Operators at the still-in-construction Bronx Music Hall are producing a series of online performances to document the development of the project and keep the arts alive amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“They’re short music videos we’ll do every few weeks to showcase a Bronx artist and have them perform at the site. It’s sort of like a visual and musical record to see how the space (on East 162 Street) is coming along,” said Elena Martinez, Bronx Music Heritage Center co-artistic director, in a phone interview. “It’s a way to make people not forget about it.”
The performances, using the hashtag #BMHBLAST, have featured a variety of local artists. In one video, Martha Zarate and Pilar Maez of the Mazarte Dance Company perform a traditional Mexican Jarocho dance to the song “El gavilancito,” In another, hip-hop artist Prophet of Abrazos Army delivers funky bars and freestyles. Music hall Co-artistic Director and percussionist Bobby Sanabria makes a couple of appearances with his Multiverse Big Band.
So far, Martinez said audiences have responded well to the videos. The performances have no set schedule, but videos and updates can be found on the center’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
Right now, Martinez said the structure of the music hall is up, but the inside is still under construction. The theater will have 250 seats, more than three times the occupancy of the BMHC’s current location on Louis Niñé Boulevard. The theater will be flexible, and the seats can be removed to make space for a dance floor. Martinez compared it to the Brick theater in Brooklyn.
Martinez said the plan was to open by the fall, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays. Now she’s hoping to open by spring 2021.
“We just really have to wait and see at this point because we have to wait for a world where we’re not in quarantine,” she said. “Even if there are things in place like the vaccine, are people going to want to gather indoors for entertainment like that?”
Aside from office use, performance spaces in New York are currently closed according to state guidelines. During a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 17, on Long Island, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has no plans to reopen movie theaters and concert venues yet.
Martinez, a Bronx native, said initiatives like the music hall create a positive atmosphere for the neighborhood.
“The Bronx has this bad reputation of fires and crime, and that’s one side of the story, but the Bronx is an incredible place with so much talent and music and art,” she said. “There are places like Hostos Community College, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, and this will hopefully be another one and we can showcase the legacy of Bronx music.”
The Bronx Music Hall is part of a greater development, the Bronx Commons that is operated by the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, the BMHC’s parent group. The Bronx Commons will also contain affordable housing, retail/eating space, office space and a public school for toddlers.