First Friday 3/6/15: An Ode to Uptown Arts By Zachary Frater
Do you ever enter a museum and think, “What am I doing here?” Maybe you’ve gone up to a particularly interesting piece of art trying to get a closer look at the materials, but a gallery guard is pressed to tell you to “Please step back, sir or ma’am!” Do you ever find yourself staring at two slabs of unpainted wood nailed to a wall thinking “I could do that”? Most of these things will not happen to you at First Friday, but it’s possible you’ll be offered wine and morir soñando for your troubles. That’s because the Bronx Museum, like other uptown institutions El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem, is great at speaking to the people who actually live there. It’s what’s on the walls, who’s on the board, the people who work there and the people who come.
Each first Friday of the month, the museum plays host to a plethora of visual artists and performances, mixing local talent (both hip-hop and Arab-Latino grooves were featured last Friday) and invited guests (Mexi-Cali band La Santa Cecilia got the audience singing along to classic boleros). When you enter the museum and other Bronx art spots like El Fogon or Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos, you are entering into a warm, welcoming, and at times overwhelming atmosphere. Warm and welcoming because even if you aren’t from the Bronx, you will likely run into familiar faces; overwhelming because of the sheer number of people and the consistently good vibes.
Last Friday, the downstairs gallery at the museum was crowded with Bronxite elders, families, school groups, and tons of 20-somethings, some visiting for the first time. Ramon Brown, a young person from Williamsbridge says he “grew up in the Bronx, attended middle and high school here, but never once visited the Bronx Museum.” Despite this, Ramon “really enjoyed the live music and the ability to interact with the artists. It was nice to see families there and everyone having a great time.”
Former Kingsbridge resident Tehmina Brohi felt that the event “brought out a lot of like-minded folks […], people who are in one way, shape, or form concerned about their community,” and that she hopes “the events stay relevant to the uptown community.” The question of relevance cannot be overstated, especially in a borough known for its closely knit neighborhoods. This is especially true in a time when that intimacy is constantly threatened by looming gentrification, which arts institutions—let’s be real—often contribute to. David Xu Borgonjon, a curator at Wave Hill, a cultural center in Riverdale makes a curious case for relevancy when he states, “Every arts organization in the Bronx has to think about how it relates to its community, even if that means deliberately not thinking about it.”