BronxNet celebrates community art project grant recipients

Artists gather for a celebration of their work in the BronxNet Media and Technology Studios on Thursday, June 13, 2024.
Artists gather for a celebration of their work in the BronxNet Media and Technology Studios on Thursday, June 13, 2024.
Photo Maya Stahl

Ten artists debuted their two-year-long innovative media projects supported by the artists economy initiative Creative Rebuild New York and BronxNet Media and Technology Studios on Thursday, June 13. 

Participating artists included puppetry artists Alba Enid García Rivas, Kervin Peralta and Paola Poucel; filmmakers Jasmine White and Kobina de Graft Johnson; hip-hop artists and producers Ana “Rokafella” Garcia and Gabriel “Kwikstep” Dionisio; visual artist Marthalicia Matarrita; animator Jon Frier; virtual reality artist Trish Gianakis; and game designer Will Roberts. All artists received certificates of merit from the Bronx Borough President’s Office.

CRNY Artists Gabriel Kwikstep Dioniso and Ana Rokafella Garcia with citations alongside Arlene Mukoko, press secretary to the borough president.Photo courtesy Michelle Martinez/Lehman College Multimedia Center

“There is a creative economy and the Bronx has tremendous creative capital,” Max Knobbe, BronxNet Executive Director told the Bronx Times. “But artists across New York state and New York City have been struggling. This grant has allowed 10 local artists to create new work, original work and do community media arts and technology engagement for youth and the public while thriving.”

Michael Max Knobbe (at podium) addresses guests.Photo courtesy Natalia Perez

Creative Rebuild New York is a three-year, $125 million investment into the financial stability of New York artists and organizations that employ them. The specific grant for BronxNet’s 10 artists provided a two-year-long guaranteed income and health care.

Sarah Calderón, the executive director of Creative Rebuild New York, talked about the importance of recognizing the labor of artists with economic security. 

Sarah Calderón, the executive director of Creative Rebuild New York, talked about the importance of recognizing the labor of artists with economic security. Photo courtesy Carl Peters

“The thing that BronxNet did a beautiful job at is really acknowledging that art is labor and that artists should be paid for their work. Our artists — our Bronx artists, especially — deserve respect, dignity and economic security,” Calderón said. “BronxNet’s model for artists employment is an amazing way to support artists directly and the organizations that support these artists really are part of a movement to acknowledge the labor and the hard work of artists.”

White, one of the creators of “#Stressed,” a series about a first-generation Ghanaian American in the Bronx, said the grant allowed her to focus on her project while also provide workshops for other artists to learn how to turn their art into a business.

“I was so excited to learn that I was a grant recipient because you know, as an artist, you kind of pray for opportunities like this where you’re allowed to focus on your craft full time,” White said. 

Juanita Lara, the director of development for BronxNet, oversaw the application process of the grant recipients. She said BronxNet focused on selecting local artists from a range of artistic backgrounds. 

“I think in the beginning, I had an idea of what could happen, but I in no way expected how grand it became. It was such a wonderful surprise. It’s not just a testament to the artists but to our Bronx, that team who stepped up and really supported the creation and development of the work,” Lara said. “It was challenging for two years to have ten brand new artists come in and have all these multiple projects simultaneously being worked on throughout the next few years, but in the end, I think everyone is just incredibly grateful. The results are just spectacular.”

The artists economy  initiative allowed local artists to create original shows and provide media arts engagement with youth and the public. While artists like White taught classes to other local artists, other grant recipients engaged with local schools and children in immersive media projects.

Senator Nathalia Fernandez (front, fourth from l.) with Arlene Mukoko, Michael Max Knobbe and CRNY artists.Photo courtesy Michelle Martinez/Lehman College Multimedia Center

García Rivas, Peralta and Poucel are puppetry artists who produced “Ecoleaders,” a ’90s-inspired children’s show about climate change and environmental justice. As part of their project, second-graders from Community School 55 were involved in the production of the sixth episode of “Ecoleaders,” where they were invited to come to the BronxNet studios.

“They were part of the program and part of the production of the program. And they were mightily inspired, and I tell you, I don’t think they will ever forget this,” Knobbe said. “Because they learned about the process. They learned about the art, they learned about storytelling. And it’s the same with the public. The each of these artists is doing amazing work. So there’s an exponential factor, there is impact.”

Poucel talked about how her experience working with the students was inspiring to see because they began coming up with their own environmental initiatives inspired by the show.

“They were so excited and they started having so many ideas that they came up with by themselves,” Poucel said. “Like, ‘Hey, what do you do? What was your mission? Your purpose? Oh, yeah, we’re gonna do like a group, so on Saturdays we’re gonna get together and we’re gonna go to the garden that’s next to my my building and then we’re gonna pick up the trash’ and then another side that they were going to write to our representatives and I’m like okay that’s the spirit that we need right now.”

The last day of the grant officially ends on June 30; however, BronxNet is now offering underwriting packages for small business owners, nonprofits and corporations to sponsor and support the continuation of the projects beyond the two-year grant.

“I’m looking forward to a continuum. We want to continue to build with these artists, these artists are producing incredible work,” Knobbe said. “So this is a clarion call for potential partners that BronxNet is your agile partner. It’s participatory media, it’s citizen journalism. It’s media arts and technology. It’s our Bronx, our home, our heart, be a part of it.”

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