The Local, July 14, 2010
The BAM cultural district, which was originally planned a decade ago and has been making slow progress ever since, is moving forward. Some changes have been made — to plans as well as to the parties involved — but six elements of the project are breaking ground this year.
While the earliest stage of the plan was implemented in 2004 with the renovation of 80 Arts, the most recent project to get underway is the Fisher Building, which broke ground in May. The structure will house a 250-seat theater and a 1,400-square-foot rehearsal and education space. The Theater for a New Audience, which has moved a few times over the past five years, will finally have a permanent home on Rockwell Place, which they will break ground on in December. The theater was originally designed by Frank Gehry and Hugh Hardy. Mr. Gehry has since left the project, leaving it in the hands of the H3 Hardy company.
Some parts of the initial plan are on hold indefinitely. The Brooklyn Arts Tower, which was going to offer about 100 affordable housing units, has been tabled. Robert Perris, district manager for Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, said the project is on hold because it would not be economically viable in the current housing market. The Visual and Performing Arts Library has also been eliminated. The Brooklyn Public Library was planning on funding the library, but they could not raise enough money and had to back out of the project.
This year BAM will break ground on several plaza spaces, designed by Ken Smith, who also created the rooftop garden space at the Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Perris said that the purpose of these spaces is to blur the lines between the street and the institutional buildings. They could potentially house outdoor performances and provide a place where people can relax without spending any money, he said.
These plaza sites have shifted several times, due to the changing footprint of the plan. Smaller plazas are planned throughout the district — at Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue, between Flatbush Avenue and Rockland Place, and in front of the Theater for a New Audience on Ashland Place. There will also be a large space known as the Grand Plaza running along Lafayette Avenue between Flatbush Avenue and Ashland Place.
The renovation and construction process may also lead to a bit of upheaval — BRIC Arts|Media|Bklyn has signed a two-year lease for a space in DUMBO, removing some of their operations from the soon-to-be-renovated Strand Theater, which it shares with Urban Glass.
In 2007, the New York Post reported that the total cost for the cultural district was estimated at $650 million. That figure included the projects that have since been scrapped, however, so it is no longer accurate. We don’t currently have a more up-to-date final price tag, but we are continuing to gather economic information about the project and will report the updated figures when we get them.
Since this plan is massive and has the potential to significantly change Fort Greene, the Local will be producing a series of pieces looking at as many different aspects of the cultural district as possible. There are a lot of moving parts here and we want to know what’s on your minds. So tell us — what do you want to know about the BAM Cultural District?
Thomas Chan contributed to this report.
The Local, June 24, 2010, image by Frankie Edozien
Pierre Thiam, owner of the Brooklyn restaurants Yolele and Le Grand Dakar, competed against Bobby Flay in “Battle: Papaya” on “Iron Chef America,” which aired Sunday. Mr. Flay won the cooking contest, but Mr. Thiam said he was more concerned with competing against himself, a battle he feels he won.
Tonight at Le Grand Dakar, at 285 Grand Avenue, you can ring in summer and celebrate Mr. Thiam’s “Iron Chef” appearance at the Senagalese Summer party, which will feature African music and art, food and unlimited sangria. Tickets are $25 ($30 at the door).
We sat down with Mr. Thiam to talk about battle papaya, as well as tonight’s party. Here is the condensed interview:
How did you get to be on Iron Chef?
They called me one day. I got a message that there was a call from California to call back. And I called back and it was “Iron Chef,” asking me to be on the show.
What did you do to prepare?
I had about a month’s notice before the show, so I selected my sous chefs. At the time I was giving a class at the French Culinary Institute. I did a session. I realized that they had the whole amazing state-of-the-art kitchen just like the one on “Iron Chef,” and they allowed me to use the kitchen for my training. Every week I would go three or four times with my team, and we would just prepare, have fun with those toys and gadgets in the kitchen.
How do you adapt what you’ve prepared ahead of time for the secret ingredient?
