Like the people of Bushwick themselves, the speakers at the first ever TEDxBushwick on Saturday were a diverse bunch, ranging from Emmy nominated TV news reporter Debra Alfarone, who shared her journey from high school dropout to professional journalist, to Leon Feingold, who talked about his life-changing discovery of polyamory. “Translating Transformation” was theme of the day at the Livestream Public, and that specific brand of change known as gentrification was the focus for several speakers, including Bushwick poet Emanuel Xavier.
“To be openly gay, gay friendly, or open to diversity, and live in one of the hottest neighborhoods in the world, is truly an amazing experience, but the history of those who came before should always be remembered,” said Xavier, who grew up in Bushwick and shared photos of the neighborhood circa 1997, when he first began writing.
Xavier moved away from his hometown and returned years later to a newly gentrified neighborhood, assuming it was safe to be an openly gay Latino man in Bushwick until the day he was attacked by a group of teenagers. “There were no protests or marches because it was not a white hipster who had been hurt but someone still considered a savage,” he said, stressing the importance of inclusion among the gay community. “A queer mixed dance party in Bushwick should not mean a bunch of hipsters and a couple lesbians thrown in for good measure,” he said. “The LGBT community in Bushwick deserves a safe space for those who paved the way for equality and diversity,” he said.
He implored the local art community to reach out to people who have lived in Greenpoint all their lives, wondering aloud why he’s stopped by British and French tourists looking for directions to a Greenpoint art festival, yet his mother has never even heard of the event. “Working-class natives are being totally neglected” and would truly enjoy being in the loop, he said.
Brooklyn artist Ethan Pettit, who currently has a gallery in Prospect Heights, shared a different take on gentrification in a talk titled “Art Causes Gentrification.” Pettit had a storefront gallery in Brooklyn on Bedford Avenue in the late ‘80s, and he’s observed that artists, “blue collar” workers who are often priced out of their own neighborhoods, move out to other, cheaper areas and create environments that foster gentrification. He shared many photos of outdoor art in Brooklyn in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“Decades before the realtors get into the game, decades before the politicians get on board, decades before the baby strollers and the yoga studios show up, artists seed everything you need to get the neighborhood going,” he said. What makes him a little unusual is that unlike many of his friends, he enjoys the energy of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. “It invigorates me,” he said. “There’s something very inspiring about it; I feel lucky to have been an artist in this city at this time of cataclysmic change.”
View full streaming videos of all 11 TEDxBushwick talks on the TED Talks website.