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  • Words and Photos by Joanna Pan

This Sat-Sun: YAW, Experience A City on the Move!

Downtown Yonkers cityscape from 86 Main Street

Worsted Building in Yonkers's Carpet Mills Arts District


Yonkers is fast-becoming the area's most dynamic arts destination. This weekend, attend #YAW2018 and see for yourself!

On Sat May 5th - Sun May 6th, Yonkers welcomes a massive swell of painters, illustrators, designers, fiber artists, woodworkers, sculptors, photographers, crafts-people, musicians, and performers to exhibit, instruct, interact, and create with art lovers everywhere. It's the 5th annual Yonkers Arts Weekend #YAW2018!

For years now, Yonkers has been growing vertically, evolving aesthetically, becoming safer, and looking immensely more desirable to prospective residents, creatives, and influencers.

On April 16th via City Hall TV, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano announced: "We are in the process of rebuilding all of our affordable housing ... we're rebuilding every single unit in the city of Yonkers, which is the first time our city has done such a project since a world war. Right now, we're closing in on 2 billion dollars in private investment, and that's happening all across the city. There's 4,000 units of housing being built on the water's edge. There's housing being built pretty much in every quadrant of the city There [are] new businesses that are coming in."

Spano's recent "state-of-the-city" is a welcome contrast to a vastly more world-weary Yonkers of 25 years ago; a Yonkers that had resident Marilyn Hannon lamenting to the New York Times: "Yonkers is being dragged down and it's not coming up again. I want to move out, but there's no place to go."

"[Yonkers] Downtown was nothing like it is now," confirms Yonkers artist Jose A. Gonzalez. "The riverfront was [once] full of crackheads and drunks. Where the restaurant X2O is now was like a park for dope fiends. I actually used to go on bike rides down there with my dad and watch people fish, fight, and party."

The city's landscape is undeniably changed, but make no mistake: Yonkers is amid an actual renaissance, not just a realty-driven urban makeover. Its cultural perspective is lurching skyward in tandem with its waterfront high-rises.

"Little by little, the people doing positive things in the community are changing Yonkers and making a real art scene -- not a fabrication just to attract businesses and investors," Gonzalez concurs.

"Yonkers is quickly becoming a destination city for artists to live, work and exhibit," Mayor Spano observed in 2014. A "trend" of four years ago that's since become the city's new normal.

"Yonkers feels like an 'undiscovered secret'," says Urban Studio Unbound Gallery Curator/Gallery Director Melissa Starke. "You can find affordable rents, there's a large artist population here, and the city supports and encourages creative initiatives."


YAW2018, May 5-6th:

Yonkers Arts Weekend (YAW) is at turns art-experience, showcase, and celebration. Roughly 2-parts interaction to 1-part observation, YAW is vastly more hands-on than other urban arts fairs you've attended. Attendees get face-time with their favorite artists at YoHo Open Studios, participate in a variety of hands-on activities (like this scenic watercolor painting lesson), and stand front and center as street artists like BKFoxx and Damien Mitchell spray-paint huge public murals.

There's no attendance fee; no specific entry point. YAW takes place in a suite of indoor, open-air, and outdoor downtown Yonkers venues. Admission to the Hudson River Museum and Downtown Galleries is FREE all weekend.

To visit, take the Metro North Hudson (Green) Line from Grand Central Station and arrive in downtown Yonkers just 30 minutes later, within walking distance from most of the attractions! For YAW-venues tantalizingly out of reach by foot, the City of Yonkers's got your back: FREE shuttle service to ferry attendees between sites.

To help get our heads around the sheer scope of YAW2018, SOLD turned to two dynamic Yonkers artists / cultural planners:


Melissa Starke

Melissa Starke and Raisa Nosova installation at 86 Main Street, Yonkers

Joanna Pan: As Gallery Director/Gallery Curator at Urban Studio Unbound, please tell Sold readers what US+U and the City of Yonkers have planned for YAW2018!

Melissa Starke: I'm really excited about the way we are formatting the main pop-up space in the downtown! We have 86 Main St, which is 3 floors spanning approximately 40,000 sq-ft and a ground floor that's approximately 2000 sq ft! I asked the city if this year we could model it like its own art fair, and they were all for it. This means we have one floor (5th-fl) that's 25 individual artist booths, another (4th-fl) that's "Projects" -- large scale art, installation-based work/site-specific work, another (6th-fl) that's "Group Exhibitions" (Brooklyn Brush Studios, Forvll, Hewn Arts, Yellow Fine Arts, and the City-Wide Call For Entry Applicants will be curated into an exhibit of their own by Amanda Ioco, US+U Education and Community Outreach Coordinator. The ground floor has an interactive/hands-on activity. Carrier Pigeon (an artist-run quarterly publication of illustration fiction and fine art), Paper Crown Press, and Guttenberg Arts will be doing mono-printing demos 12pm-5pm both days, as well as an exhibition.

