In Bushwick, One Artist’s Renaissance is Another’s Lament

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Anthony Rosado (left) and Christopher Stout at an installation Rosado curated for a Bushwick art criticism group that Stout founded and Rosado had criticized.

William Mathis

Anthony Rosado (left) and Christopher Stout at an installation Rosado curated for a Bushwick art criticism group that Stout founded and Rosado had criticized.

Though Anthony Rosado and Christopher Stout are both artists in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Rosado grew up there and he wants that distinction to be clear. He says Stout, like many drawn to the changing neighborhood in recent years, does not fully comprehend the impact of gentrification.

“He cannot understand the exclusivity that native Bushwick residents feel,” Rosado says. “You can take and not even know you’re taking.”

Stout, in contrast, is the more established, experienced artist, and sees himself not as an interloper, but as a facilitator who can help aspiring artists like Rosado by moving into their community. The two artists personify what many see as the sharp edge of gentrification – and the way artists often seem to represent the first wave of change that drives out longtime residents and shops in favor of new, younger, wealthier residents and coffee shops and yoga studios that demand higher rents.

Rosado, 24, is a visual artist and dancer of Puerto Rican descent who lived in Bushwick with his family until rising rents forced them to move from the neighborhood when he was 12. After he graduated from Trinity College in 2013, he moved back to Bushwick on his own to practice art and to engage with his old community.

In March, Rosado used social media to call out Stout and the arts non-profit Stout runs, the Bushwick Art Crit Group. “Being that none of the artists curated by and part of Bushwick Art Crit Group are of color nor from Bushwick, I fear for the future of my fellow black and brown youth,” Rosado posted to Instagram. “The commodity that New York City transplants make of every gentrified community further invalidates the representation felt by black and brown youth.”

He then called on Stout to engage with him and the native Bushwick community. “Christopher Stout, I would love to have an open discussion,” he wrote. “The benefits gentrifiers get from gentrification are too rapidly stripping my community of its culture and me of my sanity.”

The two ultimately met in person for a heated confrontation that led to a sort of reconciliation. On June 17, Stout stepped aside from his normal role with his organization to allow Rosado to guest curate an installment of the Bushwick Art Crit Group’s monthly lecture series. The presentation, entitled Native Bushwick, gave Rosado a platform to showcase the work of five artists, including himself, who grew up in the neighborhood.

“For a lot of people, [Bushwick] is just a stop on the way to bigger and better things,” says Bianca Perez, a visual artist and writer who presented works of photography as one of the five artists in the Native Bushwick series.

At 21, Perez has lived her whole life in the same building with her mother, who immigrated to Bushwick from the Dominican Republic. In 2005 a new landlord purchased the building. With the neighborhood changing, he wanted to charge higher rent and began to pressure the family to pay up or move out.

After a few years of uncertainty, Perez and her mother came home one winter night in 2013 to find an eviction notice on the door. With the help of the Brooklyn Housing Independence Project, a local advocacy group, and a lawyer from Brooklyn Legal Services, Perez’s mother successfully fought the eviction in court and signed a new lease that confirmed the apartment’s rent stabilized status.

Despite ultimately being able to stay in her home, the experience was a traumatic one. “It affected everything,” Perez says.

She wants Stout and other new residents in the neighborhood like him to understand her perspective. “Being a person of color from a low-income area you are not encouraged to do art,” she says. “We don’t grow up thinking self-expression is a right.”

Stout, now in his early 40s, started his art career when he dropped out of the University of Maryland to dedicate himself to painting. He later moved to San Francisco in the 1990s where he continued to produce visual art, worked in galleries and wrote for an art magazine.

In 2007 he made his way to New York City and opened a studio in DUMBO. But when the financial crisis hit in 2008, he could no longer afford the rent. A year later he re-opened it in Bushwick where the rent was cheaper. He then started the Bushwick Art Crit Group to give artists more access to feedback on their work and also to help make the connection between artists and gallery curators, who often sit in the audience during artists’ lectures. “We consider ourselves a portal,” he says.

Stout says he never considered the idea of Bushwick as an identity exclusive to people who were born there. “Native Bushwick artists, no one’s ever really thought of that before that I’m familiar with,” he muses. “There’s a whole group of people. I don’t know how they feel.”  

“In our mind we haven’t done anything wrong,” Stout resolves. He sees gentrification as a natural part of the constant development of the city. “This is a cycle that’s happened innumerable times,” he says.

Before Wednesday’s event Stout described his relationship with Rosado as emotionally charged. “I’m conflicted about the fact that we’re about to run a program where, on face value, some of the people that are sharing about their work say we’re the bad guy,” he said. By the time the presentation began on the evening of June 17, the relationship had evolved slightly. Before he handed the stage over to Rosado, Stout reflected on the history of the two artists’ collaboration. “I think you’re saying I’m part of the problem,” Stout said. “That’s cool. I want people to come and speak their truth.”

One of the pieces Rosado presented was a collage titled “Un día.” “This is a present to myself when I have my first child,” he said. “The first place I’ll take my child is to Bushwick.” Scrawled across the canvas are lines of verse about a supposed tour Rosado and his future child will take in his old neighborhood:

“My hij@ will look from me to our ruins
and back, wondering
‘where are we from?’
un día”

Rosado dreams that perhaps native Bushwick residents and newcomers can at some point work together for significant measures to fight gentrification like reforming the tax code to prevent the construction of luxury condos. For now, though, his aims are more modest. “Anything I do is to induce conversation,” he said. “Just plant seeds.”

