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Perfect City is a 20-year art and activism project in NYC about how the people who live in a city can evolve it more inclusively.
Perfect City is a 20-year art and activism project in NYC about how the people who live in a city can evolve it more inclusively.
199 backers pledged $11,612 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Perfect City is launching a 20-year art and advocacy project this fall, with performances, workshops, photo exhibition and more. 

Perfect City at Prelude 2016 Festival, photo (c) Paula Court
Perfect City at Prelude 2016 Festival, photo (c) Paula Court

Perfect City is a collective of NYC residents - artists, activists, students and planners -  that creates long-term creative strategies to respond to displacement and gentrification. We are a think tank, an arts collective, and we mix activism, urbanism and creativity. We want us all to be able to live together more equitably. 

After a year of research and a few performances, we are producing a two-week celebration of our neighborhood at Abrons Arts Center this fall, and we need your support. 

WHO IS PERFECT CITY?

Perfect City Working Group, 2017
Perfect City Working Group, 2017

Perfect City includes: Gisela Andras, Jamel Ayala, Mallory Catlett, Angela Choi, Grace Chung, Tyler Diaz, Jim Findlay Jay Koo, Jaime Maitin, Gabriella Marrero, Nola Sporn Smith, Jahmorei Snipes, Tiffany Zorrilla. 

We are a intelligent, rowdy and discursive mix of idea-makers, art-makers and thinkers who care a lot about this place. We all have a history with this neighborhood. Some of our families have been here for generations, some of us moved here and changed the place when we arrived. 

The project was started by playwright and Guggenheim Fellow Aaron Landsman, who saw a pattern in the cities and neighborhoods where he lived and worked. Public officials tout their metro areas' "sustainability," pointing to things like farmers' markets, bike lanes and other conveniences that speak to progressive values, but the cities themselves become unaffordable to all but the wealthy. 

From our research with urban planners, we learned that city kids don't usually go into the planning fields, and most cities are planned by suburbanites.  So we set out to build a project, a movement and a sea change. Cities by city people. 

WHY US?

People who grow up in cities are born urban planners. We have to be. We ride public transit from day one; we use creative strategies to navigate invisible and visible boundaries between neighborhoods; we know how to avoid and how to belong. Somehow, though, our needs and our narratives are not at the table when decisions are being made about zoning and planning.  So Perfect City is bringing our own chairs, making a new table, whatever it takes. 

Zoned Out! Book Launch at Abrons Arts Center, sponsored by Perfect City, 2017
Zoned Out! Book Launch at Abrons Arts Center, sponsored by Perfect City, 2017

 WHAT YOU'RE SUPPORTING

Perfect City's launch includes two weeks of programming  at Abrons, in their main gallery, and in the Experimental Theater. Our programming will include guided Urban Observer walking tours, live rock and roll, mapping exercises, and talks with activists, artists and more.

Here's what your contribution funds:

  • Artists' and speakers' fees for panels and shows
  • Attendance at all events is pay-what-you-can 
  • Urban Observer Walks and Avoidance Mapping 
  • You're Next printing and production 

The Perfect City launch is about making room for views that are often cleaned up when the city is gentrified. 

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

We’re based on the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Even if you are not from here, a lot of families in the US have a history with this place. It’s like a microcosm of America: diverse, vibrant, complicated, rich in history. And it’s changing. Fast. Our neighborhood feels like it’s disappearing before our eyes. 

Lower East Side, Photo by Haruka Sakaguchi, 2017 all rights reserved
Lower East Side, Photo by Haruka Sakaguchi, 2017 all rights reserved

And even if you’ve never set foot on our sidewalks, you’ll recognize what’s happening here because it’s probably happening in your city too, no matter where you live. 

When diverse neighborhoods are rebranded as luxury destinations and unique small businesses are replaced by cookie-cutter galleries and boutiques, it’s time to come up with a new way to stay.

20 YEARS

Yes. 

