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‘Drag Race’ Star Aja Dares Fans to Keep Up With New Hip-Hop Album

(Photo: AJ Jordan)

Aja, mostly, doesn’t care what you think. The rap artist, whose pronouns are “they/them,” came to prominence as a drag queen, through two stints on reality TV (RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9, and Drag Race: All Stars season 3). The two industries they straddle don’t often overlap: one world is dominated, traditionally, by masculinity, and the other by femininity, each with weirdly impermeable borders. But about not conforming to industry standards—or to fan expectations—they’re brash and unapologetic.  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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LGBTQ-Friendly Senior Housing Development Cleared For Controversial Elizabeth Street Garden Site

Raymond Figueroa, president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, at a rally to save Elizabeth Street Garden last year. (Photo: Ryan Krause)

In the latest chapter of a divisive issue that has pitted garden advocates against city officials and affordable-housing supporters, the City Council approved Haven Green on Wednesday, potentially cinching the fate of the Elizabeth Street Garden, where the city wants to build the development for senior citizens. Now, the project must win in the legal arena as well, after two grassroots organizations filed lawsuits against New York City the first week of March. More →

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Watching ‘Pose’ By the Piers: A Viewing Party in the Shadows of LGBTQ History

(Photos: Trey Strange)

Last Tuesday afternoon, Thomas Deshields threw on a tee shirt and mid-thigh shorts, left his Jersey City apartment and fled to New York City. The 22-year-old stopped in at a liquor store, splurged for a bottle of whiskey and stuffed it into his bag, then sauntered through West Village gay bars — Monster Bar first, then the Hanger — until finally, the clock neared 10 p.m., and he walked down Christopher Street toward the piers. In front of him was Pier 45, where men who look like him have, throughout history, met to hook up and take shelter, where poor New Yorkers have bought and sold drugs, where trans women have turned tricks for cash, and where rich New Yorkers have paid them for it. More →

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Performance Picks: Diverse Comedy, Pride Drag, and A Wacky Take On Whitman


(image via Runnin’ On Empty / Facebook)

Runnin’ On Empty With Yotam and Lisa
Thursday, June 27 at le poisson rouge, 7 pm: $2 advance, $3 doors

Some comedy shows in Manhattan require hefty cover charges and overpriced food and drink minimums, but the aptly-named Runnin’ On Empty only asks for a slim smattering of dollar bills: three, to be exact, or two if you Venmo in advance. Hosted by Lisa Franklin and Yotam Tubul, the show features a blend of seasoned and recognizable performers and stand-ups who are still starting out. Will you be able to tell who is who? Well, as long as you have a nice time, I guess it doesn’t matter. This time, the show welcomes Myq Kaplan, Ashley Brooke Roberts, Usama Siddiquee, Madeleine Olnek, Brittany Carney, and Felipe Di Poi.

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Folk Fest Turns Governors Island Porches Into Stages

On Sunday, the Nolan Park area of Governor’s Island was absolutely packed with picnic blankets, happy toddlers, and mandolins. The 21 historic, sun-yellow houses that circle Nolan’s perimeter were once home to military officers, back when the island was in use by the Coast Guard; now that it’s open to the public, there are cultural and art exhibits set up in many of them. And every year during the Porch Stomp folk festival, their sprawling, white-columned, 19th-century porches transform into stages.

Theo Boguszewski, who alongside Nick Horner is one of the festival’s co-producers, noted that Noland Park is the perfect location for an all-acoustic day of programming. “There’s not a lot of electricity, and [the houses] are all close together,” she said—everything can be kept near, communal, on the grass, and no one need compete loudly with anyone else.

It’s also not trivial that the houses face each other in a circle; in fact, it’s become part of the fabric of the festival. “We don’t post exact locations of the artists until the day of. We want to encourage people to just walk around the periphery,” Boguszewski said. The Porch Stomp vibe is too laid-back for tiered staging; it’s highly democratic in this way. If you take a few minutes and stroll from house to house, you’ll get a sampling of everything on offer.

This year, those offerings included scene staples like Sheriff Bob, and up-and-comers like The Racket River Girls and Glaser Drive. “The goal is to make music a shared, participatory thing,” Boguszewski said. “Not just a couple of really good musicians, but all the people with a banjo sitting in their trunk.”

She and Horner accepted almost everyone who applied to play in the lineup this year, as part of this egalitarian mission statement. Last year, there were around 120 performers in Porch Stomp’s lineup; this year, the number was closer to 200. As a result of the overwhelming response, they ended up needing to expand out past Noland’s porches for the first time. They set up pseudo-stages in nearby spots, including at the Manhattan and Brooklyn ferry landings (these caught some of the best foot traffic, by the way: packs of people entering the island stopped here, first). The resulting feel was that of an integrated folk bubble. A car-free, acoustic oasis in the East River.

Growth has meant other changes this year, too: Porch Stomp was sponsored for the first time, not just run on donations. And being “as inclusive as possible” also meant expanding the genre limits a bit. “Folk” has traditionally, for Porch Stomp, meant bluegrass and Americana sounds. But on Sunday, they devoted a stage to Irish folk tunes, and another to trad jazz—these genres have overlapping histories, and spiritual kinships, with American folk, but were integrated into the Porch Stomp lineup for the first time. There were workshops offered to audience members in harmonica, bluegrass harmony singing, and flatfooting, a form of Appalachian clog dancing not far removed from Irish step. And in the middle of the day, Bethlehem and Sad Patrick brought their unique blend of guitar, soulful vocals, and body percussion to one of the house exteriors. Their genre hybridization felt indicative of the festival’s larger growth this year, and also happened to put the “stomp” in Porch Stomp.  

