Arts and Gentrification in Bushwick, Brooklyn W/ Modesto “Flako” Jimenez

Gentrification from the perspective of a recent Bushwick resident-

Gentrification is a subject usually approached with the utmost trepidation. The discussion is ambiguous and laden with guilt prone to implicate anyone who walks through the minefield this conversation is. It’s hard to fault anyone involved-

-Who can blame the gentrification for trying to find a cheap place to live?   Who can blame them for trying to open up businesses in the area in order to make a living?

-Who can blame the people who grew up in the area for feeling resentful as they watch their culture slip away, their rent and grocery bills skyrocket, the physical features of their neighborhood morph into something new?

-Who can blame the city government for sending more police to a neighborhood with high crime rates?

-Who can blame the business owners and the real estate owners for charging higher prices as a more moneyed population enters their realm? (…lots of people probably, still a grey area though)

Each of these groups have righteous reasons to perform the actions I just enumerated and are some of the more broad and most recognizable features of gentrification. We may also suspect that each of these groups have more dubious agendas. However, it is unproductive and possibly damaging to the question of gentrification to project any agenda (especially the suspicious ones) to categories of people because they are formed by individuals with unique motivations in life and moral values.

Still, we can identify trends and attempt to understand its causes and effects in order to learn our own personal role and, from there, consider what can be done and avoided to minimize the negative effects and capitalize on the positive potential gentrifiers like me can bring to a community.

Low rent attracts the “gentrification,” in part formed by non-natives looking for the cheapest place to live that still has a connection to the larger city they came to work and exist in. These might include college-grads, students, young professionals, artists who can’t afford to live in Manhattan. They make the neighborhood a hip and exciting destination for artists and musicians who are followed by chic coffee shops and brunch cafés, pop-up galleries and yoga studios, which come with people who have money. At least, this is what I gather as a member of the gentrification who (like almost everyone else in the same boat) has trouble feeling comfortable with it. This blog post is written from that general perspective. I love the artistic environment Bushwick, my home for now, provides and its potential for something even greater. First though, the problems this exciting art scene brings with it are very real, but, based on conversations with individuals such as Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, they are not insurmountable and will only prove to be truly damaging if the complexity of gentrification continues to prevent us from addressing it. There is  little I can say about rising living costs except that I am grateful to have an affordable place to call home. I can also attempt to contribute to the economy of the community by buying my goods and groceries at local stores rather than carting them in on the L train. There is however a powerful social dynamic which each person living in the community has a place in regardless of choice.

A quick glance at Bushwick’s history informs that, like most any neighborhood in New York, its majority population has at various times been composed of several different ethnicities. Italian, African-American, Mexican, Caribbean. The relatively small area has indeed been gentrified several times. While there is certainly a racial element to the current gentrification, characterizing the issue as “white” people coming in and taking over an “hispanic” neighborhood is only partially true in this case and does nothing really other than contribute to the Us&Them mentality that slows down progress and creates barriers between people that don’t need to be there. We (any member of the community) see who people who dress and speak in unrelatable ways and we prescribe them as ‘the other.’ Whenever these barriers grow up, two things can happen. For some the other becomes invisible. People pass each other on the street without making eye contact, goods are exchanged at the bodega, but not words. The alternative is that the other is seen, but as a threat. Eye contact occurs, but it is intimidating or suspicious. This is the more unfortunate scenario because it involves a certain volatility. Sooner or later contact has to be made between people who co-exist, if we address these issues, this contact could be one of acceptance and appreciation and not intimidation or dominance.

I just can’t reconcile that scenario.

I’m simplifying a portion of one of the problems in order to start working toward a solution. This isn’t to say that the problem is in fact simple, just that we can start resolving it if we work hard to figure out what it is. It might take a while, even if we all determine to be understanding and welcoming to each other. I’ll close my part with something that happened to me weeks ago that I can’t stop thinking about. I was walking out of the bodega after grabbing some beer and some popcorn (probably) and I nearly bump into a man coming into the store. Instinctively I said “permiso” as I passed him. I sometimes try to use Spanish in the deli both for practice and out of consideration. But I was taken aback when I heard a nearby woman ask the man, “why did you let him speak to you like that?”

