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Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Performance on a Dirty Corner

There was no lack of spectators for the performance down on the corner. Many even returned to watch the show on its second and third days. "I've lived here for 30 years," or "I've lived here for 40 years," several of them stopped to say, "and I'm so glad you're doing this."

Creating a mural is a public performance. Of course, the finished artwork is a permanent installation, but the process of transforming a space in the middle of daily street life becomes performance art in its own right.

East 207th Street and Bainbridge Avenue has always been an unremarkable and rather dirty corner.  The side of the bodega is a blank wall that consistently attracted juvenile tagging, which local anti-graffiti group Norwood Against Graffiti (NAG) routinely rolled over with fresh paint, seemingly refreshing the canvas for the next set of tags. Meanwhile, the sidewalk and tree pits had long accumulated trash. A couple local characters spend their afternoons sitting on the corner with a drink in hand. It was the leftover backside of a small commercial building, a little place that had mostly been abandoned for decades. It was a place that people shuffled through, dulled by the mundane ugliness.

While most people were resigned to walking by the griminess on this corner as an immutable fact of life, something they had effectively tuned out, Elisabeth von Uhl saw the possibility of creating a place that had more to contribute to the community. It took a few years of effort and a couple false starts, but with some perseverance and persuasion, she eventually partnered with ArtBridge and secured funding from Councilmember Andrew Cohen. ArtBridge brought in artist Laura Alvarez who designed and painted the mural.