There are so many things. So I will tell you five of them, plus one for context.
Setting the stage.
In 2014 I started exploring Dutch Kills as part of an iLAND mini-residency. The death of the Welch farmhouse was one of the first stories I was told about Dutch Kills when I started asking residents: tell me what you love in your neighborhood. I heard it from many people. Here is the NY Daily News article and picture.
Where: 38-20 28th Street, Dutch Kills (LIC)
What: The Welch’s farm house, c. 1860. Family house for Eileen and her brother Robert Welch until she died in 2010, last of the original farming family who built the house.
NEIGHBORS RALLY TO SAVE HISTORIC DUTCH KILLS FARMHOUSE --
HOME FROM 1860S COULD BE TORN DOWN TO MAKE ROOM FOR A MULTI-FAMILY APARTMENT OR A SMALL HOTEL
BY Jason Sheftell / New York Daily News / Published: Thursday, June 21, 2012, 5:20 PM
This is no joke. What's it take to get a Buddhist monk, Catholic nun, three real estate moguls, a home-schooled pre-teen, two infants, a corporate lawyer and a drenched Pomeranian on a farmhouse porch on a rainy day in a neighborhood half of New York City has never heard of?
A house. A house built in the 1860s that some say was the original farm in one of New York's oldest neighborhoods. More specifically, a house that could be torn down to make way for a multi-family apartment building or a small hotel.
"They will sell the house to anyone who can offer $1.65 million cash," says the owners' representative who wished not to be identified.
To buy the little farmhouse in Dutch Kills, call (800) 771-7534.
From July 2012-May 2016 this is what people took me to see: an empty lot because the guy who tore the house down ran out of money. As of June 2016, the bulldozers have arrived and foundations for something that will cover the lot with concrete at some large height are in process.
Here is what I want you to understand. Vox Populi is not and never was a nostalgia project. It is about imagining possibilities for human interaction, even when the situation looks like crap.
What I spent 2 years doing.
My core activity in Vox Populi is eliciting clues to (through conversations, eavesdropping and a lot of walking the same routes over and over) and documenting (a constant experiment) the trails of affection, interest, personal history, familiarity, irritation, obsession, good intentions, screwing up, growing up, helping, needing help, seeing potential, acting or not acting that are what collectively end up as feeling connected to that part of New York City called the neighborhood. I use my skills as a choreographer to foster situations that showcase the people and things more of the world should know about before they became part of the vast bulldozing that was planned in the Koch administration and has come to full flower under Bloomberg and de Blasio.
Artifact 1. Photos recording physical transformation from low- to high-rise in Dutch Kills and Queens Plaza between 2014-2016. Subset: construction sites.
STREETWALKS: Dutch Kills. Photography show, July-September, 2015
Photographers: Sal Espinoza, Connie Murray, Eva Weiss, Nikita Chan, Martha Williams, Lise Brenner
Curators: Lise Brenner, Sal Espinoza
Venue: Our Coffee Shop, 38-08 29th Street, LIC
Beatrix Czagany, owner of Our Coffee Shop, suggested doing the show there to help jumpstart her vision of the coffee shop as a center for community activities. She kept the show up for several months because she liked how locals would come in and start talking about places they recognized.
Artifact 3: Joe Dente’s Dutch Kills. Beatrix introduced me to Joe, a Coffee Shop regular. One morning he came in with a book published by the Greater Astoria Historical Society about Dutch Kills, so Beatrix thought we should meet. Joe grew up in the same house he still lives in, just off 27th Street on 38th Avenue. A Hilton rises kitty-corner and has a roof-top bar with a view through dirty plexiglass across the river to Manhattan. Joe is Mr. Baseball and one of the things he tells me about is being a kid and a young man playing baseball in the lots and schoolyards, and drinking beer in the same bars as Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. He also tells me about watching the Con Ed plant go up down at the end of 39th Avenue, his father taking him to watch the last tram come over the 59th Street Bridge, his sister going to work at one of the local factories when she was 14, his mother taking him to buy vegetables from a farm over towards Sunnyside, and how most of his friends went to Vietnam and either died or came back addicted and destroyed. Kelly Williams took this photo.
Artifact 4: In November 2015 I was walking back to Brooklyn from Dutch Kills and went into a small shop called CzechSlovak Varieties on Jackson Avenue, right across the street from the Pulaski Bridge. Inside I found Milan Uherik, his toys, and his woodshop in the former kitchen at the back of the store. I organized a pre-Easter Wooden Toymaking Workshop with Milan for Atlas Obscura that had 30 adults sitting around painting toy rabbits on wheels and eating pizza. Milan’s grandfather was a woodworker, his father was a metal worker, and Milan worked as a machinist and designer in several of the high-end lighting manufacturers that used to operate in LIC. He opened the shop when his last factory closed.
Artifact 5: After witnessing two Dutch Kills Found Art tours/scavenger hunts I organized with Atlas Obscura that included Our Coffee Shop, Beatrix is working with Melanie Lemiux, another local business owner (New York Stage of Mind) and The Baroness Bar, to start their own neighborhood tours. The goal: get the hotel tourists off the Hilton rooftop and into neighborhood businesses.
Come visit before its gone.