On the 5th floor, I chose a roster of 25 really diverse artists. For example, we have artist Demetrio Belenky who attended the New York Academy for his graduate degree, followed by paper artist Marisa Gonzales Silverstein. You see beautifully rendered oil paintings from life in Demetrio's booth, then relief compositions that create complex patterns and movement in Marisa's booth!

[5th-Floor artist booths at 86 Main Street]

I am also curating the 4th floor "Projects" space. This includes a piece by artist Raisa Nosova [video]. She is currently doing a residency at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. Artist Tatjana Kunst is hanging a 150-"jelly fish" piece from the ceiling! The "jelly-fish" are made with ceramic/porcelain with hand-knitted "tails." Artist Amanda Ioco has a wall of multiple large-scale sculptures made entirely from oyster shells! There will be a number of pieces from Stray Ones on this floor, people are probably most familiar with his chicken-wire sculptures of cats placed around Brooklyn "guerrilla-style." We built a viewing room for a video by artist Marcin Szprengiel. There are a number of free-standing large sculptures and paintings by other artists, including Richard Pitts, Josef Zutelgte, Jose Antonio Arvelo, and more!

[Tatjana Kunst's "Jelly Fish" installation at 86 Main St, 4th-Floor]

[BxSpaces pieces by Alexis Price and Esparto Albornoz in collaboration: 86 Main St, 6th-Floor]

JP: So much to see at a single venue! What's taking place at YAW outside 86 Main?

MS: Of course, there's a number of murals lined up for South Broadway: BK Foxx, Damien Mitchell, Eelco, and a few new additions. Chris St. Lawrence, Director of Waterfront Development, is such an important figure when it comes to facilitating the presence of the street art and the arts weekend at large. The arts weekend was his initiative, and he's been the main contact I work with city-side. I can't give him a big enough shout-out!

At Urban Studio Unbound, we have an exhibit titled "Aesthetic Dialogue" that will be on view for YAW thru June 15th.

We also have a developing public art program -- this includes installing 2 large-scale, powder-coated aluminum sculptures in Van der Donck Park by artist Richard Pitts. Artist Lina Montoya will be doing a site-specific mural on a chain-link fence using plastics.

JP: The Urban Studio Unbound website indicates that many of its artists and employees are from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan ... What was particularly attractive to US+U founders about opening their gallery -- not in the 5-boros -- but in Yonkers?

MS: Yonkers is a waterfront community in close proximity to Manhattan [and] accessible to artists in a number of ways. The community also really rallies together and supports one another. In Yonkers, we were able to apply for partial funding via a Community Development Block Grant, which has been an important resource for launching the gallery and implementing creative programming.

[Melissa Starke, Gallery Director: Urban Studio Unbound. Art work by Richard Pitts]

JP: Please tell Sold readers about your own journey into visual arts / arts curation:

MS: I am originally from Long Branch, NJ and attended FIT for my undergrad in Fine Arts. My own work is paintings and mixed-media collage. I recently learned how to weld, so hope to expand my practice to include more sculpture. I had a crew of friends who were also artists, and we wanted to create some opportunities for ourselves. We began doing pop-up shows, applying for public art projects, art fairs, etc. We all contributed to these activities in different ways, but I emerged as the person who took the lead in that regard and everyone was down with it and really supported it. I've been curating for probably over 10 years now, and it's something I feel is an integral part of who I am individually and in my network. I recently enrolled in M.A. classes in an Art Market program, so looks like I'm going to continue to split my time between artist and curator.


Jose A. Gonzalez

Mr. Gonzalez at YoHo Artists Studios

JP: 2018 marks the inaugural CMAD At Yonkers Arts Weekend festival! It sounds like a rad party/arts-fair hybrid held in open-air areas of YoHo Studios. Please tell SOLD readers more about the festival!

Jose A Gonzalez: The festival will be held at 540/578 Nepperhan Ave, Yonkers. As of right now, you can expect musical performances from local artists and surrounding areas. Also vendors selling handmade goods, yoga, poetry, a DJ, food trucks, workshops, live painting and an interactive mural!

JP: How did the idea for CMAD At Yonkers Arts Weekend come about?