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After Nearly 40 Years in the Subway, a Flower Man Stops Peddling

(Photos: Jo Corona)

Since his early twenties, Peter Tsoumas would open his flower kiosk with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the Greek-American newspaper Ekirikas in the other. A man with a gruff countenance belying a winsome personality, Tsoumas started his business in the late 1960s in Jamaica, Queens, but in 1980 the MTA leased him a nook in the 1st Ave L train station and he has remained there ever since.

“I came in young and I leave an old man,” he told Bedford + Bowery on Monday. After almost half a century of selling flowers to rushing New Yorkers, the Greek native is retiring. Friday will be his last day.

One of his daughters wanted to make a Friday reservation for dinner at Kyclades, the Greek tavern just outside of the train station, to celebrate the date. But Tsoumas said no. “I don’t want my kids to spend money on me. Also, Friday my head is going to be like this,” he said, making a gesture as if it was exploding. He has already started cleaning the shelves from his corner kiosk and the void of the missing objects has been hard on him. As the flowers surrounding him dwindle in numbers—his last purchase was at the beginning of the week—Tsoumas was left reflecting on his memories and his life decisions.

Peter was born Periklís Tsoumas in March of 1948 in the idyllic Western Greek coastal town of Nafpaktos, where young people live a “beautiful life,” in his words, and where Greek mythology says descendants of Hercules built a fleet to invade the Peloponnese.

When he was seven years old, young Tsoumas picked up a book about the US and later that night summarily decided he was going to go to America. His father thought his son had gone mad, but Tsoumas just said, “Yes, I read a book, it says so many nice things.” And so when he turned 20, he traveled to New York. The year of his arrival, he opened the first store in Jamaica and soon after that married his wife, also of Greek descent. “Thank god, I’m happy,” he said.

Although the imminent shutdown of the L train station would have forced Tsoumas to close his shop anyway, he thinks the train repairs came at the right time. “My energy is no good no more,” he said with his heavy Greek accent. “I can’t do it no more, I’m tired.”

Tsoumas remembered that when he first started his business, flower concessions such as Gus Florist, Flowers for all Occasions populated the train stations in the city. Regular folk bought flowers everyday; they “needed” the flowers, he said. Fridays was a particularly good sales day, as were the long dreary days of winter. But now, the money was to be found doing flower arrangements for weddings, funerals or parties, “nothing else.” Tsoumas bemoaned that young people don’t “believe” in flowers anymore and the big retail companies are snuffing out small tradesmen with their wholesale prices.

As we spoke, an elderly woman with big eyes approached the stand and rested her cane against one of the station’s columns as she gazed at the bouquets. Tsoumas came out from behind the flowers and told her he wouldn’t be there next week. “I have bad news, I’m leaving. I’m retiring,” he said, leaning briefly into her.

“Oh, congratulations!” the woman replied and patted him gently on the chest.

“Thank you so much, I appreciate it,” he said.

The gray-haired woman said that she had known Tsoumas for at least 20 years and that whenever she visited the neighborhood she would get flowers from him. She wished him good luck and reminded him to keep doing “something” after retirement.

He nodded, smiling. That is a fear he has: stopping. “If I make it past the first six months I have a long life ahead of me,” he said, sitting back on his black and metal stool. He compared himself to an old car. If you keep it running, it will sputter along. But if you stop the engine, “kaput!” Tsoumas interjected. “But the car goes to the garbage… Me? I go six feet down.”

Cognizant of this, the flower man has his first months of retirement carefully mapped out: on July 6 he travels to his hometown—the place with the long history and crystalline-water beaches. Family members will take turns traveling to meet him at the house he and his wife have there. Tsoumas flies back to New York in September.

The prospect of spending a lot of time with his three granddaughters excites him. “One week, two weeks I stay home and relax. And after that? Tell me,” he asked, shuffling his white tennis shoes back and forth.

He’s thinking that even with the flower concession gone, once a month he might visit the neon-lighted station that provided him with his livelihood so that he can hang around and greet his formerly faithful clientele. One of those customers, a spectacled man clad in elegant wine-colored pants and a vest, approached Tsoumas’ corner.

“Hey Peter, how you feeling, man?” he asked.

“I’m okay,” Tsoumas replied, his squinting face quickly breaking into a beaming smile.

On Friday, Tsoumas will end his professional life giving away whatever flowers he doesn’t sell.

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Turk’s Inn Brings Wisconsin Kitsch (And Music and Food) To Bushwick

(photo: Jeff Brown)

Near the Jefferson L in Bushwick, you can find plenty of big and/or glitzy bars and venues. There’s the ubiquitous House of Yes, burlesque troupe Company XIV’s new-ish theater, party spot Lot 45, and scores of other watering holes of every shape and size. But until now, there hasn’t been anything quite like The Turk’s Inn. Opening this Thursday, the two-level supper club, which also encompasses a separate music venue and kebab shop, is a replica of a shuttered Wisconsin institution of the same name.

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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.


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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Art This Week: Grotesque Femininity and Basquiat’s Travels

Margot Bergman,Bea, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 inches (127 x 101.6 cm) (image via Anton Kern Gallery)

Family Album
Opening Wednesday, June 26 at Anton Kern Gallery, 6 pm to 8 pm. On view through August 16.

Margot Bergman’s paintings draw you in, both with their rich colors and their appeal that’s grotesque, realistic, and dreamlike all at once. It makes sense, then, that she paints “imagined people,” abiding by only the rules of her brain when bringing brush to canvas. A selection of her curious, feminine creations will be on view at Anton Kern Gallery starting this Wednesday; Bergman usually only exhibits paintings, but Family Album will also include an array of “theatrical photographs” taken by the artist, featuring subjects posing with portions of Bergman’s collection of dolls and figurines.

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