There are a lot of great art projects that try to change the world in a month, in a year, or maybe two. Perfect City is saying that the problems are big, the solutions have to be, too, and it's going to take some time. 

We have big goals - we want our working group members to run for public office, to become planners and architects themselves, and to change laws and culture. That isn't something we can do overnight. This is the beginning. 

WHAT WE DO

We meet every week - we learn about zoning, planning and displacement, and we create projects with what we find out. Here are a few things we're working on for the fall:

From "Original New Yorkers" By Haruka Sakaguchi, (c) all rights reserved
From "Original New Yorkers" By Haruka Sakaguchi, (c) all rights reserved

ORIGINAL NEW YORKERS Perfect City working group member's Haruka Sakaguchi’s award-winning photography and text series of New Yorkers’ experiences with displacemenet is beautiful, stark and challenging. It will be in the main Abrons Arts Center gallery for our fall launch. 

URBAN OBSERVER WALKS – working group member and Abrons Staffer Jaime Matlin has been watching the city evolve since he was a kid. He has a three-generation lineage on the Lower East Side. At our fall launch he’ll be creating unique observational walks in the neighborhood, which will reveal hidden sites of safety, contemplation and creativity. You’ll leave knowing how to be an urban observer, whether it’s your first time here or you’ve been here the whole time.

Working group member Jamel Ayala teaching Avoidance Mapping at Crossing The Line 2016
Working group member Jamel Ayala teaching Avoidance Mapping at Crossing The Line 2016

 AVOIDANCE MAPPING - this came out of a meeting this fall. It's a way to identify unconscious bias, unearth the sophisticated ways we know about where to go and who to steer clear of, and how there are many cities mapped onto one concrete location. Avoidance Mapping was recently the subject of a workshop with architects and planners at the Architectural League, and a forthcoming article on Urban Omnibus.

Roundtable Performance, (c) Paula Court, all rights reserved.
Roundtable Performance, (c) Paula Court, all rights reserved.

ROUNDTABLE PERFORMANCES - Last fall, as part of the Crossing The Line Festival, presented by FIAF/The French Institute, we presented roundtable performances for audiences that included our neighbors, visitors from Berlin and other cities, planners and arts audiences. These roundtables included facts and figures about gentrification and zoning, provocations to become better activists, as well as songs, multilingual dialogues and conversations. This form will be part of our fall roll-out at Abrons. 

Perfect City Roundtable Performance, photo by Paula Court (c) all rights reserved
Perfect City Roundtable Performance, photo by Paula Court (c) all rights reserved

YOU’RE NEXT -  working group member Gabriella Marerro was walking down Grand Street one day, remarking on the businesses that had closed or were about to. She looked at her favorite Cuchifritos and thought, "You're next." At the hipster coffee shop: "You're next." At the pizza spot. At the florist, the gallery, the affordable housing. And so we came up with this campaign we'll be rolling out this fall at our launch. You're Next is a poster made by visual artist Daniel Bejar for store windows throughout the neigborhood, and a series of conversations among business owners so that we can all see ourselves in solidarity with each other, rather than in competition. Maybe you're next to join us!

****

ABOUT HENRY ST SETTLEMENT/ABRONS ARTS CENTER

For over 124 years, Henry Street Settlement has served its community in the Lower East Side to create opportunity, unity, conversation, and a well-balanced life. Henry Street continues to explore effective and adventurous programming like Perfect City to fulfill this mission. By incorporating a variety of tactics, Perfect City continues to bring unity, voice, and strength to residents of the LES. As with Henry Street Settlement and Abrons Arts Center, Perfect City uses multi-disciplinary, layered, bold, and visionary programs as the vehicle to drive conversations among people who would not otherwise discuss their similar and different viewpoints. Together, HSS and Perfect City can create synchronization between housing, health, education, urban planning, and the arts to keep the LES neighborhood dynamic, welcoming, and empowered. Henry Street/Abrons Info:

As one of the nation’s first settlement houses, Henry Street Settlement was established in 1893 with a mission to open doors of opportunity for Lower East Side residents and other New Yorkers through social services, arts, and health care programs. Each year, HSS continues to help over 60,000 New Yorkers reach their full potential through innovative, inclusive, integrated, and high-impact programs and services throughout our 17 sites on the LES. HSS serves this community through four program areas: Health & Wellness, Transitional & Supportive Housing, Education & Employment, and Visual & Performing Arts.

