Image: The Laundromat Project during their 2015 Field Day in Harlem.Osjua Newton; Courtesy of The Laundromat Project.
By Shannon Lee
“In many modest income and minority neighborhoods throughout New York City’s five boroughs, there has been an undeniable trend in real estate—attracted by the relatively low cost of living and opportunities for development, many communities previously ignored by the arts establishment for being too dangerous, too fringe, and/or commercially unviable have been recently flooded by gourmand coffee shops and gallery spaces with the ostensible intention of bringing art into these neighborhoods. While the ambition is well-meaning, what these spaces often represent is the erasure of a community’s pre-existing culture and creativity and, more importantly, rapid increases in local rent prices which ultimately push many long-standing residents out. This trend is colloquially referred to as “artwashing.”
Of course, there are art spaces and groups that are actively working to develop better practices and relationships, as discussed in last year’s article on the subject by Jillian Billard. Among those leading the fight against gentrification is the nonprofit, The Laundromat Project. Founded by Risë Wilson in 2005, The Laundromat Project has supported over 160 artists since its inception through its fellowship programs and artist’s residencies with the mission of facilitating and training artists on how to develop responsible community-based cultural programming. Initially inspired by the concept of utilizing and activating laundromats as inherently diverse and accessible community gathering spaces, the project now uses the laundromat metaphorically, having worked with libraries, community gardens, and all other manner of spaces throughout the city, which provokes the following associative experiment: what if, instead of artisanal coffee shops and white-cube gallery spaces, we imagined a laundromat as the symbol of the arts entering a community?
In this interview with Artspace editor Shannon Lee, Laundromat Project’s executive director Kemi Ilesanmi discusses the nonprofit’s history, its unique programming, and how to highlight the culture that already exists within neighborhoods responsibly.”
See the full interview here.