BCA’s Early Years
In 1969, cultural advocate Irma Fleck became BCA’s first Executive Director. Merging the Bronx Council with the Bronx Committee on the Arts, Fleck stayed at the helm until 1974. Under her guidance, the Council flourished with many firsts: the introduction of a Bronx regrants program in 1971, an exhibition from the Metropolitan Museum Collection in the Bronx County Building, and the creation of the Bronx Museum of the Arts – first as a BCA Board Committee and later when it moved to the Bronx County Building as the borough’s first museum.
Fred Croton assumed the position of BCA’s Executive Director in 1975 and continued the visionary tradition of Ms. Fleck. Croton nurtured existing relationships with Bronx organizations and expanded on BCA’s existing programs. The New York State Council on the Arts awarded BCA $51,000 to initiate a regrants program.
In 1978, Croton appointed a young Bill Aguado to a “one-year” position as BCA’s Grants Administrator. Two years later, Aguado stepped into the executive director’s shoes when Croton relinquished the position after being appointed general manager of the Cultural Affairs Department of Los Angeles.
“This isn’t supposed to be happening in the Bronx,” shared Aguado, “or anywhere else for that matter. Poverty, crime, drugs – those are expected, but to pick up a paint brush, raise a voice in song, fill a page with words or lift a foot to dance and say, ‘I am a Bronx artist,’ seemed absurd. There was a time when even the name Bronx Council on the Arts could have been a punch line to a joke. Things have changed, a lot. And the Bronx Council on the Arts is proud to have a whole host of world class artists living and working in the Bronx and to have been a part of supporting artists to achieve the impossible – making the Bronx a viable home for artists and achieving great success in the process.”
BCA’s First Major Initiative: The Longwood Arts Project
It is now the contemporary art center of the Bronx Council on the Arts, supporting artists and their work, especially emerging and under-recognized artists, through the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, Digital Matrix Commissions Program, and public programs that provide platforms for free and open dialogue. Not bad for a small gallery initially set up in a South Bronx school building on Longwood Avenue that had been closed by the Board of Education.
Artists like Ernesto Pujol, Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival (K.O.S.), John Ahearn, Rigoberto Torres, Michael Kelly Williams have presented work at Longwood, some having their first exhibitions there. In 1999, the project received its highest honors when Longwood artist Pepón Osorio and Longwood curator Fred Wilson received MacArthur "Genius" Awards. Wilson was instrumental in developing the Longwood Arts Gallery with Bill Aguado in 1986. The gallery had to move when the city took back the school building and relocated in January 2003 to Hostos Community College where it is now in curatorial residence at the campus’s Hostos Center of the Arts and Culture.
December 2006 celebrated Longwood’s 25th year with South Bronx Contemporary: Longwood Arts Project’s 25th Anniversary, a show organized by Longwood’s first four directors (Fred Wilson, Betti-Sue Hertz, Eddie Torres, and Edwin Ramoran) and included over 60 artists in various media. A catalogue was produced with essays by the four directors. A limited edition print “Something We May or May Have Not Known” by Wilson was also produced to commemorate the 25th anniversary and is available for purchase. Click here for a sampling of the gallery’s recent shows.
Arts-in-Education Grants (sponsored by New York State Council on the Arts) provide funds for artists and organizations to work in Bronx schools through BCA NYSCA AIE Grants and
Bronx Writers’ Center’s Chapter One is an annual competition and reading series that is open to residents of New York City. It provides opportunities for emerging novelists to share their work with an audience, while emphasizing the importance of a strong first chapter.
Bronx Writers' Center’s Fellowship and Residency Program (formerly the Van Lier Fellowship) awards two nine-month fellowships annually to fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and screenwriters who reside in the Bronx.
Our BRIO Award (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) serves as our flagship, honoring the very best of the many talented people of our community. Since 1989, BRIO has been providing financial support and recognition of Bronx artists putting forth their very best in the areas of literary, media, performing, and visual arts. On an annual basis, twenty-two Bronx artists receive awards of $2,500 for artistic excellence in one of the following categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Playwriting, Poetry, Screenwriting, Acting, Choreography, Dance, Storytelling/ Spoken Word, Performance Poetry, Instrumental/ Vocal Music Performance, Music Composition, Crafts, Painting, Printmaking, Drawing/ Illustration, Artist Book, Sculpture, Film, Computer Animation, Digital and Computer Arts, and Documentary or Narrative Film/Video. The award selection is made through a peer panel process utilizing professional artists in the respective disciplines. BRIO awardees must complete a one-time public service activity to receive their complete cash award. Known as the ACE (Artists for Community Enrichment), this activity is an essential component for all BRIO recipients and must be performed within the one-year period of their award. The ACE provides artists with additional visibility and demonstrates to the community the wealth of artistic talent available in our borough. Since its inception, more than $500,000 has been awarded to 185 artists. 2007 saw a record 255 submissions. Only Bronx residents are eligible to apply for the BRIO award.
