As I walked past Morgan Avenue L train stop, a sweltering scorch wetted my designer torn T-shirt; The thick buzz of creative energy and shockingly vivid blocks of graffiti lay under the beating sun. Outdoor performance artists attracted groups of tourists, a crowded truck full of paintings shot my eye; On the steps up a tin banjo player mingled with a skate board artist eating a veggie dog.
At a distance I could hear the all girl rock band at the boards head truck loading lot. The cement factories edging the fuzzy New York City skyline gave the scenery an air of surreal. The warehouse and factory landscape coated the street sculptures with a brittle edge. I almost got run down by a mob of scooter and home made mopeds that parked down the road. By the end of that sticky summer day, 800 + open studios with thousands of art pieces, left me with the impression of vibrancy, wealth and boom. This Bushwick force was one to be reckoned with. My mind began to wonder as I drank an all green smoothie under the vegan truck canopy.
If I was to measure the wealth of a community, I would look at the creative output of its people, I would measure wellness as the capacity for voluntary cooperation and exchange of gifts. I would analyze the communities capacity for transformation, and I mean transformation that is good. New York City in general is a place of constant transformation. The cities history has innumerable neighborhoods where conditions and human capital have combined resources to transform the community. Without going into specifics or comparisons, the northern borough of Brooklyn Bushwick, has recently undergone a cultural burgeoning and will certainly be the guide post of the New York City art scene as it looks for a beckon past Chelsea.
Transformation upon transformation Bushwick has gone from the farming and tobacco days of the Dutch East Indies to the manufacturing plants of Sugar and Oil. From the chemical factories to the famous “Brewers Row” German breweries of the nineteenth Century that gave Bushwick the reputation of “beer capital” of the Northeast. Peter Stuyvesant named it “little town in the woods” or “Boswijck” when he chartered the Lenope territory in 1661.
Bushwick has also seen its share of devastation, trash and outlaw. On that long hot and humid 1977 July night, a major 24 hour blackout pushed the neighborhood to commit arson. After an already characteristically jittery and frightful summer of Sam, mayhem took over residents as fires spread to many parts of the shopping district. In the wake of the 1977 riots sections of Broadway, Knickerbocker and Graham Avenue had the appearance of war like devastation with days of plummeting dark smoke. There are many accounts of shop owners who saw and put up resistance as their stores got looted and burned incessantly. Empty lots and unsafe buildings led to the poverty ridden neighborhood of Latin American immigrants along with the high crime rates and drug trafficking of the 80’s. Might we say Bushwick was not an inviting destination, besides retail business had moved out after the riots.
But this resilient community has always been busy changing its own circumstances. For the past decade and a half, it has seen a wave of thriving artists splashing the walls with color. This latest chameleonic transformation began in the 90’s when the search for alternative and affordable spaces, led artist, musicians, creative thinkers and a vigorous generation of youthful rebels to infiltrate the spaciously big and rough warehouses of gritty old Bushwick. This new social experiment has become the epicenter of outsider art and fringe culture. Centered along Bogart Street, Morgan Avenue and now Jefferson Street, empty warehouses and old factory buildings have metamorphosed into thousands of studios and lofty alternative spaces. Naturally this demographic became socially dislocated out of the Lower East Side, East Village and Manhattan. Recent hipster pro-fugues of the high real-estate prices of Williamsburg have added to this eclectic mix. Finding congenial isolation away from the callousness of institutional gallery dealers and corporate art. This creative flux is characterized by home grown street experiences, more concerned with the irreverent desire to improve, beautify and enrich their local community with art for arts sake. This gift culture is revolting against the philistinism of mass produced Americana. These creative thinkers are networking the Bushwick hub into a renaissance of possibilities.
Sculptors, performance artist, painters, street graffiti, musicians, media artist, thinkers and healers, pop up galleries and wholesale, green restaurants and neighbors, street fairs and art trucks are all in the quest for the irreverent spirit of American artistry, discovering new way’s of communal life.
If I was to measure the true wealth of a community, I would not look at its potential to attract real estate, but instead see the activity of its people.
If I was to measure wealth of a community by the activation of its creative potential, I might say that Bushwick is among the riches communities on earth. I do not mean rich like in the wheel of gentrification which misses the point every time and perpetuates the money system displacing cultural treasures with luxury markets and condos. For collectors, art as commodity is everything about the money. I contend that art was never meant to be of private acquisition; It is a gift. Furthermore artist were never meant to make a living, their gift back to the community is the firing engine that promotes human ingenuity. We owe it to them and to all of us for enhancing the moral capacity for a better world, and for showing the better profit.
I am not against capital, capital will do good or bad depending on who sits behind it. When capital develops horizontally and makes communities organize, profit is measured with creativity, discovery, community enterprise and love for art. Where art is an expression of life. This will be one of our new currencies. The unequivocal expression of this wealth has imploded the undercover sidewalks and rent stable loft studios of industrial Bushwick, bravo.
Carlos Cuellar Brown
Photos By David Jud
Depictions and images portrayed in this article are meant to document the collective force of the Bushwick community. They are not meant to be for individual gain or recognition. If any artist whose work hereby depicted not concur with its publication, please contact the author and we can omit or gladly acknowledge the image with its correspondent credits.