NYC’s Lower East Side has always been shaped by the history and presence of Black communities. Yet for most New Yorkers, these histories are hidden or unacknowledged.
The creation of the Chrystie Street African Burial Ground by the African Society after the Chambers Street burial ground was closed, the early legacies of ‘half freedom’ and Black land ownership, the African Free Schools of the 18th century, the mixed-race dance halls on the Bowery, and the impact of the Draft Riots are central narratives for building a true understanding of the Lower East Side and New York City. These stories require new and creative methods for being shared with the general public.
As part of this effort, FABnyc is issuing an open call to artists to create an art installation at M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden to memorialize the Chrystie Street African Burial Ground.
The proposed project should honor the former Chrystie Street African Burial Ground and advance public understanding of the history and presence of Black communities in the Lower East Side.
The selection committee is open to creative proposals of all kinds. We are particularly interested in an installation that can be long-lasting and/or renewed over time and which can be sited within or at the perimeter of M’Finda Kalunga Garden.
Proposals may include elements created by 1 or several artists. If applying as a group/collective, one proposal detailing all elements should be submitted.
Commission: $32,500 (includes artist fee and fabrication expenses)
HISTORY AND CONTEXT
In 1794, the African burial ground near City Hall was closed and by October of that year the Common Council of New York City received a “petition from the Sunday Black men of this city praying the aid of this board in purchasing a piece of ground for the internment of their dead”. By April, the land was granted in what was deemed “a proper place”, near the dilapidated ruin of James de Lancey’s mansion, bound to the east by First Street (now Chrystie)” – M’Finda Kalunga Garden website
The cemetery continued to serve as a burial ground for the City’s black community, and, although the actual number of burials is unknown, it is estimated that 5,000 individuals were interred there. In any case, in 1835 the Rector of St. Philip’s Church reported, “Our cemetery, which has been in use forty years, is now so full, that we cannot inter our dead as deep as the law requires….”
In 1852 St. Philip’s sold the cemetery at Chrystie Street and, in 1853, purchased a parcel in the northwest corner of Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the remains were reinterred. However, there are doubts about how many of the bodies in the Second African Burial Ground were transported to Cypress Hills Cemetery. It was not uncommon for cemetery relocations at the time to be less than thorough, perhaps only moving headstones, a few skeletons, and/or a selection of bodies, and it is to be noted that despite the estimate of five thousand interments at Chrystie Street, there are only 485 interments listed at the Cypress Hills plot. The Burial Ground was soon paved over and built upon.
The M’Finda Kalunga Garden means “Garden at the Edge of the Other Side of the World” in the Kikongo language, named in memory of the “second” African burial ground nearby. Located within Sara D Roosevelt Park on Chrystie Street at Rivington, the Garden has celebrated local Black history and honored the Burial Ground at its annual Juneteenth festivities for more than a dozen years.
Since 2019, FAB has been a partner in supporting these activities, most recently commissioning a temporary installation honoring local Black and Indigenous histories from Dennis RedMoon Darkeem.
FAB has now secured funding to partner with artists, M’Finda Kalunga garden members, and residents on a long term creative installation commemorating the Burial Ground.
Additional information on the history, the site, and the selection process can be found in the application form.
If, after reading through the application form, you still have questions, please email Ryan Gilliam (email@example.com)