Ayana Ayo

Organized by Ayana Ayo and coordinated by Kathleena Howie aka Lady K-Fever, Uptown Counts: Art as Activism is an exhibition of artworks by over 20 artists who lent their works to a range of uptown spaces to draw attention to the importance of the 2020 Census, particularly in East Harlem.

The number of East Harlem residents who respond to the 2020 Census will determine how much of the $675 billion in federal dollars the community will receive over the next 10 years — funding essential to schools, housing, healthcare, infrastructure and food assistance.  Yet, only 40 percent of East Harlem residents are predicted to respond to the 2020 Census.

Among the artists featured in the exhibit are several who also use the streets as their canvas.  The image above, “Mother and Child,” painted by East Harlem-resident Marthalicia Matarrita, has found a temporary home at the legendary Sylvia’s Restaurant. A small sampling of  images —  featured in Uptown Counts: Art as Activism —  by artists whose works also surface in public spaces follows:

 Danielle Mastrion, Offering — at Harlem Yoga Studio 

 Lady K-Fever, Justice at Last — at Sisters Caribbean Cuisine 

Royal KingBee, BEE Cautious

MED, Resist

Al Diaz, Flowers Will No Longer Grow…

Because of the pandemic, the spaces hosting the artwork are largely inaccessible for the next several weeks. But you can check out the entire exhibit — sponsored by the nonprofit organization Uptown Grand Central — online here.

And — now — be sure to take the 2020 Census!  It is a political and social justice issue. You can do it online, by phone (844-330-2020) or by mail.

Images and info for this post courtesy exhibition coordinator, Kathleena Howie aka Lady K-Fever

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For three weekends this past month, dozens of artists were at work transforming three blocks of fencing located adjacent to the 125th Street Metro-North into a vibrant, intriguing outdoor gallery. While visiting last weekend, we had the opportunity to pose a few questions to its dynamic curator, Ayana Ayo.

This project is wonderful. We love the way it transforms the neighborhood, while bringing so many folks together to celebrate its renewal. How did you come to curate it?

I work with Carey King, the Executive Director of the Uptown Grand Central — a nonprofit dedicated to transforming East 125th Street and enriching life in East Harlem. I had earlier curated the 100 Gates Project in this neighborhood, and I loved the idea of bringing life to a space that has been vacant for the past ten years.

In addition to beautifying the neighborhood and uplifting its spirit, how would you define this project’s mission?

I was interested in giving an opportunity to artists — many who live uptown – to come together share their visions in a public space. Several of these artists have never painted outdoors before. Others have international reputations. All feel a strong connection to the neighborhood.

Over 50 artists have participated in this project. It’s an amazingly eclectic group. How did you connect with so many talented artists to see this project through?

I sent out a call to artistst describing the project’s mission of transforming “1,500 feet of green construction fencing into a vibrant gateway to Harlem.”  And I spoke to artists I know who, I thought, would be interested in participating in the project. The word got around!

What were some of the challenges you faced in seeing this project through?

Coordinating the schedules of over 50 artists; winning over the local people, so that they felt engaged with the project and having to turn down artists who wanted to participate.

How are you feeling now — that it’s just about complete in time forUptown Grand Central’s third annual street festival, Party on Park?

Over the moon! I am so happy.

What’s ahead?

More opportunities for Uptown Grand Central, as it continues its transformation of East Harlem!

So exciting! And congratulations on the Grand Scale Mural Project! 

Images

1  Ralph Serrano and Anjl at work

2  Curator Ayana Ayo. standing in front of mural by Dister

Anna Lustberg at work

Toofly

Alexis Duque with Shiro to his right

6  Funqest at work

Chris Ayala and Rob Ayala

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with Ana Candelaria and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3 & 6 Ana Candelaria; 4, 5 & 7 Lois Stavsky

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