By Kristina Ketola drill for Grafill

Original text in Norwegian

Through a decade, The Laundromat Project worked for the residents of New York’s historic minority neighborhoods to get their voices heard. The tools for it? Art and design.


– How can art and design as a catalyst for change in a neighborhood, on both a personal level, but also as an influence in your neighborhood?

This question has Hatuey Ramos-Fermín and his colleagues in The Laundromat Project asked and tried to answer for over ten years. Based in New York, the organization has focused on three of the neighborhoods in the big city: Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, Harlem in Manhattan and Hunts Point in the Bronx. All the neighborhood that has a rich culture, history is the neighborhood with several minorities, but that is changing due to gentrification. The Laundromat Project uses culture and design and art fields to network, to increase cohesion and to introduce tools that residents in these neighborhoods can use to amplify their voice, together working towards positive change and preserve the history of the place they are from.

– In these neighborhoods, access to different artistic experiences very limited, says Ramos-Fermín over Skype from The Bronx. He has the title Director of Programs & Community Engagement and first became involved in the organization as an Artist in Residency. – Creating work and workshops that are different and unique to the places we are on and which are made by artists who look like people who live there, is very important.


Looks like neighborhoods
A laundry presents itself might not be the most obvious place to while away the art and design workshops. But The Laundromat Project saw the potential in these locations as focal point, and which places ownership and neighborhood feel. Since the inception of the organization in 2005, laundries in these three neighborhoods become the seats for workshops, exhibitions and various pop-up event. In addition, Laundromat acquired an apartment in the Bronx and a corresponding neighborhood garden that is used for public events, exhibitions and workshops.

– We are very proud that we the last ten years has been working with 125 artists and designers, and over 40 different projects. We have been present in all five boroughs in New York, says Ramos-Fermín enthusiastic.

– Our programs and projects look very similar to New York in relation to ethnicity, gender and how the city is built. We have a diverse group of artists, mostly artists of different ethnicity, and just what is an important part of the work we do, he adds.

Bed-Stuy, Harlem and Hunts Point, all neighborhoods of the past 10-15 years has undergone gentrification. Through including open calls for public commissions, residencies and projects, jobs The Laundromat Project to preserve the history of the places. Equally important is to byggge social sense, to find ways for citizens from minority groups in the neighborhoods to get together and get their voice heard.

The art of listening
An example of a recently conducted Laundromat project is Havana Fisher Newby his Harlem Motion. Developed while she was in residency at Laundromat Project, she worked here with questions about gentrification in Harlem. As a result of the animation workshops with residents in the neighborhood she created a series of short films. Along with participating in the workshops she walks in Harlem and documented their stories about the places they visited. So stressed she how several of the places have changed as a result of gentrification of the neighborhood. Ends screenings, where residents of the neighborhood had the opportunity to tell their stories through just animation films.

– It was important for us to build up during a Harlem-based artist who was concerned about the changes in their neighborhood, said Ramos-Fermín about the project.

Several of the projects created under The laudromat Project trades just to collect the stories of residents in neighborhoods. Among them is also the Iyapo Repository, a project of designer and artist Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunseinde. A pop-up museum exhibits technological objects designed by residents of Bed-Stuy during a series of so-called design-thinking workshops. The aim of the museum is to speculate and design the future of people of African descent in the neighborhood.

– When we organize workshops, we are interested in working with artists from the neighborhood and bringing their methods and themes from neighborhood, tells Ramos-Fermín. – We will not take anything from the outside and forcing it into. Nor will we build from the inside out.

By telling the stories of people who often are not heard, and to document their past and thoughts about the future, creating The Laundromat Project a sense of ownership and pride for the people who are part of the projects. Meanwhile suggest they also methods for the neighborhood residents to discuss and gather around topics that are meaningful to them.

– There is a sense of importance as follows feeling to be part of a community, and that some have listened to you and that your story has been heard and continued, believes Ramos-Fermín. – For designers and artists we work with, it’s also about listening to how other people think that things can change for the better, then take it into its process.

Art and design as a problem solver
– A claim may be that you instrumentalised art and design subjects, meaning that you use them as a way to achieve something more than an expression in itself. Is this something you try to avoid, or – as you are clear that you will be working with?

– “Art for art’s sake” is a nice discussion, and that is important, but also instrumentalized art in many different ways. For example of powerful people, of governments, organizations and artists, responding Ramos-Fermín.

– We have an interest that goes beyond art for art’s sake. It’s not that we are against it, but we believe that in order to find new ways to solve problems so we can use the power of art has. Then to tie together strangers and turn them into neighbors, and to find methods to rethink the ways our cities are built and the things that affect us on a daily basis.

– How do you think knowledge of art and design disciplines can alter mechanics in a neighborhood or community?

– One of the values ​​we emphasize is deep listening. That means we will learn how to build the basis element affecting the neighborhood and what the people there are interested in. This is the base for most projects we do. As a designer or artist working with society not necessarily from, so it is important to listen and to be responsive, he says and adds:

– This creates a stronger project. Meanwhile, it opens for the subjects in which they were not aware of can come to the surface and become part of the discussions. It is not necessarily about finding solutions, but about linking people from different backgrounds and interests together. And creating ways to learn from each other.

Neighborhood Being
early autumn each year stands Laundromat Project for arrangement Field Day. Through the three neighborhoods Workshops, creative tours, open studios, exhibitions and food stalls. Through events that are open and accessible to all age groups they create engagement around organization, but also issues that are important for neighboring teams inhabitants.

– The workshops we did this year was all related to Black Lives Matter and how artists, particularly black artists can use the artistic process to center the conversation around a cause that affects many people in this country, says Ramos-Fermín.

– For example, the focus was in Harlem on activism in the neighborhood. Here was the tour visited key locations in active organism history, including habitats for Malcolm X. For us in Laundromat Project is important not to forget where we are, and the things that affect people who live here.


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