Being a cook is really about being creative and knowing your ingredients and being quick, because most times in the kitchen, you have to be able to make quick decisions with the ingredients that you have around you. For that whole month before the show was taped, we would pretty much put ourselves in that “Iron Chef” situation and take some odd ingredients and train accordingly. At that moment, your experience comes into action, and your creativity. It’s the fun of cooking.
How did you pick your sous chef team?
It was interesting, because one of the sous chefs works with me on caterings… This one guy, I don’t know if he was psychic or something, but a day or two after the call from California to be invited on “Iron Chef,” he was just having this weird conversation and he said, “You know Pierre, my dream is to be with you on ‘Iron Chef.’” This is a guy that watches “Iron Chef” – I don’t really watch “Iron Chef,” but this guy watched religiously, and he had been just dreaming about it for some reason, and it just happened that he mentioned it the day or two after I was called, so I was like, OK, you’ll be on the team.
When they tell you on the show what the ingredient is, how do you decide what to make from what you’ve prepared?
You have already an idea… The ingredient can only be either vegetable, a grain or a meat, fish or whatever. So we have our mind, if it’s a vegetable, if it’s a fruit, we go in this direction. So we have kind of a frame.
We have a way to communicate. The advantage with my team is that we are all speaking French…We could communicate, and we chose a code that was easy for us.
What made you select Bobby Flay to compete against?
I arrived in New York in the late 1980s and Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa Grill, came up around the early 1990s. At that time I was already starting to experiment with ethnic cuisine, with my cuisine. In this restaurant in SoHo – I was working in SoHo at the time – they kind of had given me a certain freedom on the menu, so I was implementing a few — it was really baby steps of African cuisine on the menu. And Bobby Flay was doing ethnic as well at the time, but he was doing Mexican, Southwestern. So he was an inspiration and he was already succeeding at what he was doing.
What expectations did you have about the show before you got there?
Of course you dream of winning, but it wasn’t as important as it may be for others to me. The challenge was to represent in the proper way within the time frame, one hour, to be able to deliver my five dishes and to be proud of what I’ve delivered. So my competition was really me against myself and my team; we weren’t really worried about what Bobby Flay was doing. As a matter of fact, I just found out what Bobby Flay was doing when I watched the show. I didn’t even know what he was doing because I was just completely concentrated, focused on what my delivery would have been.
How did you feel when they announced the winner?
Honestly, it was all right. It was quite all right. Like I said, I wasn’t worried about the judges, I was worried myself and I had won at the end, when I finished everything.
[Flay] has done a thousand plus “Iron Chefs.” This was my first. It’s pretty impressive to me. That studio is unbelievable. The smoke, the lights, the cameras in your face. It’s not the ideal kitchen. You have to be somewhat prepared for that mentally. There’s a lot of distraction. While you’re cooking, you really need to have all your five senses. That’s the only activity where you need all five senses to be complete – you have to hear, you have to smell, you have to taste, you have to have the visual, because the plating must be beautiful.
What would you do differently?
I’d be more mindful of what the environment will be like. I had no clue, really, I knew the show but I don’t even have a TV at home, so I could prepare myself better in that aspect. Other than that, I wouldn’t do much different. I’d come and give the best.
I know whoever is an Iron Chef is able to deliver, so what’s the point? The rest is just relative. The judges have their own tastes and it could go either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your own integrity, the food comes out and the flavors are there and whoever eats it tastes that you’ve been cooking it sincerely.
What did you think about the ingredient they chose?
It was a good “Iron Chef” ingredient.
Do you use it on your own a lot?
I don’t do much cooking with it; I have a green papaya salad on the menu right now that’s pretty much the only thing I have. We use it as a tenderizer, as well; it’s very good for tenderizing. You go to a show like this and any ingredient could be chosen. I am not judging their choice.
Have you seen impact so far on your restaurant?
