Theorymaking Case Studies: Chinatown Art Brigade and Art Against Displacement.

For my theorymaking case study, I choose to dissect the Art Against Displacement coalition and the Chinatown Art Brigade, and the documentation of their movements. I choose these organizations because I’ve been focused too much on the narrow scope of the Hudson Yards driving artists in Chelsea out. Once driven out they have to go somewhere, and that somewhere happens to be Chinatown and LES, where they in turn do the same that was done unto them; drive up rent prices and displace locals.

The AAD website doesn’t actually document any of their work, which I think is an interesting choice. It is a single page that contains their logo, and a mission statement with contact information at the end. The most notable part of the mission statement is the call to support the tenants of 85 Bowery, and to fight their displacement. This is seemingly the main objective of the AAD group. There’s a news tab at the top, but it links back to the home page. So as a site viewer, I had to do some extra work to see what the coalition actually does to slow the movements of gentrification.

After some digging I found their Instagram, which is used to spread information about rallies and strikes, and has a link to a petition to support the tenants of 85 Bowery. The imagery is almost all screen shots of new articles, as well as flyer imagery for community calls to action. If you follow the link to the petition, details can be found regarding the issues with 85 Bowery. 100 Tenants were forced out of the building due to “unsafe conditions” over a year ago, but since no repairs have been made to the building and the tenants can’t return to their homes.

In an interview with the founder of AAD, Margaret Lee, it’s revealed that the coalition was created in response to Chinatown Art Brigade (which I will discuss shortly), and their call to action that ‘Chinatown is Not For Sale’. At a town hall, she was directly confronted about her presence in Chinatown driving out tenants and instilling suffering around her. This brings us to Chinatown Art Brigade’s mission, Lee was urged to take the pledge which you can see pictured below.

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Because of the state of the website, and their gentrification channel on being taken down, I can speculate that AAD may have deviated from their initial cause for whatever reason. It’s difficult to find information on any other movements other than the 85 Bowery issue, so lets move on to Chinatown Art Brigade and their approach to slowing gentrification and keeping the community together.

Their website opens on a beautiful hero image of a woman gazing out a window overlooking Chinatown. The words “Here to stay” are plastered across the image in bold lettering. This guides you to an installation project documentation (named Here to Stay), that describes a community art project where large scale mobile projections addressed the themes of gentrification in Chinatown. The most striking part of the piece is that all of the content used was gathered from workshops within the community, so the words protected, in both Chinese and english, were gathered directly from impacted community members.

Already we can see that the Brigade not only outputs calls to action, in the form of contacts for new community residents (objectively, gentrifiers), but they also involve the community to create artwork to fight this displacement. The Chinatown is Not For Sale initiative, which I touched on earlier, addresses that art galleries are generally the first businesses to gentrify woking class areas. The pledge that they created does not ask artists to stay out of Chinatown, it asks them to be conscious of the new space that they occupy, and to respect and be aware of the current residents who call Chinatown home. The full pledge can be seen below.

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Other than an about me page, the Brigade also has a vales page, which I think is amazing. It not only explains what they’re doing, it explains why, and explains how art can be a powerful driver of change if used correctly.

Because I dissected AAD’s Instagram, its only fair that we look at CAB’s as well. The media shown is similar, with photos of flyers and calls to action. However the CAB page also shows photos of its members, protests, and shots form panel discussions. The page is fairly new, with the first post only dating back to June of 2017, and it already has a good following.


~ by Alexis on March 14, 2018.