Risks and challenges

Even if we don't reach our goal, the fall launch of Perfect City will happen as planned. We'll give our time generously, we'll raise money through more traditional means, and we will rely on Abrons Arts Center for more in-house production help; we already have a small fee in the bank from Abrons.

The whole budget for our fall launch is $36,000. Abrons is contributing $5,000 in cash and another $7,000 in in-kind support (free space, publicity, and production help). Aaron Landsman's Guggenheim Fellowship will pay for his time on the fall launch.

Perfect City founder Aaron Landsman has a long history of getting large and small-scale performance and other works done. He's a current Guggenheim Fellow, a former Princeton Arts Fellow, and has received major awards and commissions in the US and abroad. Perfect City has received grants already from the Graham Foundation, LMCC, The Rubin Foundation and several individual contributors. We'll be going back to these and other funders this summer.

The $11,000 we are trying to raise here is both significant to our bottom line and an important signal that arts activism, and the voices of people in this neighborhood, are worth supporting.

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    Thank you

    We give you deep gratitude from all of us, and put your name on our website wall of donors.

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    The above PLUS a listen

    The Lower East Side is home to artistic talent like nowhere else.

    Link to working group member Tiffany Zorrilla's song "Emerald Eyes", created for our first Performance Roundtable last year.

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    The above PLUS a roundtable script

    Curious about our process? Our roundtable performances are scripted encounters between activists, planners and other citizens. Download a .pdf of a script from a fall roundtable presented by Henry Street Settlement and Crossing The Line last fall.

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    The above PLUS Signed Love Story Script

    Perfect City founder Aaron Landsman is a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning playwright. We have limited edition signed copies of his NY Times' and Time Out New York Critics' Pick monologue Love Story, which premiered at Abrons Arts Center last spring.

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    Polaroid of the LES

    See what we see. You will receive a polaroid of the Lower East Side, taken by a working group member, plus your name on our website wall of donors.

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    Perfect City's LES/Chinatown Map

    Receive a map with of destinations that are educational, provocative and and delicious, from us (plus your name on our website wall of donors).

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    History Walk For Two on 7/27

    The Bard Graduate Center in New York City has offered to send two lucky contributors to their July 22 Walking Tour called "Controlling Downtown: WASP Elites & the Other NY". We've been on this tour, with scholar and artist Noah Fuller, and it is awesome. Normally $20 per ticket, donate now and go for free!

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    Your Own Poem

    Working Group member Tiffany Zorrilla writes a poem just for you. (Plus a thanks on our website).

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    Private Avoidance Mapping Workshop

    You and four friends will take an avoidance mapping workshop - one of the pillars of what we do at Perfect City, with a working group member. You'll leave knowing how you belong to your neighborhood, how to see urban space, and how to grow toward your community. Plus your name on our website wall of thanks.

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    Guided Walk on the Lower East Side

    Working Group member Jaime Matlin is a born urban observer. He's been watching the city and neighborhood change for years, and he's got a three-generation history with this place. He will take you and three friends on a tour of this place as only he sees it. (Includes website thanks)

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    Your own song by Tyler and Tiffany

    Tyler Diaz and Tiffany Zorrilla write powerful glamorous music, and if you give at this level they will write a song just for you! Work with them on theme, tone and instrumentation (Comes with website thanks).

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    Original New Yorkers 9 x 12 Print

    Contribute at this level and receive a signed 9x12 gallery print from Perfect City working group member Haruka Sakaguchi's Lensculture award winning series.

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Funding period

- (33 days)