Sunday, August 16, 2015

Block party is "fun," except for neighbors awakened at 5 am; map fosters corporate branding; colorful murals determinedly unmoored from project

Update: Facebook commenter Amy Greer called the event #artwashing, which is a periodic hashtag.

Well, it was fun--who doesn't like free popcorn, hot dogs, and ice cream?--but maybe not "Fun for All," as advertised.

The "10 Murals/1 Day" block party on Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues yesterday, sponsored by Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park developer Greenland Forest City Partners, was supposed to last from 11 am to 4 pm. For neighbors on Dean Street, however, the event began shortly after 5 am, when they were woken up.

As one resident wrote, "they were going up and down on cherry pickers to put up the murals at 5:30 this am. They beep like a truck backing up."

No, neighbors were not told that noise would begin at 5 am. The Community Notice, as shown below right, simply said that Dean Street would be closed to vehicular traffic "all day."

Representatives of the developer happily tweeted progress on the murals, but ignored my questions about when and whether.

I was told secondhand by a resident that a police officer later said that the block party preparation was approved from 5 am on, but the police didn't know there would be noisy equipment. Either way, the neighbors weren't told.

The big picture: colorful, pleasant, inoffensive, unmoored murals

Given the #pacificparkarts tweets and Instagram photos posted by those associated with the developer, the artists, and visitors, the event surely produced the wanted good publicity for the controversial development and the huge green wall on Dean Street, which encroaches significantly into the street, leading to traffic jams and tree damage.

(The 16-foot wall is supposed to protect neighbors from construction noise. Had the project been built at a somewhat smaller scale, a regular 8-foot wall would suffice.)

Still, those who focused on the art yesterday, not so mindful of the project's controversial history, could claim, as one wrote on Twitter, "Art = activation. Such great neighborhood vibes." My response: "Art can also = co-optation. However sunny the images, vibes can get creepy for those who've followed this project."
Mural by Mike Perry
The murals, however colorful and bright, pleasant and diverting from the "Green Monster" wall that encroaches severely on the street, seem determinedly inoffensive, unmoored from Prospect Heights, much less the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, and its controversy.

In Coney, via Animal NY
Consider the above mural near Vanderbilt Avenue by "artist-in-chief" Mike Perry, which is surely fun--even "funzy"--but could be anywhere.  

Even other controversial examples of real estate developers working with street artists have led to edgier examples, like Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's portrait of Coney Island locals, which quotes them as saying "The day before Easter and the day after Labor Day, people still live here. People die here. People love here."

In Crown Heights, via Groundswell
Or what if the developers had involved a grassroots group like Groundswell, which puts artists together with local youths, and produces challenging work like "Piece Out, Peace In," a gun violence prevention mural in Crown Heights.

Here's my nomination, which would have fuzzed the "Brooklyn" neighborhood focus: How about "Investment from China In, Profits for Shanghai and Green Cards Out"? 

(To translate, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park is now 70% owned by the Greenland Group, which is majority owned by the government of Shanghai. More than $500 million in cheap capital has come separately from Chinese millionaires by the sketchy EB-5 program, in which investors park $500,000 in a low-interest loan in exchange for green chards.")

Corporate branding, corporate caution

At least several hundred people--some of whom didn't even know the food was free--surely attended. (I visited for a couple of hours.) Numerous pink-shirted Forest City staffers served as volunteers. 

Local businesses--some with sponsors themselves--participated. (Ample Hills ice cream was provided by Terra CRG Realty, which now has offices on Dean Street and, synergistically, tweeted positive vibes.)

Overall, though, the block party showed the fine line between corporate branding and corporate caution.

Consider the determinedly casual, hand-drawn font for Perry's poster, as well as Perry's whimsical, distorted Brooklyn map (which vastly overemphasizes Pacific Park), which was provided to kids yesterday to color in.

Such styling suggest a local, neighborhood feel, though this block party was shaped by a corporation, separate from the local block association, which, among other neighbors, called for improving construction oversight.

The map, as well as Brooklyn Nets paraphernalia, were featured in a photo booth. The message was: be a part of this project, if only by association.

By contrast, the murals seemed dissociated from the project, even the neighborhood.

Another form of caution--except in terms of regard to neighbors--concerned the timing. The 5 am start seemed time to ensure that the stunt of getting ten murals done in one day would be achieved.

Indeed, when I walked by before 11:45 am and shot the video below, I was surprised how far they were along.



Finished murals at 6:45 pm

When I came back at 6:45 pm, two of the murals were still being finished. I took photos of several finished works.









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