In 2011, Kathy Ortiz-Herscher (then assistant principal at IS 151) invited me to collaborate with 150 of her students on a artwork. I was between major projects and wanted to work near to home and specifically in the Bronx with a close community. We worked with the students for 6 plus months gathering materials around Morrisania Air Rights, Melrose and Jackson houses, making symbolic objects, recording stories and Eric taking portraits. We did everything but build the Cocoon -- although the students had lots of suggestions about where and where not to build it.
If any of you have ever worked in the public school system you can imagine the incredible organization and heart it took on the part of Ms. Ortiz-Herscher to make this happen for her students -- in addition to the 24-7 work she was already doing at the IS 151 (a school that was at that time threatened with closure). The students, teachers and Kathy rocked my world.
This work called, Little Cocoons for the South Bronx, was exhibited in the community space at Bronx Arts Museum. It was a way for students to come to the museum with family and experience the work -- to hear their own voices in a separate museum world. Kathy, the teachers, friends and I pooled our money to pay the community space fee. I hung all the symbolic object on a grid 2 feet apart and at the same height, the students stories were broadcast in the space and a selection of Eric's portraits hung on the wall.
Thanks to SCAN and Lew Zuchman who donated their space in the Bronx we were able to show the exhibition again at the SCAN Mullalay Center and all IS 151 students were able to make trips across Franz Seigal Park to see the exhibition.
After two COCOONs one in Jackson, MS the other in Goutte d'Or, Paris, I wanted to come back to the IS 151 neighborhood and finish what Ms. Ortiz-Herscher and I had started 5 years before -- . In spring 2016 I began working closely with Chaney Yelverton and Danny Barber presidents of the tenant associations at Morrisania Air Rights and Jackson Houses. Since the spring of 2016, I've been working with a local team in partnership with the tenant associations at MARs (Chaney Yelverton, President) and Jackson (Danny Barber, President) as a resident artist in the MARs community space. I have recorded over 150 interviews with local people -- the sculpture will be built on the basketball court in spring 2018.
The beginning was with the students, teachers and Ms. Ortiz-Herscher at IS 151 just across the street from MARs, Jackson and Melrose.