I felt terrible. Then the man said “Noooooooo, he was being respectful.” I’m still confused about that and still worried about offending the people who live around me who I have no reason to offend. It seems that, though we may sometimes treat one another like we’re invisible, nobody ever is.

Flako Jimenez

These thoughts and feelings have been developing inside me since I moved to Bushwick almost two years ago. For the past few weeks I’ve focused a couple Citywide episodes on the neighborhood because of the amazing work that takes place there and its astonishing diversity. I didn’t really consider the meeting point of arts in the neighborhood and gentrification until i saw this video-

This is a visual rendering of Modesto “Flako” Jimenez’s poem “Bushwick, Brooklyn” from his new book of autobiographical poetry ¡Oye! Para mi querido Brooklyn or Listen! For my Dear Brooklyn. It is a lyrical collection of experiences in English and Spanish he had growing up as an immigrant in Bushwick and what he saw change after he spent a short time a way. For the release of his book two weeks ago, Flako and some of his fellow artists arranged a reading as “an ode to Bushwick in all its richness, a night of music, theater, film, and art on the themes of immigration, gentrification and survival..” at the Bushwick Starr. It took me off guard in a really good way. That night longtime Bushwick residents and more recent residents performed on that stage both in English and Spanish for a crowd composed both people who grew up in Bushwick and people who had moved there. Everyone laughed at the same time, shared the same silence, ate and drank the same dishes together afterward and celebrated what they had shared together. It was just happy.

Flako later met me in Maria Hernandez Park and gave me his impression on the change taking place in his home. Flako moved into the neighborhood at a very young age and grew up in a much grittier Bushwick than exists today. He grew up on a deeply rooted gang culture, when drugs brought the danger of violence, disease, addiction, and police officers. He saw many of his peers and classmates falling into this dangerous lifestyle as a means of survival. Flako may have been destined for the same, but he says that a school teacher named Steven Haff, who operates Still Waters in a Storm, singled him out and introduced him to a world of literature and theater. Flako found a passion that took him to university in Vermont where he found a world that looked nothing like the one he had always lived in. By the time he came back to Bushwick a little over ten years ago he was shocked to see that the undergraduate culture he’d become accustomed to in Vermont had found its way into his own neighborhood.

After seeing his performance and talking to him for nearly an hour, I started to get an idea of some of the things he had noticed. That the fear people have of others in this neighborhood comes from very surface differences. And that if we can find common ground in the arts the way Modesto was able to facilitate at the Bushwick Starr, maybe the fear can start to fade and a strong community begin to develop. We can be thankful to people like Modesto and the people who operate the Bushwick Starr that they are raising interest for arts in the community that can be shared by everyone. We can also be grateful to organizations like Still Waters in a Storm and El Puente that inspire children to appreciate the arts, to discover the world and their own potential along with it. You can help.

Please let me know if I’m off base.

This is my conversation with Modesto “Flako” Jimenez. Hear him tell his story in his own words. They’re much more interesting than my words-


Lucas Green


April 29, 2012, 2:28 am
Filed under: Film, Opinion | Tags: , , , ,


Based on a true story, Bernie takes place in the small East Texas town of Carthage where few come or go and everyone knows each others’ stories and backgrounds, though they may be sweepingly similar. The most beloved resident of Carthage, TX is Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), a flamboyantly generous and good-natured individual utterly devoted to his vocation as a devoutly christian mortician. While harboring a strange affinity for older women and a pronounced effeminancy, Bernie is well loved by all those around him who look to him for emotional support and resolution. Bernie becomes inexplicably attached to a wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine), whom the community regards with the opposite esteem they do Bernie. Bernie finds himself ensnared in a life completely dictated by Marjorie’s wills and desires to the point that his murder of her is met sympathy by the members of the community whose testimonials to the camera serve as the story’s narration. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) attempts to convince the law of Bernie’s guilt despite the understanding of the townsfolk.