JG: YoHo Open Studios was in transition as far as organizers. Artists are full of ideas, but for the most part want to be in their studios creating -- not organizing and attending meetings. So I had this idea to bring in The Power Lab to organize and promote the event. Adam Shultz from came up with the idea to hold a festival out in the parking lot of the studios with the Power Lab leading the way. See, the YoHo studios sit inside the Carpet Mills Arts District (CMAD), so one thing lead to another and the idea has come together. My involvement consists of finding talent and vendors to promote the event.

JP: Since this is the 5th year of YAW, I was assuming it was YoHo Open Studios's 5th year as well. But now I understand the city's annual Open Studios has existed for much longer than that. Please elaborate!

JG: Open Studios have been around for a long time. This is the 15th anniversary officially, but it has been around longer than that. Most of YAW is an extension of Open Studios Weekend. This will be my third year participating in Open Studios.

JP: You were actually raised in Yonkers, in addition to continuing to live and work here as an adult. What was growing up in Yonkers like?

JG: I did grow up in southwest Yonkers. I spent my teenage years living on Maple St. The area is known as Nodine Hill, and to locals as "The Tree Streets" because all the streets were named after a species of trees. As a kid, we played in the street. Touch football, stickball, manhunt, you name it we played it. All on the hills! Mind you, Yonkers is nicknamed "The City of Hills," so losing control of your balance running downhill from someone trying to tag you was a regular thing. As a teenager, I hung out with a few people. We smoked weed and drank OEs and spent all day and night listening to a small boom-box. Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, etc. I ducked a lot of the drama around me by going to the park and working out, playing Lacrosse which was unheard of in my neighborhood, and hanging out in parks late at night just smoking and talking about what we would become as adults. Drawing was always something I did. I spent a lot of hours drawing and painting murals in my bedroom, or putting Star Wars models together with my uncle Willy. There were always people tagging up on walls, but I don't remember murals or even burners up. Art wasn't a thing out here.

JP: And what's it been like to live and work in Yonkers as an adult?

JG: As an adult, Yonkers is becoming a center for creative people, YoHo being the center of that movement. Main Street is all cleaned up, and is where I go to have dinner and a drink or hangout by the water. I attend Yonkers Arts board meetings at the public library, and support friends at gallery openings. It's amazing how far Yonkers has come, but at the same time we have much work to do. There is still a lot of crime. A lot of shootings and stabbings in pockets around the city. There's a lot of poverty, but at the same time much more opportunities to push past all that. There's a lot of outlets, like my friends at The Power Lab that hold programs and workshops to empower the community. The artist collective that I founded, We Art 1, focuses on giving opportunities to new artists that are not sure how to go about showing their work. We create opportunities by putting shows together, and guiding them through the process without the pressure of submitting to a gallery.

JP: I especially love the mother figures you create with long, angular features against colorful backgrounds -- incorporating both nature and urban life. Please tell us more about the genesis of your artistic style!

JG: Thank you for your kind words. I got into art as a kid. I still have drawings from elementary school of Ninja Turtles and newspaper comics. I started painting in my early 20s, and my early work really sucked but I loved everything about it: the feeling of paint on my hands as well as the smell, even the sound of the brush strokes on the canvas! I started taking it seriously about 15 years ago, and didn't work up the courage to show until about 8 years ago, give or take. My art reflects an urban feel and also nature because of the way Yonkers is. We have tenement buildings as well as beautiful parks like Tibbets Brook Park and Untermyer Gardens. We have a little bit of everything. You can go from looking at a mansion, to walking one block and finding yourself in the "hood." Also as a kid, we would go to Fordham Road in the Bronx to shop and visit family. I like to paint women in a strong role: nurturing, complex, divine. I paint them like I see all the women in my life. I try my best to paint them as beautifully as they are in life. The sharp angles might come from cubism or maybe the rigid structure of life and how it manifests in you. The flowing hair might be the juxtaposition of that -- the escape from rigidity. My recent pieces express more of spiritual experience.

JP: Do you do public murals and/or street-art / graffiti?

JG: I add a graffiti style to my pictures, because that's what I grew up with. I've tagged-up as a kid -- never got into bombing and graffiti in a traditional sense, but always loved to see it and admire it ... I can't help but put it into my work. I haven't painted an outdoor mural, but have helped friends on commissioned murals -- one of them on Redford and South Broadway, Yonkers. I also painted a mural at the Power Lab, and I also work on window signage for a corporate chain. In years past, I have wheat-pasted around town, but nothing too significant. I just liked the idea of putting something up real quick and watching it decay over time, and the different characteristics it took on.


Photos from "Neo-Victorians" at Hudson River Museum: YAW 2018 through May 13th


Photos from "Aesthetic Dialogue" at Urban Studio Unbound: YAW2018 through June 15th

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