Sure, it’s funny how these things are watched. Just on my Facebook account, my Blackberry has been vibrating with requests for friendship with people from all over the country. It’s just hilarious. It’s really beautiful, the quote-unquote friends from Facebook, and they’re all supporting me and thought I should have won and it just feels good to see that people did appreciate what I did.
Tell me about the party that you’re having.
It’s a great opportunity to bring everyone together… The “Iron Chef” show is really an opportunity to organize this party but the party was already an idea; we wanted to do it. Just because we think we still need to introduce people to our cuisine. African food is not really known. It’s far from being mainstream. It’s terrible, because our food is timely, it’s healthy. People are really conscious about what they’re eating. Our grains are very nutritious, and it’s delicious, and I think once people really get familiar with it they will come and ask for more.
I intend to present not only the food, but the whole culture. The restaurant is not only a restaurant, it’s a cultural center. We’ll have music as well from the continent; we’ll have two amazing bands playing. We also have artwork on the walls. These paintings are being sold and the benefits go to a school in Kenya. It’s not only about Senegal; it’s about pan-Africanism in this restaurant, so we present food from the west African continent, artwork from different parts of the world. The music — Thursday we have a Nigerian band, we have a Kenyan band. So it’s going to be an African party.
So, do you want a rematch?
The Local, June 9, 2010, image from Wah Do Dem LLC
BAMcinemaFEST opens tonight, and the indie-flavored series runs through June 20. Befitting a local arts institution, several of the films are from Brooklyn-based writers, directors, actors and musicians. We’ll be talking to some of these hometown filmmakers throughout the festival.
To get started, we chatted with with Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, writers and directors of “Wah Do Dem,” an film odyssey that follows Max, a Brooklyn musician played by Sean Bones, through an often-harrowing Jamaican adventure.
In the film, Max wins a cruise, which he takes alone after being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Norah Jones). He ends up stranded in Jamaica when his belongings are stolen and the ship leaves without him. He then has to find his way to the American embassy in Kingston.
Mr. Chace and Mr. Fleischner, longtime friends, came up with the idea for the film after winning free tickets for a Caribbean cruise in a raffle. They purchased two extra tickets, for Mr. Bones and sound technician and cast member Kevin Bewersdorf, and set off to film on the cruise ship and in Jamaica.
They boarded the cruise with ideas for scenes and let the cast improvise their own lines. Even though the two filmmakers had scouted possible scenes during a different cruise they took together, what they could actually shoot depended on access and the willingness of shipmates to participate.
“We had to rewrite the whole thing based on what we encountered on the cruise,” Mr. Chace said.
The non-professionally trained cast also felt more natural on camera when they came up with their own words.
“It made sense for our process to come from a place of improvisation,” Mr. Fleischner said. This also solved the language barrier once they arrived in Jamaica, since Jamaican actors could speak their roles in Jamaican Patois. The language is based on English, but some people they encountered were easier to understand than others, Mr. Chace said.
Another challenge they dealt with was determining whether people were interested in being in the movie or just trying to get money.
“You couldn’t tell sometimes what people’s intentions were,” Mr. Chace said. “Sometimes it’s a gray area.”
Along with these occasional difficulties, the cast and crew also had to work quickly. The entire movie had to be shot in two weeks in Jamaica and one week on the ship.
“Time was the biggest challenge,” Mr. Fleischner said. “We only took one day off.”
The two filmmakers are longtime Brooklynites – Mr. Chace lives in Crown Heights and Mr. Fleischner in Prospect Heights – and noted that showing their movie at BAM is a particular honor.
They also used mostly Brooklyn-based actors and musicians. Sean Bones and Norah Jones live in the borough, and “Wah Do Dem” features Brooklyn bands Yeasayer, MGMT and Suckers as well.
“We wanted to show as much of a Brooklyn music community as possible,” Mr. Fleischner said. “We’re friends with a lot of different musicians.”
