NYC Progressives’ public art campaign centers housing and homelessness crises as priorities for city budget

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On Thursday, artists and members of the City Council involved in the Futures NYC public art campaign unveiled their work at City Hall Park.
Photo courtesy Futures NYC

Progressives on the City Council, along with three NYC advocacy organizations — Make the Road NY, VOCAL-NY and Hester Street — have launched a new wheatpasting public art campaign that hopes to leave its fingerprints on Mayor Eric Adams’ first budgeting process.

On a rainy Thursday, organizers, the six participating artists of the Futures NYC campaign and six councilmembers — Tiffany Caban, Shekar Krishnan and Sandy Nurse of Queens, and Shahana Hanif, Rita Joseph and Chi Ossé of Brooklyn — presented their visions for a “new and more compassionate” New York in City Hall Park, calling on the city to reinvest in housing affordability, social services and ending mass incarceration in the proposed budget framework.

The public art campaign comes at an interesting time in the city’s budget process as councilmembers — particularly on New York’s progressive side of the political spectrum — have cited to the Bronx Times that key budget issues, including housing and police budgeting, have been an obstacle to agreement.

The mayor has outlined his latest version of the city’s next budget earlier this month revising his original preliminary spending plan that was released in March to include more social services, renew organics recycling and boost funding for public safety initiatives. Adams billed the budget as one that makes historic investments in public housing and career development initiatives, while reining in spending in anticipation of pandemic-era federal funding expiring at the end of this year.

Housing experts and advocates, however, say the latest funding plan still fails to provide enough resources for a city emerging from a pandemic amid rising rents, mounting eviction cases and nearly 50,000 residents staying in homeless shelters each night.

With rent increases on the horizon and affordable housing stalling, Bronx residents ask ‘can I afford to live here?’

“We deserve a city that understands us, unites us, and uplifts us — and we deserve a budget that makes this possible,” said Adilka Pimentel, youth organizer and poet featured in Futures NYC. “This campaign is meant to provoke the wants and needs of each New Yorker and this say ‘this is what I am envisioning for my city’ and the beauty is that anyone can participate and make their voice heard through this space.”

Featured artists like Iranian-born illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh used digital cutout animation and then-now storytelling to call for the city’s budget to create guaranteed pathways to housing, health care and a reimagined vision of law enforcement amid left-leaning movements citing the overreach of police budgets and authority in recent years.

Kheiriyeh’s illustration depicts a homeless man sleeping on a city street with a newspaper for a blanket before the frame then begins to shake and the man is teleported into a bed inside of a house with a façade adorned with a banner reading “Supportive Housing For All.” In their analysis of New York’s layered housing and homelessness problem — where median rent is $3,200 while minimum wage pay has stagnated at $15 per hour — Hester Street calls on the city to address more homelessness through increased funding of social services and increased equity of housing.

According to the city Department of Homeless Services’ 2021 head count, there were roughly 78,000 undomiciled New Yorkers, 33% of whom were children.

Adams’ budget for 2023 comes in at $99.7 billion, $1.2 billion larger than his preliminary budget and $1 billion more than the agreed budget for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. This latest budget is not a final document; Adams’ administration and City Council leaders will need to negotiate the final numbers ahead of the start of the next fiscal year.

“In my artworks, I would like to engage audiences in conversation about social, environmental and racial justice,” said Kheiriyeh, who moved to New York from Iran in 2011 to study art at the School of Visual Arts. “The goal was to suggest to the new mayoral administration some creative solutions for the existing issues. In my animations, I imagined what NYC might look and feel like in the future if our communities change policy platforms. Each video consists of two scenes — New York now and New York in the future.”

Other pieces like Yuko Okabe’s poster which illustrates a school bus with prison bars for windows that are being pried open by children inside, with the words “Restorative Justice In Schools” emblazoned on the side of the bus, take a direct stab at public policy and approach. The campaign also showcases letters and musings from New Yorkers on topics that affect all of city life from police presence in neighborhoods to access to healthy food and health care.

“This concept shows the oppressive presence of policed schools, and how restorative justice methods would help empower and liberate students,” said artist Yuko Okabe. Photo Adrian Childress

Fellow Progressive Pierina Sanchez, a Fordham councilmember, said the campaign could be an empowering call for New Yorkers, particularly those in the outer boroughs who would like to see the city take major steps in addressing systemic issues in their neighborhoods.

Growing up, revolutionary music both empowered me about the world I could live in, and inspired me to create that change. Art and culture has been integral to who we are as people, and help us reimagine possibilities,” said Sanchez. “New York City, particularly the Bronx, has a vibrant history of imagining what our world can look like, where the people have access to resources, where gun violence is sieged and where people can live outside the interlocking systems of oppression that often dictate how communities live and exist.”

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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