IS 291 Roland Hayes, located at 231 Palmetto St., is having its first Homecoming Arts Festival on Tuesday, Nov. 23, from 3 to 6 p.m., and the extended Bushwick community is invited!  

After a warm welcome by the school’s Arts Team and a presentation of the newly elected IS 291 student council, photographer and previous art teacher at the school Meryl Meisler will be introducing the installation “Paradise Lost & Found: Bushwick,” which was part of 2021’s 10-year anniversary of the Photoville Festival. The installation, curated by Roland Hayes principal Janice E. Bruce, gives viewers a glimpse of what the Bushwick neighborhood looked like 40 years ago. 

“Ms. Bruce and I hope that viewers see the exhibit as a celebration of the beautiful, beating heart of the people and places of this resilient community,” Meisler told Bushwick Daily for a previous article covering the exhibition. “The installation asks the viewer to reflect on Bushwick’s past, present and future.”

When Laura Roumanos, co-founder of Photoville, informed Meisler that her proposal for “Paradise Lost & Found: Bushwick” was accepted, Meisler immediately knew where the photographs belonged. In a written statement provided to Bushwick Daily, Meisler stated that having “Paradise Lost & Found: Bushwick” installed along the schoolyard fences of IS 291 feels “like a perfect full circle homecoming.”

Children playing by the fire hydrant. 

“The photos were taken in the school, schoolyard or blocks circling IS 291 while I was an art teacher there between 1982 – 1992,” Meisler wrote. 

Nearly all faculty members Meisler worked with at the school are now retired. Through an introduction provided by close friend and former IS 291 Physical Education teacher Jennifer Jones, she met with Bruce, who according to Meisler, responded enthusiastically to the idea of an art installation.

“Collaboratively, we made it happen. It was thrilling to sit in [Bruce’s] principal’s office, a place I knew well. Walking in the hallways, meeting the current art and music teachers in my old classroom while they brainstormed this Homecoming Arts Festival warmed my heart and soul.  The expression in Hebrew for some of my feelings is ‘beshert’ – it is meant to be, divine providence,” continued Meisler. 

Together, Meisler and Bruce wrote the following about the installation:

“Paradise Lost & Found: Bushwick is a snapshot of the tumultuous 1980s and early 1990s. Meisler’s images—kept secret for decades—are a personal memoir and she felt strongly that the photographs be installed at IS 291, the nucleus of her depictions of real children and adults on the surrounding streets, in classrooms, or the schoolyard. Now, four decades since the photos were taken, Paradise Lost & Found: Bushwick celebrates the beautiful, beating heart of the people and places of this resilient community.” 

Bruce and Meisler plan to keep the installation up indefinitely. 

Birthday reflection: Meryl Meisler

Following the introduction are musical performances by IS 291 students and faculty that will include poetry by Bruce and a DJ session by one of the teachers. After, attendees will be invited to Thanksgiving dinner and have the option to go on a gallery walk that will feature artwork by students and Meisler’s Paradise Lost & Found: Bushwick. 

For an intimate look at New York City in the 1970s to the early 1990s — a time period of “epidemics of arson, crime, crack, and AIDS, intensified by a paralyzing blackout, political and fiscal crisis” — be sure to check out Meisler’s New York PARADISE LOST Bushwick Era Disco. Signed copies are available here

All Images Provided by Meryl Meisler.

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