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?’
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.”