The filmmakers share a longtime love of Caribbean culture and reggae music, and this movie allowed them to combine that with their Brooklyn roots. “The movie comes out of the multicultural spirit of Brooklyn,” Mr. Chace said.
That Brooklyn-Caribbean musical connection will be evident this Sunday when several reggae acts perform during FABfest on Fulton Street to support “Wah Do Dem,” which plays at BAM on Tuesday, June 15 and opens at Cinema Village on June 18.
“It’s awesome to be able to celebrate the movie,” Mr. Fleischner said, “now that it’s all done.”
with Vishal Persaud, New York City News Service, May 27, 2010
Meditation rarely happens in an open storefront at noon in midtown Manhattan. But on a recent Monday, curious passersby stopped short at the sight of two men who sat cross-legged, staring straight ahead, on a sidewalk on West 44th Street. Inside, four more people meditated in tranquil serenity behind the plate-glass window during the lunchtime rush.
Your taxpayer dollars at work.
The Interdependence Project, an educational non-profit dedicated to Buddhist teachings, was hosting a performance-art installation – thanks, at least in part, to the economic stimulus.
The group gained access to the space through Chashama, an organization that received $50,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which has allowed them to continue placing galleries in vacant stores all over the city.
“It’s an economic stimulus because it keeps the artists in New York and it also helps businesses,” said Anita Durst, founder and artistic director of Chashama. “When you bring artists to those spaces, they’re using the coffee shops, they’re using the delis, they’re using the hardware stores and they’re creating an activity that is healthy for the community.”
Chashama, which has been working with landlords and building owners to fill vacant storefronts with colorful art and performances for 15 years, used the stimulus money to hire to new employees to expand the number of spaces they manage.
Chashama’s ability to take on these spaces and make them available indirectly benefits groups like the Interdependence Project. Without access to these spaces, the project would have to find other venues to host their installations.
“This is a mindful and creative way for us to engage the public,” said Josh Adler, arts coordinator for The Interdependence Project. “So this is not only performance, it’s not only a chance for people to meditate, but when we work with Chashama and go to a different space, it also gives us a way to engage our civic society.”
Although a large portion of the $787 billion stimulus funds are targeted at “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, the plan funneled $50 million to the arts. Advocates say the arts money can have a more immediate impact.
Urban infrastructure projects can take months or years to plan, which delays the creation of many jobs, but artists begin to hire and spend as soon as they receive grant or loan money, said Victoria Hutter, spokeswoman for the National Endowment for the Arts, which is distributing the stimulus money to arts programs across the nation.
“Artists and art administrators are workers just like anybody else,” she said.
The NEA grants are generally $25,000 or $50,000 per award. Durst said she eliminated two positions early in the recession – one in 2008 and another in early 2009. She was able to replace them after receiving the grant in 2009 and hired new employees in June and September.
“We actually found employees who were more qualified and better at the job,” she said. “We’re now able to do more things we couldn’t do before.”
Chashama is just one of 1,300 arts organizations in New York City that generate $3.1 billion in revenue annually. It’s a small part of the city’s $544 billion economy – but an important one.
It’s hard to put a dollar sign on the value of the arts industry because it has a different kind of value to the city, said Steven Dubin, professor of arts administration at the Columbia University Teachers College.
“The impact is intangible,” he said.
New York received more NEA recovery money than any other state, with 139 grants totaling $6 million. Of that, 123 grants, worth more than $5 million, are going to organizations in New York City like Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
And some say that’s still not enough. NEA president Rocco Landesman, a former Broadway theater producer, along with actors Jeff Daniels and Kyle MacLachlan, addressed Congress in April to ask for more funding.
The money effected institutions both large and small in areas like dance, theater, and visual arts. But the money can affect more than just the artists.
Chashama is filling five more empty buildings in neighborhoods across the city, including two in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, two in Jamaica, Queens and one in Manhattan. Durst said these temporary galleries liven up a neighborhood and bring in artists who wouldn’t otherwise be there. And the two new jobs are in no way frivolous for the employees.
