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Sun’s Out, Signs Out For ‘Close The Camps’ Rallies Against Migrant Detention

As Congress shut its doors for the holiday today, New Yorkers convened at the doors of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, rallying for the closure of abusive immigrant detention centers. The protest was part of the larger “Close the Camps” movement, a national day of protest pushing members of Congress to stop authorizing funding for family detention, to visit the detainment camps and to push for their closure. Locals, activists and representatives of the organizations leading Close the Camps– including MoveOn, United We Dream, American Friends Service Committee and Families Belong Together– gathered at the steps of Middle Collegiate Church to share personal testimony and their displeasure with the centers. More →

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‘Battle For Bushwick’ Pits Grassroots Anti-Gentrification Plan Against City’s

Bushwick locals are desperately trying to save the neighborhood from the Department of City Planning’s Bushwick Neighborhood Plan— especially since they spent five years laboring to create a plan of their own. The clash of PDFs was the focus of an hours-long meeting on Friday at Bushwick High School. The meeting kicked off the Department of City Planning’s official call for written comments on the Bushwick Neighborhood Plan, a period that will last until July 12th.  More →

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Does ‘Artwashing’ Blur the Line Between Beautification and Gentrification?

(Photo:  Ryan Roco)

Bushwick Collective held its annual block party this month in Bushwick, pairing blocks of street art with food trucks and performances by artists like rapper/pear enthusiast Rick Ross. However, cell phones and pot smoke weren’t the only things in the air. Beside the Jefferson Street L train station, the closest station to the block party, activists hung a bright pink banner reading “Bushwick Collective Exploits Artists + Community.” Activists also stood on a rooftop behind the stage, flying a stark burgundy banner reading “Artists Resist Becoming Weapons of Mass Displacement.” More →

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‘Black Power Punk Girls’ Are Turning Brooklyn Into Their Musical Playground

From left: Sivonyia Beckford and Anesia Saunders. (Photos: Mycah Hazel)

A new organization wants to give New Yorkers a safe space– and Soundcloud recommendations. Through their “cozy concerts,” intimate shows featuring local artists, The Black Power Punk Girls promote black female artists in music and film genres where black women are underrepresented, or in genres that are indefinable. Originally based in South Florida, the group held its first Brooklyn event at Williamsburg’s New Women Space this month to a packed house.  

 “It can be a challenge being a black artist and not really relating to mainstream art,” said Sivonyia Beckford, who started the project with best friend and fellow artist Anesia Saunders. Beckford’s own music does not follow a simple formula, ranging from neo-soul, Lion Babe-esque melodies (“11916”) to weighty, sinisterly soulful instrumentals (“Lawless”). “I feel like it’s so important that we have spaces like this so black women don’t feel ostracized just for being themselves. It’s a trend in the entertainment industry and we want to break that mold.”

The Brooklyn cozy concert featured over 10 performers with a variety of styles, such as the production-centered bedroom pop of Philadelphia singer Whomst and the pregame playlist of New York rapper Contraband. Performers played songs released and unreleased. Attendees were also able to wind down over spoken word performances by model and writer Khafeeon Love and by Saunders.

Contraband

Saunders, who juggles acting, writing and modeling, said it was fulfilling to host “so many different types of artists: people that were rapping, people that have guitars.”

Though firm in its identity as a support system for women trying to enter the music and film industry, the Black Power Punk Girls had a much vaguer mission when it was founded in 2016. Saunders and Beckford created the organization at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola, a town on the “Floribama shore.” The two met after joining the same sorority and formed a special friendship, bonding over their Fort Lauderdale and Jamaican roots.

“Especially going to a school that was predominantly white and almost in Alabama, there was a need to have some sort of safe space,” said Saunders. “The kind of sisterhood that we found as friends, we wanted to share that love and that feeling.”

Saunders and Beckford began by creating the Black Power Punk Girls website in 2016, allowing artists to feature their work on the site. They also used Instagram to share work by black artists like UK-based punk band Nova Twins and Brooklyn-based film producer Octavia Clahar.

They held their first event, called Good Vibe Circle, on January 1, 2017. All were welcome to a serene night of yoga, wine and goal manifesting on Southeast Florida’s Dania Beach.  

“People just really liked how bold the whole idea was,” said Beckford. “They really appreciated the fact that we were going out of our way to make people feel safe. People who have never been in the same room together, people who don’t go out often, people who do.”

The duo gained considerable support from other artists in Pensacola and from groups at the University of West Florida. However, they quickly realized that just being a “safe space” wasn’t going to cut it as a goal.

“It was confusing us moving forward, not having a specific mission,” says Saunders. “So we wanted to do something– what is specific and important to us? What kind of space do we not see that we want to see?”

The mission of promoting black women in music and film came from paying attention not just to the extremely white space around them but to their own experiences as black women in the arts and as black women in South Florida.