Bronx Stars Shine: Through its various grant programs and services, BCA has directly given over $1 million dollars to individual artists and arts organizations in the Bronx. These monies have supported the work of countless artists like painter Daniel Hauben, musician Ray Vega, dancer/choreographers Arthur Aviles, Jawole Willa Jo Zole of Urban Bush Women and Merian Soto, Def Poetry Slam On Broadway poet Lemon, HBO Def Poetry Slam artists Flaco Navaja and Caridad De La Luz (La Bruja), performers Mildred Ruiz, Steven Sapp and Gamal Chasten from the off-Broadway performance group Universes, and singer songwriter Guy Davis, actress/comedians Alba Sanchez and Rhina Valentin.
The progress of BCA’s BRIO awardees is highlighted every month in the BRIO Sightings section of its website. Information on past and present BRIO winners can also be found in the website’s Bronx Artists Forum section.
In January 1990, the Bronx Cultural Card was born. Originally known as the Bronx Cultural Pass, BCA designed the card to connect cardholders to the wide variety of arts and cultural activities in the Bronx while developing new audiences for arts providers and new customers for Bronx business and dining establishments. The card is available free-of-charge by calling 718-931-9500 x14 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bronx Cultural Card provides two-for-one or discounted admissions, cash or percentage discounts on gift shop purchases, and premiums at local restaurants. In its inaugural year, the Bronx Cultural Card had 24 participating organizations. That number has more than doubled over the years. There are currently over 50 organizations, businesses and dining establishments that accept the card borough-wide. Click here to find out who they are and what the card has to offer. 100,000 cards are distributed annually.
Professional writers are sent to instruct youth at Tier II transitional housing facilities where families find access to permanent residences and receive the becessary social services to make the adjustment. The youth served range in age 10 to 14. WritersCorps also services both Horizons and Bridges Juvenile Detention Facilities. Professional performance poets provide literary opportunities for youth up to age 18, introducing them to creative writing as well as performance poetry.
Lastly, literary artists at selected schools work with teens and pre-teens to introduce or develop their interest in the written and spoken word, largely through creative writing and performance poetry.
Participants at each site make up a team in the Youth Poetry Slam League. A culminating slam is held at the end of the school year. Each site produces a group anthology.
Bronx Writers’ Center
Still going strong after all these years, the Bronx Writers’ Center‘s literary artists can receive skill-building instruction and attend first-rate workshops that address various levels of writing abilities. Writers with a desire to improve their talents are welcome to take one of the Center’s free creative writing workshops, which cover the gamut of literary disciplines. BWC also offers professional-development seminars on the more practical aspects of the literary field, such as editing and marketing a self published book, and finding outlets for writing in literary journals and magazines.
The Bronx Writers’ Center additionally offers two awards programs: The Literary Arts Fellowship and Residency Program and The Chapter One Fiction Competition and Reading Series. See the BCA Grants section for details.
BWC Success Stories: Some of the current urban brainchildren of contemporary literature have connected and contributed their success to the Bronx Writers’ Center. Angie Cruz (1998-99 BWC Van Lier Literary Fellowship for Fiction) has authored two novels, “Soledad” and “Let It Rain Coffee”. Sarah Jones (1998-99 Literary Artists Fellowship and Residency) is a Tony Award-winning playwright, actor, and poet. Her multi-character solo shows include the Tony Award-winning “Bridge & Tunnel,” which was originally produced Off-Broadway by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep. It went on to become a critically acclaimed, long running smash-hit on Broadway. Nelly Rosario (1999-2000 BWC Van Lier Literary Fellowship for Fiction) published her first novel “Songs of the Water Saints” in 2002 and has since received numerous awards.
The goal of the Arthandler Training Program is to provide arts institutions with a short-term, effective career enhancement program for their artists, as well as new hires, mid-level technical staff and administrative staff with risk management responsibilities. The program is designed as a forum, and stresses the practical application of generally accepted principles of art handling. 15 to 20 working artists and museum personnel will be trained each session for employment in museums, galleries, corporations and auction houses throughout New York City and the metropolitan area.
Over the years, the program has trained more than 170 artists and arts institution personnel who are seeking to augment their income, or to take up a new trade in a downsized economy, or to simply to try something new to improve their lives. The program additionally provides job placement, career development, and entrepreneurial opportunities to our graduates.
HANDLE IT! In collaboration with the Riverdale Mental Health Association, the BCA Development Corporation/Bronx Council on the Arts Fine Arts and Technical Services Bureau (BCADC) certified 22 young adults between the ages of 17 and 21 years in arthandling and gallery assistance skills. The Handle It! Career Program is designed to address the underlying causes of structural unemployment experienced by New York’s high school dropouts and unemployed youth. To date, the majority of these young graduates are either working or in continuing education programs.
