Good morning It is Friday. We’ll see why a city-wide coalition is challenging street series. We’ll also be looking at a program making art accessible and settling into a new home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed restaurants and their customers outside, onto sidewalks and onto the streets. Should they stay there?
It’s not a new question. But a coalition of opponents is trying a different approach, accusing Mayor Eric Adams of overdoing the executive branch to keep al fresco dining going.
The coalition — Cue-Up, an alliance of community groups whose full name is Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy — claims the city’s open restaurant program is the only pandemic-era initiative still covered by a city hall executive order.
Michael Sussman, an attorney for Cue-Up, said the original order was issued in mid-2020 when Bill de Blasio was mayor. It expired after a few days. De Blasio extended one extension after the other until the end of his term late last year. Adams, de Blasio’s successor, followed suit.
But Sussman said that “there is no longer a public health emergency” because the city has dropped the other pandemic regulations covered by the original order and the extensions, including immunization requirements, mask rules and the Covid test-and -Trace program. Any renewal now only serves the outdoor dining sheds, he said.
Adams described himself Monday as “a huge proponent of al fresco dining.” “Whatever I can do to help our restaurant industry, which employs dishwashers, waiters, bus boys and girls — this is an important industry and an indicator of our city,” he said at a news conference. “And so the lawsuit will play itself out.” He did not address the issue of executive power; A city hall spokesman did not respond to that element of the lawsuit Thursday.
The city allowed restaurants and bars to go outside as an emergency measure to help a devastated industry that employed up to 340,000 people before the pandemic hit and restaurants closed, many forever. The restaurant industry currently employs about 290,000 people, said Andrew Rigie, the chief executive of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade group that has pushed to make the outdoor facilities permanent.
Adams admitted at Monday’s briefing that “some of the outdoor restaurants have become a hazard” and were “unsuitable.” He said outdoor dining structures “cannot be used for storage” or for any other purpose. “And I think there’s an opportunity to modify the structure, to standardize it,” he said.
The cue-up lawsuit, filed in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, was the group’s second attempt to block the city’s push to make dining sheds permanent. The first ended with an order from Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo directing the city to conduct a thorough environmental review, something Cue-Up had called for. The city has appealed his injunction.
The second lawsuit filed more than 30 affidavits from people in every county except Staten Island who said streeteries have impacted the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
“Where I used to be able to smell the trees when I walked my dog, now there is a smell of decay and urine,” said Angela Bilotti, who has lived in the Williamsburg borough of Brooklyn since 1994, in a affidavit.
She also complained that street serials made the neighborhood loud. “A restaurant owner told a neighbor she was doing business, so just close her windows,” Bilotti said.
Because of the noise, “the neighbor moved away,” she said.
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A new home for community-based artistic endeavors
Risë Wilson initially looked for a laundromat, but not for the love of laundry. She came up with the idea of making art accessible to neighbors in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“I realized that the laundromat is this incredibly democratic de facto community,” she told our author Hilarie M. Sheets.
She founded her nonprofit organization in 2005 as the Laundromat Project to support arts projects in underserved areas, “not just for fun and play, but as a political tool,” she said. “Art has always been part of black liberation movements.”
But the grant it received wasn’t enough to buy a laundromat, so the LP, as the organization became known, switched to a decentralized mode, supporting artists in communities of color across the city’s five boroughs. The projects were staged in local cultural sites, in parks and squares and on streets, as well as in laundromats.
Wilson handed leadership of LP to Kemi Ilesanmi in 2012, and since then LP has invested directly in more than 80 public art projects and more than 200 multidisciplinary artists. And after operating from temporary offices in the Lower East Side and then Harlem and the South Bronx, LP has returned to Bedford-Stuyvesant and taken a 10-year lease on a Fulton Street storefront. It will inaugurate its first public space with an open house on Saturday.
There’s a Heavenly Landscape by Bed-Stuy-based artist Destiny Belgrave, the first artist to be selected for a new annual commission through the LP’s open call. There’s also space for exhibitions and public gatherings, as well as a shared administrative office for about a dozen employees, decorated with limited-edition prints by the likes of Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, Xaviera Simmons, and Mickalene Thomas.
Last year, the LP received an unexpected gift, $2 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — as much as the LP’s annual operating budget. Ilesanmi and LP Associate Director Ayesha Williams decided to give away $200,000 immediately, giving away $10,000 to five former partner organizations in the city and $500 to each current and former LP artist and staff member .
Ilesanmi and Williams have set out an investment policy for the remaining cash with financial institutions like the Brooklyn Cooperative, a credit union that serves local small businesses and black-owned homeowners. According to the 2020 census, Bed-Stuy lost more than 22,000 black residents and gained more than 30,000 white residents over the past decade.
“One of the things that happens with gentrification is that POC organizations are pushed out along with the people,” Ilesanmi said. “Being a part of the community, having a 10-year horizon in this area, and having a gift that creates generational wealth for the organization just moves your head up in a different way.”
I had just moved to New York from Texas and loved going to the city’s small grocery stores. They were so different from the big suburbs I was used to.
One day I was walking to Grace’s Marketplace on the Upper East Side and overheard a customer questioning the man behind the counter.
“Have you any fresh snails?” said the customer.
“No,” said the clerk. “But we have snails in the can!”
– Kate Marcus