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Why Joe Ficalora Maintains Five Points

This is a follow-up to an

This is a follow-up to an

earlier post

by Hilary Lamb during which she toured Bushwick Five Points with the curator Joe Ficalora. In this installment they have a more personal conversation about why he maintains the site and his own history in Bushwick.

I’m in the Triangle, the outdoor home to the Bushwick Five Points Festival of Summer 2012. We’re smoking and chatting with the Five Points’ street art patron and curator Joe Ficalora. Joe has been good enough to show me his favorite street art pieces, sprayed expertly on the concrete walls of Joe’s family business. Frank, Joe’s business partner and childhood friend, now passes me a cigarette within the confines of the mysterious Triangle as this native Brooklynite talks about growing up in Bushwick, and bringing art to its streets.

Joe remembers the Bushwick of his childhood. It wasn’t safe enough to play in the streets, a pleasure many suburban children enjoy, and the landscape of the neighborhood was grey and industrial. But Joe also recounts the small community that flourished here, even in those early days. It was the neighborhood butcher who recognized and saved Joe’s grandmother one night. It was Frank’s father Antonino Mattarella who cared for Joe after his own parents were killed in Bushwick. Joe depended on close family friends for support in the community, and still enjoys it today, as he waves to every other person on the street with jovial familiarity.

Even with his close ties to the community, however, the neighborhood “felt like you were in jail.” Before street artists from around the world came to the Five Points, the landscape was a bit bleak indeed. I believe most Bushwickers are familiar with the stretches of industrial decay that give character to our harrowing bike rides home. Unlike today, where street art is abundant enough to off-set the back-drop of the urban, Joe’s horizons were often broken by juvenile graffiti and gang signs. One of Joe’s early tenants, an elderly woman, awoke to find the word CUM scrawled on a wall right outside her window.

Joe enlisted Geobany Rodriguez, Jim Avignon, and Gabriel Spector to begin transforming their urbansphere. The results of Joe’s vision cover the Five Points’ concrete in colorful spectacle. “It makes these walls feel welcoming,” he observes. And it appears, for now, that no one has found it necessary to spray the word CUM over any of the murals.

Joe gets the biggest kick out of catching newcomers as they approach the Five Points. Their eyes pop “and they get this expression, like, ‘wow, come look at his!’ I love that.” Joseph Ficalora operates GCM Steel Inc. at the Five Points, and is constantly repainting its walls.

Watch for updates on Bushwickdaily.com.

Further reading: Wickbush interviews Joe Ficalora.

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