“In a lot of ways I was always an outsider when it came to wanting to express myself,” says Beckford, a lover of sci-fi films, thrifting and Sevdaliza. “I was always known as the weird one out of my friend group. Just being expressive and abstract with how I dressed at the time.”

“Rock music was something I listened to a lot growing up,” says Saunders. Paramore holds a special place in her heart. “In middle school especially, that was my genre of choice. I just found myself feeling like I was on the outside in a lot of spaces.”

Saunders attended predominantly white schools from childhood. “I think those things inspired it, cause it was like, ‘I can like rock music and I can be a proud black person,’” she says. “It doesn’t take away from who I am.”

Their experiences not only inspired Black Power Punk Girls’ new focus but also inspired them to move to New York– and bring BPPG with them.

“It was hard to be expressive in [Pensacola] because you were kind of in a way shunned or looked at as if you’re doing too much if you’re trying to express yourself,” says Saunders. “I think it especially had us feeling like, you know, this space was kind of limiting for us being in Pensacola.”  

The duo held their first two BPPG events out of their apartment in Queens before having their first Brooklyn event at the New Women Space.

“The kind of reception that we got the other day of just people saying that they were appreciative of having this space ‘cause otherwise they wouldn’t have, it was very affirming,” says Saunders. “This is needed.”

Since the event, Saunders and Beckford say they already have musicians reaching out to perform at their next show.  

“We never had anything to this extent in Florida,” said Beckford. “We didn’t have the opportunity to find as many black women artists in Florida as we have here.”

As for its future, Black Power Punk Girls says we can definitely expect more events in Brooklyn and throughout the city. They will be hosting Sivonyia’s album release party on June 30th. The location will be on their Instagram. They hope to continue with cozy concerts as well as host film screenings with black women filmmakers. They also want to host events in other cities someday.

“I see Black Power Punk Girls as an all-black-women powerhouse in the future,” says Beckford. “That’s what we’re going for. To really have black women on the ends doing all different artistic ventures and creative things.”    

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Massive Street Art Show Immerses You in a Time Before It Was Selfie Bait

Shepard Fairey

A new exhibition in Williamsburg wants people to know that there’s more to street art than “selfie backdrops”– and it’s taking up a block-long, two-story loft to do so. Beyond the Streets is an exhibition on the history of street art, displaying works new, old and never-before-seen, by street artists and the fellow creatives who were inspired by them. Artists range from New York favorites like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy to anonymous and international stars like the Guerilla Girls and Felipe Pantone. More →

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New Book Is Letting the Bodega Cat Out of the Bag

(Cover image courtesy of POW! Kids Books)

New York archetypes are not rare in fiction — from the (allegedly) starving Lower East Side artist to the millennial nanny thrust among Upper East Side wealth. However, a children’s book coming out this fall is putting the spotlight on New York literature’s forgotten felines: bodega cats! (noun, sing.: those fuzzy creatures that sit on newspaper piles and Arizona iced tea packages at your local Latinx/Hispanic grocery.) More →

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The Gradient Wants You To Eat Vegan and Then Veg Out at Its Parties

(Photos courtesy of Gradient)

Warm weather has come and has taken UpNorth, the Canadian-inspired bar at 17 Wyckoff Ave, with it. Replacing the poutine-packed restaurant is the Gradient, an airy bar with expansive vegetarian options and eccentric entertainment.  The bar initially operated as an event\ venue after its opening this past April, boasting $3 beers, $5 cocktails and $6 beer-and-shot specials at parties. Last month, it expanded, now providing treats by Variety Coffee and a full vegetarian and vegan menu.

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A Street Artist Is Playing Hide-and-Seek With New Yorkers on Instagram

(Photo: @seemetellmenyc)

A Brooklyn street artist is sharing gifts across the city– if you can find them. See Me Tell Me, who prefers to go by this persona, creates miniature collages, sculptures and trinkets and places them in random spots throughout the boroughs. She posts pictures of her work on Instagram with vague locations, inviting her followers to find the art and tell her when they do. More →

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‘Forgotten East’ Pop-Up Wants to Transport You From Canal Street to Chinese Luxury

Masa Cong Ma (Photos: Mycah Hazel)

A pop-up at 310 Canal Street is promising an escape from souvenir shops and a journey through the sites, smog and splendor of East Asia. The “Forgotten East” is an interactive exhibit on China’s role in fashion and jewelry design. Four rooms explore the Silk Road, the trade route that brought lavish fabrics, metals and pottery from China to Europe and the Americas. Visitors can walk through the smog-filled mountains of Jiayuguan, try on pearls in the Gobi Desert, or pose in the Roman and Turkish markets. Forgotten East pairs immersive features with a museum-style tour of China’s importance to the fashion-fabric trade. More →