BY DIAMOND NAGA SIU
Cars, cyclists, busses and skateboarders move along South Street. And now they are accompanied by stationary, colorful figures mounted on a new safety median.
The city officially unveiled the figures and safety measures last week as part of an art installation titled “We Call This Place Home.” It serves to beautify the area while bringing more visibility to the six-foot median separating motor vehicle traffic from a two-way bike lane.
The installation stretches from Clinton to Rutgers Street, and artists Chat Travieso and Sam Holleran spearheaded the project together after submitting and winning a request for proposals from the Department of Transportation.
“Sam and I are interested in doing work that’s community based but very participatory, and we hadn’t collaborated before,” Travieso said. “We both wanted to make work that was both in collaboration with people in the area and trying to really encapsulate the existing neighborhoods.”
Their project wanted to celebrate the people who live in the area, and Travieso said that the duo spoke with people of all ages throughout the neighborhood. Travieso and Holleran hosted workshops where residents crafted figures that represented their various ideas of what grounds community.
“We want to be sensitive to existing context and basically make sure a lot of people have their voices heard,” Travieso said. “And now, people who live there can walk to the waterfront and see the shape, and it might be their neighbor or their daughter or themselves who designed one of these shapes.”
Dylan House, the community design director at the Hester Street Collaborative, said 116 different shapes comprise this installation, with participants ranging from elderly people at the Chinatown YMCA to children in afterschool programs.
“Most public art through the Department of Transportation is only up for 11 months, so we could have another installation and replicate a similar community project with a different artist,” House said. “Several of the residents have expressed that they would like to continue doing public art projects within their own abilities and with their community.”
House said that with so much residential support, he hopes the concept of community art can build momentum in the area and to further explore what community means for the surrounding residents.
Two Bridges Towers Resident Association president Trever Holland helped with the community outreach and advocacy for the project, and he said that the residents who participated in the project were keen on seeing their creations improve the neighborhood.
“Our residents’ association and neighborhood association have been advocating for years to have improvement around South Street,” Holland said. “I’m happy it’s there, and it helps ground people to the neighborhood.”
Holland said that he hopes to see the artwork expand beyond just this median but thinks the artwork in collaboration with the new safety measures is a good start. And House said that at the end of the day, it just makes walking around the area a more pleasant experience.
“It was really fun, and I think what’s really nice about it is that it really does transform what is not a very inviting stretch of the waterfront,” House said. “Now people can drive into something that is a little bit more fun and playful and definitely puts a smile on your face as you’re walking or biking along there.”