Curated by NoLIta participant Feisal Ahmad
04 jun 2014 by art:i:curate team
As part of our 'Curated by NoLIta' project, we met with the curators: people living and working in the neighborhood.
Ky Katrensky met with strategist Feisal Ahmad, who has been observing the area for over a decade.
KK: Tell me something about yourself.
FA: I've been a local underground DJ and producer in New York for the entire time I've lived here, and it's been interesting to see the different directions this neighborhood has taken when it comes to music.
KK: Why did you get involved with art:i:curate and this project?
FA: art:i:curate crew reached out to me with details on the project, and it seemed like a very intriguing idea. Why did I get involved? It seems like this unique platform can provide an innovative and fresh approach to draw new connections between artists and their local communities, and also increase general public awareness and interest in creative endeavors. I wanted to learn more about how art:i:curate is trying to make this happen.
KK: What do you hope to take away from it?
FA: I'm interested in seeing how the off-line/on-line interaction within this project ends up playing out, and also hope to utilize it as an opportunity to identify artists and projects that I can follow in the future. The notion of easily keeping up with a local scene over time, is very appealing to me, living in a city that is as hectic as New York.
KK: How do you normally take in art?
FA: However I can get it...walking down the street; reading about it in magazines and publications, checking out shows in formal venues, or in some cases informal ones as well. I do feel like I've recently been following art more closely through social avenues such as Facebook, but that FB and other platforms are somewhat shallow and feel very marketing-centric, a short-attention-span approach.
KK: What does the term "curating" mean to you?
FA: I'd say that I have a somewhat open-ended view of curation. I feel like that word sits somewhere in the sticky web between criticism (formal/art historical or otherwise), taste-making, subjective/aesthetic/emotional outlooks, and shared social outlooks. When I was working as the editorial coordinator for Rhizome.org and curating the Artbase, it was a matter that often relied on an empathetic debate, attempting to understanding what the artist was looking to achieve and determining what the piece was 'bringing to the table' given the context of the approach, and our discussion on the piece.
KK: When did you move to NoLIta/LES?
FA: I moved here way back in 2002 and am (un?)fortunately still living in the same apartment. When I first moved here, I would say that in this neighborhood, art and creativity was a more public, less formal lifestyle and expression, rather than a formally (a la gallery)-manifested endeavor. There was a vibrancy to the neighborhood that drew me in, a very similar vibe to Williamsburg at the time. I think both neighborhoods have evolved in similar manners since then, with residential commodification and property-value acceleration thrown into the mix, a creative/commercial clash that manifests itself in different ways.
KK: Where did you live before and where are you from?
FA: I was actually on the South side of Williamsburg prior to moving to Manhattan. Born in Pakistan, I was raised in the suburbs of Boston.
KK: What do you like best about your part of town and what don't you like at all?
FA: Starting with the negative, I do feel that many of the creative residents in this neighborhood have been priced out - it's become a place to travel to and interact, rather than a place to live and interact. There are certain neighborhood businesses, organizations, and residents that have fought this tide. But ultimately, I think we'll continue to see more high-rises, ever-expanding rents, and therefore a tougher battle to live and create. There's only so long that creative types can hold out, as rents simply become unmanageable.
On the flip side, the New Museum's growth and expansion in the neighborhood has gone a long way to keep the artistic dream alive, and many local gallery owners and audiences have followed suit. I love the fact that this area now holds a number of interesting shows at any given time.
KK: What sets NoLIta apart from the surrounding neighborhoods?
FA: There's still a good mix of different types of people here - which I think is the classic melting-pot element in NYC. I would say it combines the best elements of the East Village and Soho, retaining some of the bohemian flavor of both while adding a bit of an ethnic and immigrant-flavored grit.
KK: Do you know any of your neighbors?
FA: I do, that's why we try to make it a neighborhood. There's nothing better than meeting, mingling and mixing with locals as they try to live their own version of the city dream.
KK: Do you hope to connect with your neighbors through this project?
KK: Are there any notable neighborhood characters?
FA: Many, although I'd have to say fewer and fewer. The one that I always watch out for is the 'man in white,' which neighborhood residents will know immediately who I'm talking about. I've never said hello to him though, but he's been here for as long as I have, and probably much longer.
KK: Have you heard any stories about the history of NoLIta?
FA: I haven't had a chance to take any of the museum visits such as the Tenement Museum, but there used to be a great show on MNN (the public access network) that would document downtown personalities, telling their own stories and creating a shared history. Some of these stories were truly incredible, though I can't recall the name of the show.
KK: What do you see as the future of NoLIta?
FA: Unfortunately I see a long-term disintegration in terms of local community...and that's a fate I feel may be in store for large chunks of Manhattan. Unless affordable housing is somehow retained or created, we'll all be tourists in one way or another.
KK: Favorite New York moment?
FA: Too many to count unfortunately! I'd hate to limit to just one. I would say my favorite semi-regular moment is when you are away for the city for a while and come back, see the skyline again. It's a welcome sight.