“If I had not received the position, I’d still be interning somewhere else – unpaid,” said Devin Mathis, who was hired as a programming assistant because of the stimulus grant. A grad student at the Pratt Institute, she said she likes being able to take what she learns at school and almost immediately apply it at her job.
One drawback of the NEA recovery money is that it is a one-time grant. Groups can use the money to get out of a financial slump, but come next year, they’ll be on their own. Hutter said they can apply for other NEA grants down the road.
“It’s up to them to figure out what they need going forward,” she said.
This situation – receiving a grant and having to find more money elsewhere in the future – is par for the course for anyone who works in the arts, said Dubin. Artistic organizations often hobble from one funding source to another, and they are generally first to get cut, he said.
“Insecurity is the basic way arts and art organizations operate,” he said.
Randall Filer, a labor economics professor at Hunter College, said the stimulus funds are an important stopgap, filling some of the void in donations left by the recession.
“They reduced the downsizing in support for arts, but that’s all they did,” said Filer. “So they enabled more previous programs to be preserved, but they didn’t create any new incentives.”
Durst said Chashama is looking toward the future by talking to potential donors and looking for grants to make sure the people that have been hired can keep their jobs.
“It’s been a worry of mine,” Durst said. “But I think we’re going to be able to replace it.”
Queens Chronicle, November 12, 2009
Same-sex marriage rights activists held a candlelight vigil in Astoria on Sunday in hopes of pressing state Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria) to vote for a proposed bill that would legalize gay unions.
Onorato has said he will vote against the measure if it comes to a vote.
Demonstrators stood outside the senator’s office with candles, made phone calls to his office and are encouraging his other constituents to follow suit.
Some of the attendees called themselves straight allies of the LGBT community, while others, who are gay, said they are unhappy that they have to leave the state to marry.
Julia Lund is a 29-year-old designer who has been living in Astoria with her partner for five years. The couple is engaged but don’t know where they will be able to have their wedding.
“If we have to move, we will,” Lund said. “But we’re truly hoping we don’t have to.”
A National Geographic study on ancestry and DNA named Astoria one the most ethnically and racially diverse areas in the country, Lund said, and with that much diversity, activists say it shouldn’t be hard to extend marriage rights to the gay community.
“For the senator to support the majority of citizens while discriminating against a small group is unacceptable,” Lund said.
Lund, who has met with Onorato twice, said he cited religious concerns and a “gut feeling” as his reasons for opposing same-sex marriage.
Janet Kash, a spokeswoman for Onorato, said the senator believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Brandon Brock organized last weekend’s vigil with a group called Western Queens for Marriage Equality when the possibility of a vote on Tuesday was announced. Brock said he was also prompted by last week’s referendum in Maine that shot down a court ruling in favor of same sex marriage.
“It sort of reminded us that we really need to push the buttons and try to do as much as we can,” he said.
Brock said activists are also interested in influencing Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), who has not made his position on gay marriage clear. But they said they are more concerned with Onorato because of the demographics of his district.
“Astoria and Sunnyside are really gay,” Brock said. “There are a lot of gay people here so to be represented by someone who is not supporting our rights is ridiculous.”
Kash said the vigil did not change Onorato’s mind.
“He respects their views very deeply,” she said, adding that the senator has considered the emails and phone calls he has received but that he remains opposed to same-sex marriage.
Gov. David Paterson had asked that the state Senate vote on same-sex marriage during a special session on Tuesday, but that vote has now been postponed indefinitely. The bill has already passed the state Assembly, but it needs 32 votes to pass the Senate. Democrats hold a slim 32-30 majority but several, including Onorato, have expressed opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage. Some Republicans would have to vote in favor to assure passage, and as of this week not enough have publicly expressed support.
If the bill passes, New York will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire in allowing gay marriage. Currently, the state recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.
Voters in 31 states have rejected gay marriage legislation in referendums.
