Giacinto Frisillo, a contributor at The Lo-Down, has been volunteering with the Hester Street Collaborative as part of their Paths to Pier 42 project on the East River waterfront between Montgomery and Cherry streets. She reports on the progress toward creating public art and events, and how to get involved.
Arriving at Pier 42 for a community volunteer day, I was welcomed to the bustling “Banana Pier” by Hester Street Collaborative’s Dylan House.
“People who grew up in the area still call it that because of all the tropical fruits that used to be processed through here,” House says.
He points at a painted mural on the asphalt. An enormous yellow banana runs parallel to the fence and nearby are paintings of other tropical fruits and a brief history of the pier that doubles as creator Nanna DeBois Buhl’s artist’s statement. Her project is one of five temporary art installations that will debut at Pier 42’s pop-up park on July 20. Known as “Paths to Pier 42,” it is an effort to transform the waterfront wasteland into a usable space. Like all of HSC’s endeavors, the site is being activated through the use of art and design, but is, most importantly, being built with the needs of the community in mind.
Partnering with several community organizations such as the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities and Good Old Lower East Side to form The Lower East Side Waterfront Alliance, the new temporary park will act as a placeholder until the city implements its more permanent version, which is in the planning stages. In the meantime, this pop-up park is a “good way to make the space accessible to members of the community and to let them know it’s their space,” says House. I worry a little when he uses the word “accessible,” as the site is completely surrounded by an archaic chain-link fence almost entirely made up of rust and dirt. The city isn’t taking the fence down, so instead, the pier is accessible through a large gate, which is all well and good, but truly unsightly. I should have more faith, however, because, of course, the design calls for a solution: Chat Travieso’s “On a Fence,” a vertical park that will create both beauty and functionality there. The other fence in similar condition along the waterfront side of the park will become Jennifer Wen Ma’s waterside garden.
“A lot of the installations are looking at problems on the site and using their work to make it better,” explains House.
All of the artists working on temporary installations for Pier 42 have been paired with an organization that is part of The Lower East Side Waterfront Alliance, giving more permanency to their concepts. For example, House states that “it was important that the people in the nearby developments were included and driving the project.” So, along with helping choose the artists included in the project, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was asked to partner with them, the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Interboro Partners, a collective of architects, urban designers and planners. One piece of the project includes creating a shade-bearing grove of trees at the pier and working with NYCHA to replace some of the trees on its property that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
Creating such a deeply considered space whose lifespan is uncertain and filling it with such complex and difficult undertakings is the work of very ambitious designers and artists who love this community. And that’s why community members are integral in its production.
There are several ways to get involved:
- Volunteer at Community Build Day, Saturday, July 13, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Attend the Public Space Potluck on Tuesday, July 16, 6 to 8 p.m. at the pier. (RSVP to email@example.com.). This event will answer questions about the project and give people more information on how they can get involved. It is just one of a series of events that will be held in the space over the summer months that will offer a chance to meet neighbors and really use our open space.
- Donate: Parks, even pop-up parks, don’t come cheap. HSC is still trying to raise $15,000 through an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, which runs through July 20.
- Celebrate at opening day of the project on July 20, noon to 4 p.m.
“We hope to work with the Parks Department to make this a reality again next year and to make sure that temporary, interim uses continue to happen,” says House.
I leave Pier 42 feeling hopeful for the future of my neighborhood and the diverse people living in it. Like artist Mary Mattingly’s sustainable living installation, “Triple Island,” I see this pop-up park as a way of sustaining our way of living and bringing us into our future.