Joe’s Pub Block Party returns to Astor Place this Thursday afternoon. It touts a pretty incredible lineup of immigrants and performers of color, featuring the mambo and North African beats of the Yemen Blues Duo and the classically-trained voice of Treya Lam, among others. This event is part of Make Music New York, which “energizes the shared social spaces that make NYC a cultural capital” through city-wide music festivals on the summer solstice, per their website. More details on this year’s block party here.
The empty Astor Place, where ‘The Last Three’ once stood. (Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)
“Oh no, Jerry!” The 93-year-old woman in Washington Square Park called out to her husband, who was similarly distraught. I had just informed the passing couple that The Last Three—an installation in nearby Astor Place featuring three bronze, life-sized rhinos piled topsy-turvy on top of each other—was about to be taken down. The anguish was evident on their faces—and mine.
The city’s popular “Summer Streets” program — in which seven miles of New York streets are temporarily turned into pedestrian-only parks — returns the first three Saturdays of August.
Our fair city’s government — or the program’s sponsors, anyway — have spared no expense. The smorgasbord of activities announced at a Department of Transportation press conference on Astor Place this morning includes crowd favorites like waterslides and ziplines — as well as some eccentric new additions, including a “smell walk”; an event described as “a silent disco, but for your tongue”; and the opportunity to bathe in a “giant washing machine.” Yet riding our subways is like participating in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Remarkable.
Anyway: This year’s theme is “the Five Senses,” hence novelties like the smell walk. Created by artist and designer Kate McClean, who previously created “smellmaps” in cities like Amsterdam and Paris, it’s described as “45 minutes of walking slowly and sniffing followed by a 15-minute visualisation exercise to communicate your smell encounters to those who missed the opportunity.” You can RSVP to be one of the 30 lucky smellwalkers here.
In keeping with the sensuous new theme there will also be a greater emphasis on food this year, with “food sessions” organized by New York chef John Mooney of Bell Book & Candle in the Village (known for growing vegetables on its roof). During the culinary silent disco, designed by Daily Tous Les Jours, a Montreal-based “interaction design studio,” participants will dine at a banquet while wearing headphones so their experience can be complemented by a soundtrack and narrator.
The “giant washing machine” will apparently be that — a 30’ wide by 50’ long inflatable washing machine filled with giant plates and utensils that participants run through while being splashed by jets of water. For the more pedestrian among us there will also be mini-golf, a dog park, bouldering walls, and the aforementioned waterslide and zipline, among other attractions.
Astor Place is one of Summer Streets’ designated “rest stops,” and several of the activities — including the “smell walk,” the mini-golf, the interactive banquet/silent food disco, and a virtual-reality tour of Mt. Everest — will be located there.
This is the tenth year of the Summer Streets program, noted speakers at the press conference this morning, who described the program as part of a broader shift in New York toward a more pedestrian-friendly, environmentally-friendly, and creative city. As last year, the main sponsor is Citi.
Summer Streets will take place from 7am to 1pm on Aug. 5th, 12th, and 19th along Park Avenue, Lafayette, and Centre Streets from Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. All activities are free; some require advance registration.
Remember those mysterious cubeheads at Astor Place? Well, now we know what they were up to. No, they weren’t trying out the hot new headware. Turns out they were shooting a short for a campaign by the Tribeca Film Festival called “See Yourself In Others.”
Mysterious live-installation by the Alamo (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)
Ugh, the Tribeca Film Festival is up to something cool at Astor Place — but they won’t tell what! Sneaky fellows. What we do is know is that there are folks (volunteers? actors? unsuspecting people on their way to work taken hostage by the crew? sad!) wearing mirrored cubes on their heads and just… standing around near the Cube cube. They’re also being filmed, so our best guess is that it’s an empathy-generating live-installation for some sort of performance art film.
Jan Palach Memorial at Cooper Union (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)
Cube, meet spikes.
The Alamo returned in November and now another piece of monumental art is being installed outside of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building. The sculpture, a nine-foot-by-nine-foot cube with spikes mounted on top, is by John Hejduk, an artist, architect and former Dean Emeritus of Cooper Union.
Kasigo Tshwene of Amnesty International appeals to a passerby at Astor Place (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)
I can come up with a handful of half-decent excuses to not talk to a canvasser on the street, ranging from the whiny to the legit– I really am too broke to help. But to tell the truth, I also don’t want to get into a difficult conversation about the dismal state of the world. Don’t we have enough of that shoved down our social media feeds everyday? So yes, turns out I am that person that we wrote about in October, the one who brushes past Amnesty International canvassers. There’s an art to it, too: first I let my gaze turn steely, then I tighten the grip on my bag and put on an air of a person with a purpose. It works like a charm and at worst, I’m left with a slight twinge of guilt.
After five long years of construction, Astor Place is back. Along with the refurbished Cube, the redesigned plaza includes new outdoor seating, fresh trees and landscaping, and restored lampposts from the Mosaic Man. But the new Alamo Plaza features a few additions that are unwelcome to some of its most loyal visitors: “no bike riding or skateboarding” signs spaced at regular intervals around the Cube. These days, simply carrying a skateboard near the Cube is enough to earn a suspicious glare and a warning from the security guards sometimes enforcing the ban. It wasn’t always this way—for generations of New York skaters, Astor Place was a landmark that held an iconic, if unlikely, place in the city’s skateboarding history.
The Cube’s return to Astor Place has been glorious and all, but have we basked in the glow long enough that we can now address the elephant in Alamo Plaza? The Cube is back, yes, but the sculpture is imprisoned behind a crude cage of orange barricades. It’s downright inhumane (incubane?). It’s time to uncage the Cube and let it spin free, the way it was meant to. More →