 If you like Richard Linklater movies-

-you probably enjoy them for his willingness to work outside of typical narrative structure as in Slacker or Waking Life which are each composed of thematic vignettes strung together without beginnings and ends. His films Before Sunset and Before Sunrise are entirely made up by an ongoing conversation between the same two people as they walk the streets of Paris and Prague.

You might also appreciate the social, philosophical, and metaphysical discussions featured strongly in any of the aforementioned movies and that pervade the rest of his work to a greater or lesser degree.

You may also be impressed by the astonishing dedication to his art that he exhibits in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, both films having been the result the extraordinarily grueling work (at the time) of rotoscoping. And, if so, you are probably excited for this project, filmed over a period of 12 years so that the final product about a boy’s growth over the entire time period is portrayed by the same actor.

Bernie has some of these things, but not all. The story is mostly expressed through the gossiping testimonials of the townspeople. This daring narrative technique prevented the film from being made for several years, but is the primary formal characteristic of this movie. The plot moves forward with the testimony of interviews which also paint a profile of East Texas culture. It’s a unique device, but it showcases none of the directorial deftness we can marvel at in Slacker. As for the intellectual enlightenment factor, this film does not suppose to question the metaphysical fabric of our lives, but it is good for a new understanding of small-town life and for questioning practical ethics like why a man who is clearly not a harm to society should be put in jail just for committing murder. In terms of Linklater’s directorial ambitions- though this film displays no attempt to defy popular filmmaking formats even in its reliance scuttlebutt story-telling, it is clear that Linklater is fascinated by the story he has to tell and is very invested in his portrayal of East Texas.

If you like Jack Black movies-

-and you’re seeing this movie because you like Jack Black, you’ll probably have a good time. I wouldn’t call this a “Jack Black Movie” like I would School of Rock (directed by Linklater) or Nacho Libre. But you’re also not going to see a movie where his Jack Blackness is subjugated to the characters’ role in the story, like in Margot at the Wedding or King Kong. Jack Black hits the role of Bernie Tiede with all the energy and vim we usually come to think of him with, but he hones it all into a very particular character (a real life person actually).

The confounding human being that is Bernie Tiede somehow comes alive in what easily stands out as the most nuanced performance of Jack Black’s career. In the end though, as with most of his roles, it is impossible not to look at Bernie Tiede and see Jack Black.

If you think Matthew McConaughey is damn fine-

-you’re probably right. However, unlike Jack Black’s portrayal of Bernie, McConaughey is hardly visible behind the character he plays. District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson is not nearly as subtle and complex as Bernie, but McConaughey still morphs into a character we recognize for his place in the story and not for his being Matthew McConaughey. Though he still manages to be vice president in charge of the lookin’ good.

he wears a shirt the whole time.

If you remembering having a huge crush on Shirley Maclaine in her younger days-

         -I don’t know if she ever lost it, but it’s certain she’s got it.

If you have opinions on Texas-

-This movie is good if you like making fun of Texas or if you have a lot of Texas pride, or both. It’s funny, but not ironic.

If you have a dark sense of humor-

-None of the laughs in this movie are cheap. Though it seems very removed, it’s still a story about murder and you are still laughing about it.

If you just need to sit down at watch something that you’ll enjoy no matter what-

-The movie lags and you can feel free to get up and pee when it starts to. As in, it’s easy to pick up again if you get distracted. Each scene of this movie is pretty entertaining in its own right and it might be okay to zone out every once in a while. You’ll probably be entertained by this movie and when you’re not, just check back in a couple minutes later.

If you are looking for something to sit down, dive into, and appreciate-

-Take a break and have fun. This movie gives you a lot to think about without the pressure. You don’t have to necessarily search for a deeper meaning, but you’ll have a lot of things to think about.

If you are looking for something original-

-You should watch this movie.

If you’re wondering what Richard Linklater looks like-

Lucas Green

Mykki Blanco: Cosmic Angel
February 21, 2012, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Film, Music, New York City, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , ,

This is a great video of Citywide guest Mykki Blanco produced by Glasnost NYC and shot by Jake Moore. Check it out!

