso and Holleran asked neighbors to create shapes, some more abstract than others, that embodied what community meant to them.
The result is 116 deeply personal slices of community life, Travieso said.
"It became about each one of the shapes being almost like an avatar for a person who lives here," said Travieso, who worked with Holleran to render colorful shapes in plywood for the project. "Thousands of people live here, of course, but we felt 116, which is the amount we ended up with in the end, is a representation of the great diversity and great life and energy that's here.
"Basically what we want is for people who live here to look out their window and point and say, 'I made that,' or 'My daughter made that.'"
The installation is part of the DOT Art Program, which has partnered with local organizations to bring over 220 temporary art installations to public spaces throughout the boroughs.