“I want a bridging of the communities because I can’t kick everyone out,” he said with a slight laugh. “As much as I want to.”

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  • ExpertWitness

    Rosado’s family moved away from Bushwick in 2003 because of rising rents?? Bullshit. Gentrification sucks, but this kid isn’t suffering from it, he’s appropriating it.

    • maria565

      why is that bullshit? that’s very easy for me to believe.

  • PrepaidVisa

    “Native Bushwick artists, no one’s ever really thought of that before that I’m familiar with,” he muses” Really? Lots of people he knows have brought it up over and over again… LOTS

  • goodbye blue monday

    money always trumps art. development will always displaces the poor, especially in Vapid City.

  • ReallyNative

    I’m a designer and artist who was born in 1955 in Bushwick, grew up there and spent much of my life in Bushwick and Ridgewood. Having lived through the many stages of the neighborhood I get more than a little uncomfortable when people like Anthony Rosado talk about the newcomers as ruining the “native Bushwick community”. Which community? Since he throws around Spanish words in his lament, I assume he means the supposed threat to the Latino community, but I don’t recall Bushwick’s community taking on a strongly Latino cast until about at least the mid-70’s. Don’t like newcomers from middle America coming into Bushwick? Well, my mom moved to Bushwick from western Pennsylvania – in 1938. I had relatives who moved there at that time from Ohio and Colorado, and my neighbors in the 60s were from West Virginia, and had artist neighbors even back then. Bushwick isn’t a Barrio or just a community, but a section of Brooklyn bigger than many mid-sized American cities, and was developed in the early 20th century to be both economically and ethnically diverse. It is now back on that trajectory after a half-century of disruption.

    • maria565

      what was the so called disruption you speak of? Black and Latino people were a disruption?

      • ReallyNative

        no, I mean the disruption of wars, recessions, the NYC financial crisis in the 70s, the shift to suburbia that contributed to urban poverty and the perception of neighborhoods like Bushwick as a blighted landscape. Now that things are going in reverse there’s opportunities for all the communities of Bushwick to benefit if gentrification is managed and doesn’t overwhelm it.

        • Nicolas Savvides

          You Raise a good point, but the Latino Community, and all other impoverished communities were under-educated, under-resourced, etc. – which made eating and shelter the number 1 priority. We are living in a time where the poor, black, or brown person have access and resources for the first time – I’m talking about people under the age of 28/30. When your family first moved to Bushwick, it was affordable, when latinos and blacks were moving in, (even though it was unfortunate that only whites were allowed to move to suburbs). Now – the immigrant, the poor person looking to establish themselves in this city – has lost yet another neighborhood… to the Gentrifier – who instead of creating opportunity in their own home town – opt for Bushwick… Peace Though – Happy conversations

          • ReallyNative

            For one thing, how are you so sure the “Gentrifier” is not from Bushwick but from some distant town? Again, people are confusing “Gentrifier” with “Newcomer”. The gentrifiers are the people who see that a district or neighborhood is ripe for economic redevelopment, either business or residential, sometimes both simultaneously, or often one follows the other. The gentrifiers are mostly bankers, investors, landlords, hedge fund managers, etc., who see that such change can lead to a big positive return on investment. The gentrifiers have determined that Bushwick is ready for this change because of (a) a good mix of decent housing stock, (b) old commercial buildings that are outdated for traditional manufacturing but can be reconfigured for the new manufacturing or for housing, (c)location in NYC and Brooklyn, and (d)access to mass transportation. Plus its size, which means a lot of economic potential, again equal to a mid-size American city. All this makes it attractive to some people including some newcomers. This process has been going on in the neighborhoods of NYC since it was New Amsterdam. To think you can suit a neighborhood to the way it best serves you by as Rosado says “kicking people out” is ridiculous, if not worse.

          • ReallyNative

            besides, isn’t “kicking out people” what people hate the gentrifiers for doing? – Peace

  • David Sanders

    i stand on point with nicolas and maria565 i been a bushwick resident over the last 54 years of my 57 i have seen the changes from the 60’s and up some good some bad the gentrifiers are not all artists so i will not go forward on that but racially there were neighborhoods that were where people of color felt at home bed-stuy was the african american epicenter as was bushwick one of the puerto rican epicenters ridgewood was the white epicenter and so on this was how it was everyone looked out for their communities then after the fires which we all know where arson to collect and get out schemes the neighborhoods were the place to get cheap property from city owned lots to homes of people just taking pennies on the dollar for their worth now comes the second generation of columbus where we are almost being put through the same trials (accept what we want bullshit ) higher rents and people just arriving calling for the name changing of streets such be the case in mention graham ave (avenida de puerto rico ) because they feel it does not represent their arrival it was named that for a reason so who are you to just come and say it is offensive you dont like it dont move here and expect it to change because you want it to on another note the music shop on maujer and graham has been around since forever and now because you dont like it you want him to turn the outside music down in my words vete pal carajo go to hell do not pass go do not collect 2oo dollars we were fine before the gentrifiers and im sure we would be fine with out them as well period

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