The Chindia Dialogues, an interview with Siddartha Deb and Jianying Zha
October 28, 2011, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Art, Literature, Opinion | Tags: , , ,

Especially in New York do we have trouble mentally transcending the confines of the city and our own personal routines. Wrapped up in subway lines, e-mail chains, and power cables, not only is New York City a veritable maze to navigate through in itself, but living in it also creates a psychological web of signification in our heads. New Yorkers develop an involved sense of awareness in order just to function. It makes sense that intelligent and diligent people thrive in this city. One troubling side effect is a distendency to extend our awareness from matters that don’t directly effect us, even if they’re just downtown.

Fortunately, groups such as The Asia Society facilitate a means for New Yorkers to get informed and involved with matters outside the general realm of consciousness we adopt living in the city. From November 3rd through November the 6th, The Asia Society will be hosting “The Chindia Dialogues,” a series of panels and lectures about modern dynamics in two of the world’s largest, fastest developing, and most influential nations. The festival features the work and thoughts of leading intellectuals in global culture. Two of these scholars joined me on Citywide.

My two guests, Siddartha Deb and Jianying Zha, were a fascinating pair. They’d worked in close proximity for some time and have been aware of each other’s work, but in the studio at WNYU is the first time they’d met. They’ve also coincidentally each published a book in the last year in which they summarize the conditions growing up in their home nations of India and China, becoming writers, attending college in the United States and returning to write about their countries of origin. Both books then go on to represent the modern conditions of India and China respectively via detailed profiles of individuals. The method is effective as these writers delve deep into a nation’s role in forming an individual. They also find a way to connect the lives of these individuals to a global condition, one experienced everywhere and especially visible in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

 Not only are the stories they share (including their own) interesting and enlightening, but so is their perspective. This was a very unique interview for me to record, because I knew my questions would have little to add except to start a conversation between two people who have studied and thought about their home nations for their entire lives. It is amazing to see how conflicts between bordering nations translate to each other. How one populace sees the domestic woes of their neighbor as potential salvation if instituted at home. How a revolution enflames diverging and vibrant cultures. It is a great treat to hear these two thinkers in profound conversation. Please enjoy the interview below-

The Chindia Dialogues will take place at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th street) between November 3rd and November 6th. For a complete program, please visit Siddartha Deb and Jianying Zha will form a panel with two other scholars in conversation about shared culture between nation-states on Sunday November 6th. Citywide will give away free tickets to this event to the first person who e-mails or comments on this blog post!

About the authors:

Jianying Zha (查建英)-
A writer, television commentator, and China Representative of the India China Institute at The New School. She is the author of two books in English, China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, and five books in Chinese: three collections of fiction and two non-fiction books, including Bashi Niandai (The Eighties), an award-winning cultural retrospective of the 1980s in China. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she has published widely in both Chinese and English for a variety of publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Dushu and Wanxiang. Born and raised in Beijing, she was educated in China and the United States, receiving degrees from Peking University, University of South Carolina, and Columbia University. She divides her time between Beijing and New York. She has appeared frequently in television talk-shows in China as a commentator on social and cultural topics.

Here is a review of her latest book, Tide Players, in The New York Review of Books (very interesting article):

Siddartha Deb-
Indian author born 1970 in Meghalaya and raised in Shillong of northeastern India. Siddartha attended school in both India and the United States at Columbia University. His first novel, The Point of Return, is semi-autobiographical in nature and is set in a fictional hill-station that closely resembles Shiillong. His second novel, Surface, also set in Northeast India, is about a disillusioned Sikh Journalist. His first non-fiction book and most recent work, The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India, was published in June 2011 by Viking Penguin. He has also contributed to the Boston Globe, The Guardian, The Nation, The New Statesman, Harper’s, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. He currently teaches at The New School in New York.

