Newcomers and long-time residents need to work together for the future of the community, agreed the speakers on the “Building a Better Bushwick” panel at Bushwick Film Festival on Saturday, which we livestreamed and is available to watch in full above.“I think that for people who are coming into a community new, the onus is on them to become a part of the existing community,” said Nadine Whitted, the district manager of Bushwick’s Community Board 4. “I think that in our community in Bushwick, that hasn’t always been the case.”
BFF founder and director Kweighbaye Kotee said she added the panel to the festival after thinking new arts organizations weren’t doing enough to integrate into the community. “Even though I’m an African-American woman, I realized the Bushwick Film Festival was also doing the same thing,” said Kotee, who moderated the panel.
The meeting packed the house at LightSpace Studios with both younger Bushwick newcomers and long-time residents. Although the discussion didn’t touch on some of the specific changes happening in Bushwick – the Rheingold rezoning plans and CB4 closed vote controversy were notably not mentioned even as Whitted encouraged residents to come out to community board meetings – the crowd still seemed energized by the idea of uniting residents from across Bushwick.
Artist and activist Daryl-Ann Saunders said arts organizations should do more to reach out to the rest of the community, like putting out information in both English and Spanish. Saunders said Bushwick Open Studios had locations near all of Bushwick’s subway stations this year, but the annual festival still feels dominated by relative newcomers to the community.
“There have to be other artists in the neighborhood that are not from that new influx of people, so why aren’t they involved?” she asked.
Outreach programs need to use modern social media as well as traditional tools like “door knocking, flyering [and] phone banking” to reach everyone in the community, said Jose Lopez, the lead organizer at Make the Road New York. “Being concise, knowing who the audience is and making sure that we’re using language that is appropriate for that audience, is something that we have to be conscious of,” he said.
The community also needs to work together to make sure long-term residents can own and keep their own homes in Bushwick, said Thomas Burr Dodd, an artist and the owner of Brooklyn Fire Proof. “That’s about the only where that we’re gonna slow down this process [of gentrification] that is happening,” he said. Gentrification and the fear that Bushwick could follow too fast in Williamsburg’s steps seemed to be on the mind of everyone in the room, though it wasn’t clear anyone really knows how to keep that from happening.
Dodd and others on the panel also called for the arts organizations now making Bushwick famous to work more closely with Bushwick’s public schools to engage students and parents.
“Start small: invite students and senior groups to visit your space,” said artist and art educator Meryl Meisler. “Give them a guided tour.”
Young people won’t approach arts institutions without some encouragement, said Amy Collado, speaking from the audience, especially if they see the neighborhood’s artists as looking different from them and coming from different backgrounds.
“We have all these amazing places where people can go in and show their art work and things that they’re really interested in,” said Collado, the producer of the short film series Open City Mixtape. “The only problem is the youth don’t see themselves in what’s being shown.”