Works by more than two-dozen artists showing in landmark building
Ernie Lopez, a writer and resident from Longwood, marveled at the packed house that had gathered in the long-dormant, former Bronx County Courthouse on April 23.
“The last time I was in this building,” he said, “I was eleven years old. Now I’m 46.”
The crowd had assembled for the opening night of “When You Cut Into the Present, The Future Leaks Out,” the 20th exhibition organized so far by the arts non-profit No Longer Empty, which converts abandoned spaces into temporary arts venues. The event, which took up three stories of the courthouse, featured the work of 26 artists. Lopez said he was impressed with the way the building had been transformed since his childhood.
“We grew up playing in abandoned buildings like this one,” he said. “The roof of the courthouse, that was our first observatory.”
But plans to revive the Old Gray Lady remain a work-in-progress. Guests were required to sign liability waivers before entering the building. Even so, the artists succeeded in turning the building’s ramshackle interior into a compelling backdrop for pieces that were edgy and unconventional. One artist collected plywood and rubble in a pitch-black room, save for a single light in the center of the debris. For another piece, a room became a maze of stringed musical instruments.
Lopez’s cousin, Rob Lugo, said the exhibition was a welcome addition for the community and predicted it was a harbinger of exciting prospects to come.
“People in the Bronx want to come out to things like this,” Lugo said. “There is a hunger for culture that isn’t being met.”
Not everyone was in agreement that the exhibition is a good signal for the neighborhood, however. One small group of protestors organized by Longwood-based community advocacy organization Mothers on the Move interrupted the exhibition’s welcoming remarks with chants, warning that the show was a symbol of gentrification.
“Do not use art to pimp us out!” they yelled at audience members, handing out flyers and shouting slogans, such as “You are empty; we are always full.”
“People from the community didn’t even know about this event,” Wanda Salaman, Mothers on the Move’s executive director, said during a phone interview. “There was not a big representation of artists from the community.” Ten of the 26 artists were from the borough.
“I don’t have an issue with newcomers,” she said. “I have an issue with long-time residents not being able to enjoy the neighborhood.”
Alan Rosenbloom, the chair of No Longer Empty’s board, said that the protesters were misguided. He contended that the organization’s exhibitions and its educational work are intended to serve those who live in the community.
“This is a building that’s been underutilized,” he said. “This courthouse probably hasn’t been full in 50 years.”
In one room that had been furnished to resemble an artist’s workshop, local resident Aaron Goodstone said he applauded what the arts collective has done with the landmarked building.
“Just getting the courthouse to the point it’s at now is commendable,” he said.
As long as the arts group kept its local exhibits relevant to Mott Haven’s realities and the needs of its residents, he added, their presence in the neighborhood would be welcome.
“At the end of the day, it needs to be a part of the community,” he said. “They should keep it like this continuously.”
The show is scheduled to run through July 19.