For the past three years, Community & Access Programs teaching artist Kerry Downey has been teaming up with Housing Works (one of MoMA’s longest running Community Partnerships) to collaborate on nearly a dozen hands-on art projects. Traveling between three sites—the Keith D. Cylar House Health Center, the Transgender Transitional Housing Project (TTHP), and the West Village Health Center—Downey has been organizing video shoots, performances, murals, and a host of other artistic ventures. Each of these centers is bursting at the seams with some of New York’s most brilliant personalities (staff members included), and in this post Downey discusses some of her recent programs and explores the ways in which MoMA’s collection has been used to create a close connection with the organization and its participants.—Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator of Teen and Community Programs
I kicked things off back in 2009 at TTHP East New York, an amazing program that provides transitional housing to transgender and gender-variant individuals living with HIV/AIDS. I remember our very first meeting. I brought in Andy Warhol’s Gold Marilyn and we talked about beauty, celebrity, and the people who inspire us in our lives. I remember walking out onto Pitkin Ave after the end of the first program, with the sun on my face and the knowledge (and apprehension) that this group of audacious women would change the way that I see the world. This was a group I had the unique privilege of bringing to MoMA to see Warhol’s Screen Tests, back when they were all still on view. We were all equally enamored and transfixed. The experience of looking at that work opened up a really dynamic conversation about the connection between life, art, and beauty. Ten workshops later, we were putting on our own performance piece in the form of a fashion show for the whole community. Our runway, lined with lights and metallic balloons, made way for a variety of talents: Christmas clothing, make up and hair design, dance and vocal interludes, and, of course, our own Master of Ceremonies. In the slideshow below you can see the amazing preparation that went on behind-the-scenes, and the amazing show that resulted.
All slideshow photos by Julie Turkewitz
Last spring, the TTHP group decided to take a more personal approach, making a video that reflects individual personalities. We shot members of the group in various everyday spaces around the East New York Community Center, portraying their daily struggles and triumphs as well as their ability to laugh in the face of life’s challenges. This three-month project was inspired by many conversations around contemporary art. We looked at Nan Goldin’s photographs, Keith Haring’s Untitled ink drawing, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Placebo. These works fueled questions around representation and the history of artists addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis. The group thought of the final video project as a sort of “real housewives of Brooklyn” update. Hilarious. Touching. Gorgeous. These women blow my mind.
At the West Village Health Center, I’ve been working up with art therapist Kym Michaud. Together we’ve facilitated workshops on painting, block printing, clay busts, and, most recently, mask-making. This program offers six-week intensive workshops geared towards hands-on experimentation with materials. Kym and I work together to inspire individuals to focus and follow through with their many talents. Like all Housing Works centers, the community travels from near and far to utilize Housing Works’ services (medical care, case management, mental health counseling, and other essential services). The MoMA art workshops are an optional component to the many services offered to build self-awareness and freedom of expression.
At Cylar House Adult Day Health Care program, which provides, medical, mental health, and substance use services to those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS, I work with art therapist Donna Montilli to design workshops that work intimately with a select group of community members. Most recently we explored the theme of transformation through photography and collage. Working from Jeff Wall’s Invisible Man and Annette Messager’s My Vows, the group gathered personal imagery to create collages that tell stories of growth. Part of the project was taking a walking tour to photograph their beloved Lower East Side neighborhood. Another big part was talking and sharing ideas. We discussed each artist’s intentions, the forms of symbolism they used, and the overall experience of the artistic process and how it relates back to their lives.Now that we’ve made a video; put on performances; created out own photo-collages, community murals, block prints, and masks; I wonder what could possibly be in store for 2013? What’s next—Faberge eggs? Plastic-jewel encrusted leg warmers? Maybe something more along the lines of a choreographed dance number inspired by MoMA’s new Performing Histories series? I have no idea, but I can share with you my 2013 New Year’s resolution: MORE GLITTER!
More information on MoMA’s Community Partnership Programs can be found in previous blog posts here. Special thanks to everyone at Housing Works for their drive, dedication, commitment, and boundless creativity.