Earlier this month, over 50 smashed storefronts were boarded up after a night of looting. Two weeks later, Soho has turned into an open-air art gallery.
“Color is not a crime” reads a message painted on the plywood boards covering one store, against a rainbow-hued skyline.
“Be safe, NYC,” advises a piece by renowned artist Stephen “ESPO” Powers.
The Soho Social Impact project started two weeks ago at Greene Street and Grand Streets, and has quickly spread all over the neighborhood. Tristan Reginato, who grew up in Harlem and whose father long lived in Soho when it was an artists hub, reached out to people who went to art school with him and built a team of 12 volunteers. “Soho is basically going to be a public art gallery/social impact space,” says Reginato.
With $5,000 of paint and brushes donated by Blick Art Materials, well-known street artists like SacSix and random people alike can start a painting even if they don’t have adequate supplies.
For Miriam Novalle, the owner of T Salon, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1972, this project is all about love and distracting people from what is going on all over the country. “If you’re not painting with your heart out, then we’re not interested,” says Miriam.
But for Reginato and the whole Soho Social Impact crew, it’s much more than that. “The aim is not to distract people, we need to be making impactful art that’s gonna educate people, enlighten people. Flowers and birds are nice and bring up the mood but that is distracting people from the chaos that is going on,” insists Reginato.
“It is very important right now for artists to create awareness, spread love and express themselves,” Reginato argues.
Soho Social Impact has managed to gather more than 40 artists from New York who share political values that are dear to their heart. According to Reginato, many of them took inspiration from artists like Basquiat, who lived in the area in the 1980s.
After several days of protests all over the city, “we can all agree it makes sense to take a break,” says Reginato. “It is a great opportunity to come make change in a unique way.”
Jeffrey Melo, a black artist who painted a yellow trumpet on a blue background at the intersection of Greene and Broome Streets, credited Soho Social Impact for “getting artists together and having our voices heard.”
Artist Lydia Venieri started a portrait series before quarantine of African Americans killed by police. “It all began with Treyvon Martin,” she told people from Soho Social Impact. With more than 30 portraits of victims of racism and racial injustice photocopied and showcased in the streets of Soho, she wants people to “say their names and to take time to educate yourself on each case and learn about the history of criminal injustice in America.”
“I felt compelled, touched and enlightened when I saw Lydia’s portraits,” remembers Reginato. “It was very impactful.”
According to Soho Social Impact organizers, who are all affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, it is very important to educate people on the criminal injustice of the country as well as the history of racism. And, even if Soho is not a predominantly African-American neighborhood, it’s still imperative to do something.
“Even cops like this stuff!” says Tristan, after an officer guarding stores on Grand Street showed support and appreciation.
Soho Social Impact plans to organize a mural painting session in the Bronx and they are counting on local politicians to come and start their own works of art. For more information, follow Soho Social Impact on Instagram.
Slideshow photos by Edith Rousselot and courtesy of Soho Social Impact.
Correction, June 17: This article has been revised because it misidentified the neighborhood where Tristan Reginato grew up.