Concrete Ideas

Protestors shut down the New Museum’s IdeasCity Bronx

Protestors in front of IdeasCity Bronx. (Jack Morley/AN)

IdeasCity Bronx, a festival organized by the New Museum and scheduled for this past Saturday, was canceled shortly after the programming began. Held at Concrete Plant Park on the Bronx River, the festival was supposed to feature discussions, performances, and workshops by artists, architects, and local community organizations as a way to address “the physical, social, and economic forces that define the Bronx and other cities.” Themed “New Ecologies 3755,” many of the discussions were to be centered around the effects of global climate change but also how they relate to Bronx communities, but plans were derailed after protesters intervened.

During the event’s opening talk by V. Mitch McEwen, the festival’s curator, a group of activists to the side of the stage interrupted the proceedings with a speech of their own, leading to about 30 minutes of heated back-and-forth between the protesters and the scheduled speakers, ultimately ending with the day’s events being canceled. Prior to the festival’s commencement, a few Bronx grassroots organizations scheduled to participate, including DreamYard, Take Back the Bronx, and No New Jails, had already withdrawn. Other groups, such as Bronx-based arts organization Hydro Punk, had declined the offer to participate from the beginning.

Photo of a concrete plant on the river

Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx. (Nathan Kensinger)

During her opening remarks, McEwen passed the microphone to Tiara Torres, one of the protesters from Hydro Punk, who stated, “New Museum has never invested anything into the Bronx. This is a one-day event. They are not contributing any long term financial backing or support into any of the ideas that come from today.” According to Hyperallergic, the activist went on to say that they had declined to participate after finding out that the events were being promoted by the real-estate company South Bronx Luxury. McEwen told AN that the organization had received no financial support from real estate developers. Highlights from the event were supposed to include a keynote discussion by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, but after attempting to speak during the protesters’ interruptions, Cruz and Forman did not continue with their presentation.



But the site was the biggest point of tension, to be sure. Concrete Plant Park is located in the Southern Boulevard part of the Bronx, a neighborhood that activists say is actively being threatened by “gentrification-driven rezoning.” McEwen explained to AN that the location wasn’t the first choice to begin with. Since its opening in 2011, IdeasCity New York was staged across from the New Museum in Manhattan along the Bowery, but with ongoing conversations surrounding new ideas in ecology, the Bronx seemed like a better fit. McEwen said, “we started to map out sites on the Bronx River and other waterways believing that this borough defined by waterways is more complex and robust than Manhattan.” They had anticipated the site to be located near the Soundview Ferry Terminal, but according to McEwen, they were “strongly encouraged to move” by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. “We should not have been in [Concrete Plant Park],” she said, while also agreeing that many of the protester’s points were “brilliant and spot-on” and were even “aligned with the framework of how we organized IdeasCity” to begin with. 

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The DreamYard Project will no longer be participating in IdeasCity Bronx—based on the lack of clarity, collaboration and communication in the planning of IdeasCity Bronx, as well as the compromised integrity of DreamYard’s community-centered values. . Three months ago, we were approached by IdeasCity for the opportunity to uplift our young people and community’s work around Arts and Activism. We were asked to collaborate in organizing a panel discussion, a student performance and community-based organization /activism booths; since then, a small team of DreamYard staff members have worked diligently to organize these parts of the event, and ensure fair compensation for our young people and representing CBOs that we have asked to get involved in this event. DreamYard staff members initially created a panel discussion on the relationship between politics and grassroots movement, “Who’s Got the Power?” which centered a young DreamYard participant, and a DreamYard alumna and current staff member. Since then, IdeasCity renamed the panel discussion we were organizing, shifted the original intention of the discussion (shaped by intentional labor of Black Indigenous Queer Femmes), and was essentially handed over to another party who was not involved in the concept, the process, nor the work we do and are seeking to uplift. We do not feel safe having our young people participate, nor having DreamYard’s name further implicated in what has turned out not to be a collaboration, but something in which DreamYard’s name has seemingly been used as merely a means to an end. . We entered this collaboration in good faith, and since then have been made aware of the missteps inherent in the planning of IdeasCity. Based on the feedback from the community as well as the challenges in planning this event, we have decided not to participate in IdeasCity Bronx. . <Continued in comments>

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In a public statement McEwen made on Twitter, she ends with a series of questions aimed to open dialogue and to keep the conversation going. “NYC Parks Department—I have no words,” she asks, “what would a functional democratic process around public space look like for New York City?” She urges for a “radical imagining” of the spaces in which we exchange knowledge outside of the academic institution, and of a place where the pain expressed by the protestors can “coexist in dialogue with the technical, creative, and spatial work involved in change.”

In a statement shared via email, the New Museum told AN:

We wholeheartedly support V. Mitch McEwen’s curatorial vision for IdeasCity over the past year, and the ciphers and convenings that have advanced thinking in significant directions. We believe it is more important than ever to continue to provide platforms for productive dialogue, debate, and healing in a challenging and divided world. Knowing this can only happen through deeper engagement, proximity, authentic and time-tested connectivity, and sustained commitment, IdeasCity will continue to organize events in the hope that, going forward, groups of every type can come together, voicing differences, but collaborating on possible futures.

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