Add to that the disparate effects of novel coronavirus on people of color, as well as citywide protests against police brutality and systemic oppression, and it is conceivable that our communities are poised for a moment of profound change.
In light of these undercurrents, a new outdoor exhibition organized by Flushing Town Hall, “Call and Response: Grief, Resiliency and Hope,” will forge a part of the public record constructed by reactions to compounding crises.
Starting July 6, New Yorkers of all ages and artistic skill are invited to create art that interprets their experiences with the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the epidemic of institutional racism, and hang their work directly on the fence around the garden at Flushing Town Hall at 137-35 Northern Boulevard.
The collection will be a 54-foot-long transitory monument documenting the community’s simultaneous battles with COVID-19 and racial injustice.
There is no limit to the messages that can be expressed by “Call and Response.” The exhibition is intended to be a platform through which to process the complicated web of emotions enveloping the city as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the concept of “normal,” and New Yorkers attempt to forge a path toward equity and inclusion.
“Artwork can honor those we have lost during the pandemic to the disease, or honor those we have lost as a result of racial or social injustice,” reads a description of the project. “Artists can choose to thank healthcare providers for their efforts to heal, or explore racial injustice, express anxiety or fears, illustrate hope for a brighter future, or anything else they are feeling.”
The exhibition’s only guidelines are that artworks should be made on paper, fabric or ribbon, and must not exceed 27-by-39 inches so as to leave sufficient space for others to contribute.
Flushing Town Hall also reserves the right to remove artworks that use hate speech, profanity or obscenity, as well as those that depict violence, sexual acts or unlawful behavior.
Completed pieces - signed or anonymous - can be hung by punching a hole and tying them to the fence or with masking tape for larger works. The exhibit will be left in open-air, exposed to the elements and unprotected from the weather.
Participants can also take a photo or scan of their artwork and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org if they are unable to make it in person.
On July 14, a limited number of simple “art kits” will be available for pickup by students and families at Flushing Town Hall from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The use of protective face masks is requested.
Flushing Town Hall will post ongoing updates and showcase individual pieces on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as on the venue’s Cultural Crossroads blog.
The result is a digital time capsule of this juncture in history from the perspective of the Queens community, which has been extremely hard-hit by coronavirus, and is central to the ongoing movement calling for police reform.
An undertaking of this nature seems fitting for Flushing Town Hall, since the building’s cornerstone, laid in June of 1862, contained various documents and objects relevant to the time period, including newspaper clippings, business cards and the memorandum organizing the Flushing Fire Department.
“First and foremost, Flushing Town Hall wants to acknowledge the trauma of this moment, which is profoundly tied to our nation’s history,” said the venue’s director of Education and Public programs, Gabrielle M. Hamilton. “Arts are essential in a time of crisis, they’re absolutely an important vehicle for expression.”
Hamilton pointed to the multitude of instances throughout history in which art has translated the emotional factor of societal tragedies, from Picasso’s anti-war statement pieces to Keith Haring’s art-activism during the AIDs epidemic, and even to the spontaneous placement of Post-It notes at Union Square station after Hurricane Sandy hit.
“This exhibition will be an ongoing artistic testament to our community’s mental resilience in the face of challenge,” she added.