Bust, May 2009
Learn to love your bodacious bod, no matter what size or shape, in Lessons From the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body, by Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding.
Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding know a thing or two about weight. Both self-proclaimed fat girls spent years as chronic dieters before finally saying “enough already” and deciding they needed to make over their attitudes as opposed to their bodies. Lessons From the Fat-O-Sphere is their guide to staying healthy and enjoying life no matter what size you are.
To regular readers of the authors’ blogs (Harding’s Shapely Prose and Kirby’s The Rotund), their explanations of Health at Every Size—a movement that combines healthy, intuitive eating, and enjoyable exercise without weight loss as a goal—won’t be anything new. But if you aren’t familiar with this concept, the book serves as an excellent, comprehensive look at the truth behind common obesity myths, especially the ideas that “calories in, calories out” is a golden ticket to thinness and that weight loss automatically equals better health. The authors use witty anecdotes, essays from guest writers, and solid medical research to convey their message of self-love and healthy habits.
In addition to valuable nuggets from their blogs, Lessons comes complete with the snark and swearing that Kirby and Harding’s readers know and love, making the book a sharp and entertaining overview of the world of body image. Women (and men) can only benefit from it, especially the ones currently thinking, “Hey, Fatty, just eat less.”
The Brooklyn Paper, October 28, 2008
Santo Matarazzo, who lived on the same Carroll Gardens block since arriving from Italy in the 1950s — and then set about fixing the neighborhood brownstone by brownstone — died on Oct. 23 of cancer. The sculptor, artist, handyman, landlord and beloved neighbor was 79.
When Matarazzo arrived from Italy, he brought little else but a work ethic and an artistic eye, which he promptly put to good use in his first job as a commercial artist building exhibitions at places like Ellis Island, said his daughter, Enza Bloisi. He bought his building, on Union Street between Henry and Clinton streets, for $6,500.
“He was a catalyst in the revitalization of the neighborhood,” his daughter said.
By his own hard work, he showed others how rundown buildings could be transformed into classic townhouses.
“This was like a slum,” Matarazzo once told the New York Times. “Everybody was running away from here. And I say: ‘Why are they leaving? These are beautiful buildings.’ ”
When old age made his renovation work difficult, the so-called “Mr. Brownstone” turned to sculpture. At his death, his artwork filled the home he shared with his wife, Lucia. Matarazzo did much of the work on this house himself; installing intricate tiles and his signature plaster moldings.
Nearly every available space is occupied by his art. The walls remain full of his paintings, which include a self-portrait, a picture of Jesus, and a Sicilian seascape dated 1952 — a reference, Lucia Matarazzo said, of the year her husband left his homeland.
Other plaster sculptures honored famous or historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, and, most recently, Barack Obama, the presidential candidate for whom Matarazzo intended to vote.
“He was a true artist and a Renaissance man,” added Maria-Ray Guido of the Guido Funeral Home, and also a friend.
The Matarazzos had a second home in Mastic Beach, on Long Island. Neighbor Stacey Carey said that Santo brought that neighborhood to life as well.
“When May rolled around, my daughter and I would check for signs of activity at his house, waiting excitedly for his and Lucia’s arrival,” she said. “They’re wonderful people.”
Matarazzo’s contribution to the town lives on in the form of a sculpture of William Floyd, a Long Island native who signed the Declaration of Independence. Matarazzo made the piece on his own.
“He created it as a message,” said Carey. “The message was that we have become too caught up in so many things that we really don’t get to know and enjoy what is right in front of us.”
Another such “message” was the bust he made of King, which he offered to install in the plaza in front of Borough Hall. Perhaps now, the offer will be accepted.
Matarazzo is survived by his wife, Lucia; and two daughters, Enza Bloisi and Tina Matarazzo.
Funeral services were on Sunday, Oct. 26 at Green-Wood Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (344 E. 146th St., The Bronx, NY 10451).