The South Bronx Cultural Corridor is a vibrant indicator of the area's creative economy. The Creative Economy is composed of arts-centric businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, design and advertising companies among many other creative designations. These arts-centric businesses play an important role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy. They employ people, spend money locally, generate government revenue and are a cornerstone of tourism and economic development.
The South Bronx Cultural Corridor is an arts-driven economic development and cultural tourism initiative. The area supports a critical mass major cultural non-profit institutions including: Arthur Aviles Typical Theater, Artisans Boutique, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bruckner Bar and Grill, Friends of Brook Park, Haven Gallery, Hostos Center for Arts and Culture, Latino Sports Clubhouse & Internet Hub, Longwood Art Gallery@ Hostos, Mud/Bone/Studio 889, The Point, CDC, Pregones Theater, and The Yankee Tavern.
Trolley attractions include art exhibits, The Artisans Boutique, poetry readings, film screenings, and live theatrical, musical, comedy, and dance performances at such venues as the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos, Hostos Center for Arts & Culture, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Pregones Theater, Yankee Tavern, Hagan Saint Philip Gallery, Spanic Attack, and Maxson’s Bar & Grill. Trolley nights have also provided tours of local artists’ studios and have expanded to such cultural Hunts Point hot spots as the Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance, Mud/Bone / Studio 889 and The Point.
Trolley riders are occasionally treated to a “Works-in-Motion” performance which features live entertainment on board the trolley. Such performances featured dancers, music, Shakespeare sonnets, a pirate high-jacking, puppets, and theatrical readings.
May 2006 marked the first Bronx Culture Daytime Trolley for seniors. Seniors were picked up and brought back to their home centers and were treated to a morning of free cultural activities including a round-trip trolley ride, a tour and performance at Pregones Theater, and a gallery tour and talk at the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos. Trolley Day at Fordham University took place in April 2007 marked the first University Trolley Day providing students a similar afternoon of free cultural activities with the addition of a guided tour of the exhibitions of the Bronx Museum of Arts.
The Bronx Culture Trolley received major kudos in a August 2007 report by the Center for an Urban Future which stated that “The Bronx Culture Trolley is widely considered the most successful of the city’s trolley routes” They researched all of the cultural trolleys in the city’s boroughs and our First Wednesdays Bronx Culture Trolley received very impressive and favorable reviews. Click here to view the Bronx Culture Trolley excerpt from full report. Click here to view the full 22-page report. The report resulted in some nice trolley coverage in the Daily News, Bronx Times Reporter, Bronx Press Review, and CityLimits.org.
Artisans Initiative members participate in annual fairs and festivals including Culturefest and The Bronx Food and Art Festival. Artisan’s work has been sold at the Bronx Museum of the Arts under the bronxArtworks® label. The Artisans Boutique has become a permanent segment on Bronx Culture Trolley nights.
Artisans 2007 Immigrant Week Exhibition: “Many Hands, Many Places” was the Artisans Initiative’s first exhibition taking place at the Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos (April 16th – May 5th). It showcased ceramics, woodcarving, metalworks and introduced cultural craft such as Maedup (Korean Knot Tying) and Mudcloth (West African textile printing technique) stemming from immigrant craftspeople. The innovations applied to traditional works, forming contemporary and original one of a kind works were embraced by the public.
This innovative program introduces a broad range of Bronx-based at-risk youth and students to the visual arts, creative writing, digital technology, media literacy, and new-media artistic practice. These skills will be used to incorporate new media production into an interactive website, UrbanDigital.net. This project allows young people to share their artistic creativity with the broadest of possible audiences, the world. The program also seeks to introduce its participants to ways in which new media can be woven into career choices and professional development.
Approximately 50 young people have participated during the first year of the program. Participating with BCA in this program are Bronx WritersCorps, Tepeyac Association of New York, the High School of Contemporary Art, and the Department of Youth and Community Development.
First Wednesdays at the Library
Bronx Artists Forum
In February 2007, with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, BCA was able to re-design its website to include the newly-established Bronx Artists Forum which now serves as an ongoing tribute to the award-winning Bronx artists who receive BCA’s support. This forum will serve as an online showcase and an archive of their work, making it accessible to art critics, consumers, presenters, and curators.
Located on the opening page of BCA’s website (www.bronxarts.org), the Bronx Artists Forum includes previous and current winners of BCA’s BRIO Award, the Longwood Arts Project’s Digital Matrix Commission, and the Bronx Writers’ Center’s Literary Arts Fellowship & Residency and Chapter One Fiction Competition & Reading Series.
To sum up what BCA does for the borough’s artists and arts organizations, Bill Aguado said, “We’re trying to make it easier for people who have dreams to have them realized.”