Lucas Green

Position of Conflict
June 15, 2011, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Art, Exhibition, Life!, Opinion | Tags:

These past few weeks as a new college grad have been languid.  I browse job postings on the internet, apply for a few here and there, and give up hope before even a week goes by knowing fully well that the application was merely another exercise in writing cover letters.  There is something static about this string of motions.  Browse, write, send, wait, repeat.  Browse, write, send, wait, repeat. Browse write send wait repeat.  I am not alone in this dance.  Although many of the people I know had secured jobs as lawyer’s secretaries, teacher’s aides, data entry ‘specialists’ before school had even ended, I know even more people, like myself, who are stuck in the groove between societal and personal expectation.

My colleagues and I are coming of age in a time of great contradiction.  While we consider journalism to be a triumph of first amendment rights, people are being flagged or followed for mindless Facebook posts.  While it is projected as an era of entrepreneurialism,  it seems to many of us impossible to secure a job or succeed independently.  We are a generation in which our passions  contend with expectation.  We are at war with the notion of institution.

This view was crystalized in my interview with Drew McKenzie, Graham Hamilton, and Alex LaLiberte–three graduating  NYU students who spoke with me about the upcoming exhibition, curated by McKenzie and contributed to by all, entitled “Position of Conflict.”  The exhibition’s title is derived from “Exchange of Views of a Group of Experts,” the literature produced following a series of meetings between Pierre Gaudibert, Pontus Hulten, Michael Kustow, Jean Leymarie, Francois Mathey, Georges Henri Riviere, Harald Szeemann, and Eduard de Wilde in 1970.  The meetings served as a space in which to discuss the museum or gallery as institution and the limits space places on the authenticity of the work of art.

“The museum has become more critical both of art and of itself, because it has become aware of its function outside daily life. It does indeed function outside the system, sets itself up in opposition to the Establishment, yet continually shows itself to be an instrument of the system. Like art it is a cosmetic medium, not absolutely essential. This inner contradiction in the role of the museum – that it is the epitome of the system, but at the same time relatively free to criticize it – is important for the museum of today and for its immediate future. To put it bluntly, the ideal museum would be the one that was closed by the authorities. The museum can only function towards promoting artistic interests provided it is outside the restraints of society. Because it is none the less subject to the rules of society, it falls into a position of conflict, which is aggravated by the fact that the authorities like to see highly controversial subjects discussed within an art context, because they are thereby rendered harmless.”

In our interview, my guests explained the exhibition’s multitudinous approach to the theme of conflict; the conflict that arises between artist and purveyor, the conflict that arises within the artist, who seeks to determine their audience.

In ways, “Position of Conflict” is a social token of Generation Y’s struggle amongst the X’s and Boomers.  Like the gallery or museum, while we’re expected to situate within them, their white walls seem to hold no place for us. It is adventurers like McKenzie and the show’s contributing artists, who dig deeper into the groove between personal and societal expectations, who, through exploration, are finding their own, unique space.

There will be an opening reception for “Position of Conflict” on July 7th, at 6pm in the Wagner Gallery of the Puck Building at Houston and Lafayette (295 Lafayette).  The event is open to the public via RSVP at The exhibition runs July 7th through August 31st.  Summer viewing hours are Monday–Thursday 9:00am-7:00pm, Fridays 9:00am-5:00pm (closed on Saturdays and Sundays).

Contributing artists:

Jonathan Donaldson
Nick Etre
Graham Hamilton
Seth Hamlin
Alex LaLiberte
Drew G. McKenzie
Carolyn Park
Ken Q. Volk IV
Jordan Walczak


Zoe Rosenberg

Quartet With Pyramid Scheme
March 25, 2011, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Art, Exhibition, Life!, Opinion | Tags:

My brother had been living in New York City for three years already when I moved up here.  At the time, he lived in one of Bushwick’s McKibbin lofts–a setting that has etched itself into the landscape of my memory–where he and his room mates would often host noise and improvised music shows.  They’d affectionately named their apartment Baghdad.  These shows were loud–rampant audible destruction.  They’d draw dozens and dozens of people, some nights.  The guys would house and host traveling musicians, like Tom Carter of Bharalanbides, James Ferraro as one half of The Skaters, and  Justice Yeldham–the man who ate glass. Once, Tony Conrad paid a visit.

