An image posted in response to the event. via becausecapitalism.org.

An image posted in response to the event. via becausecapitalism.org.

A Bushwick-based photographer, hoping to drum up some hype for the nabe with a list of 200 influencers… what could go wrong?

Earlier this week Rafael Fuchs, owner of an eponymous gallery in The BogArt, launched an event page announcing a party to begin his newest project, an effort to highlight “the 200 most influential people in 2016” in Bushwick.

But after a heated debate erupted on the page about art’s role in gentrification and who gets to define the community, Fuchs backtracked and canceled the event. Per the Facebook page:

For the sake of peace in the community, we are canceling the event. 
We Don’t wish to cause any trauma to anyone and any grief to the community, neither to create a platform that will ignite unnecessary violence.
We cannot tolerate any racial and hate notions and comments from anyone.
Fuchs projects is an art gallery, not a social organization, and we will continue our program, exhibiting innovative and challenging works in different media, especially photography.

One of the first commenters, Nicole Brydson, an artist who is also the creator of BrooklynTheBorough.com, said she was at first surprised that a plan to catalogue movers and shakers was coming from a gallery instead of a magazine. She didn’t know much about Fuchs, but started asking questions on Facebook about how this list would be decided and what its effect would be.

“‘Influence’ in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing was really questionable to me, because it’s like — what kind of influence are we talking about here? Is it influence to make the neighborhood better? And is that not an assumption about the neighborhood not being OK before?” she told B+B. “What are your standards? How is this project going to be created?” 

While Fuchs called Brydson’s questions “legit” and initially responded with long missives trying to defend his project (some of which can be seen in screenshots we saved), he eventually began deleting comments and then cancelled the party entirely. When we reached him by phone today he sounded stressed and overwhelmed. He didn’t have any standards or real framework. In his head, he said, the whole thing seemed more hazy, like the beginning of a grand artistic adventure. “I thought: it’s going to be a nice idea to get to know more people, specifically, talented people,” he said. He didn’t know yet what form the project would take — maybe portraits, maybe simply a blue blob of names. It was all on the table.  

But the idea of a hot-shot list (even of 200 people…who makes a list of 200?) didn’t sit well with many people in the area, used to watching tone-deaf art-world hype go hand-in-hand with rising rents and displacement. The debate turned uglier, setting off accusations of racism. 

Fuchs says he kiboshed the event in part because of comments (now deleted) by a Park Slope gallerist and another participant in the thread that “went in the wrong direction.” The commenters were “perceived as my friends defending me, but actually they are not,” Fuchs said. (Update: Some of the deleted comments can be read here.) 

But even without the party, would the Bushwick 200 still live on? Fuchs left room for a revival. 

“Look, the project, I can say, the project is done…” he said slowly. “In a way.”

“You know, I mean the 200 list I don’t have it, but I have something,” he explained. “Sometimes you want to paint the sky and there are trees, and all of a sudden what becomes more significant and better art is the trees, and the sky is just a backdrop. So what I have is all the communication and the understanding of what’s happening here in Bushwick.”

That said, if you live in Bushwick and want your name to end up in a blue-colored blob with yellow splotches somewhere down the line, it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to Fuchs. 

Brydson figures Fuchs’ ill-conceived “list” isn’t the start and certainly won’t be the end of debates on the art world’s influence in driving gentrification. “I’m a white artist, and I moved here — its not like I’m talking trash on people. But if we don’t acknowledge what we’re doing in the neighborhood and what our presence is doing in the neighborhood, then we are just going to be used as pawns by real estate to keep pushing us into different neighborhoods,” she said. I think this is just one of the many, many conversations we are going to have about this changing neighborhood, while it changes.” Stay tuned.