I used to bring my other freshman friends; all of us wide-eyed at what we were witnessing.  That was four years ago.  “Remember when we used to go to shows at your brother’s place?,” a friend asked me maybe a month ago, “Shit was wild.”  I got into a conversation with my brother, Reed, the other day about those quasi-historic shows at Baghdad.  I told him how every once in a while I still hear from my friends about how distinct or strong of a memory the experience formed in the complex of their City experiences.  Reed seemed elated.  “That’s more than I could have asked for,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “To have exposed someone to something new that they remember forever.”

If it weren’t for my brother, I would hardly be privy to extreme computer music, to what a patch is, to Max/MSP or Supercollider.  I may never fully understand the stochastic process that determines the size of the sound waves.

After one year, Reed and his room mates moved out of Baghdad.  No more pestering Hasidic landlords, no more memories to be made that take up a disproportional amount of my conception of freshman year.  But Reed, his friends, and colleagues have continued making and hosting this music.  In an extension of their sound installation Quartet Without Pyramid Scheme, hosted at Diapason Gallery in the fall of 2009, comes Quartet With Pyramid Scheme.

As an online sound installation, Quartet With Pyramid Scheme is a testament to its era.  No longer housed in an immobile four-sided room but on, Quartet With Pyramid Scheme is a social experiment as much as it is a sound installation.  When I made this point to Reed, he said he had never thought of it like that.  But with my head in the thick of social networking, this was one of the first ways in which I perceived the installation.  As I understand it, the only control the curators have over the product of the installation is through the patches they write before contributors are asked to join, and those contributors ask others to join, and those others ask other others, and so on.

I’m writing this post in a service to my brother and out of a desire to extend the same sense of discovery that he once shared with me.  Check out Quartet With Pyramid Scheme via the link below.  Pass it on to your friends and colleagues.  A process I began at Baghdad, permeate in the sound and allow it to hollow out a compartment or cabinet or room in the house of your memory.  Even if you don’t return to the stream, I guarantee the room will remain to challenge your sense of perception.


Zoe Rosenberg

EarSay’s Youth Arts and Activism Workshops
January 27, 2011, 12:43 am
Filed under: Activism, Art, Life!, Opinion, Projects, Uncategorized | Tags:

Judith Sloan has been my adviser at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study since I took her oral history class in the spring of 2009.  I’ve found that, in more than a few ways, Judith fits the mold for what one would consider a stereotypical New Yorker.  Man, can she talk.  But what Judith is talking about–what she’s concerned with–goes far beyond the threshold of what one would consider spitty, casual, every day conversation.  Her  words and her actions have remarkable substance.  In my interactions with Judith, I’ve gleaned how much living in Queens, the country’s most ethnically diverse county, has affected her outlook and especially her professional work.  As Judith explains in our interview, when at once she was doing work for National Public Radio with her husband on police brutality, she soon found herself leading workshops under her non-profit EarSay at the International High School at LaGuardia Community College.  Judith is currently running two workshops: Transforming Trauma into Art and Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through the Arts.  EarSay’s programs are designed in a way to cox students into confronting the big issues they face as immigrants to the United States and, just as importantly, as teenagers.  As explained on EarSay’s website,

“The premise of this workshop is based on healing through artistic expression using a combination of music, movement, theatre and storytelling. This process helps release the stories and stressors that prevent people—who have been traumatized by war, economic or natural disasters—from moving forward…”

I personally witnessed the transformative powers of the workshops.  As a part of an independent study with Judith, I attended and aided the Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through the Arts workshop on a weekly basis.  Also in the classroom and on tonight’s show is Hasan Salaam, an accomplished rapper signed on Viper Records, educator Laura Doggett, and documentary film maker Robert C. Winn.  The most important guests on tonight’s show are several of the students from the International High School.  They share their experiences in Judith’s classroom and stories from home.  The students also share the creative piece they’ve been working on in the Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through the Arts workshop: I Feel Free.  Tune in below!

Zoe Rosenberg