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  • Having finished up a great school year, including the amazing Humanities Prep Student Music Showcase, our summer programs have hit the ground running.  A new music enrichment program was launched with the Upper West Side JCC for K-4th graders four days a week, and AFP is hosting a summer music program at Humanities Preparatory Academy.

    Since the bulk of my work with AFP involves school programs, in addition to AFP’s summer Jazz program for older kids, Frank, Allyson and I are always looking for opportunities to contribute to the rest of the community through workshops during the summer. This summer, I have been going to 97th Street four mornings a week to introduce music to students enrolled in the JCC’s Summer Enrichment Program. The program is for under-served kindergarteners through 5th graders, and boy, do we have a good time! I bring my guitar, and a bunch of drums and percussion instruments for everyone, including the teen tutors in the class, to play. Before we get to jamming, I show everyone how to clap in time and count out measures. We play rhythm games and try to follow each other, and the kids get to make up their own rhythms, first on the whiteboard, then on the instruments. It is amazing how quickly kids will pick up the basic concepts that are the foundation of reading and playing music in the context of a game. On my second day, the class I had worked with on the first day marched into the other class ten minutes before the end of class with their own homemade shakers that they had made as a project in crafts class that day! One student, Tyberius, even brought his own electric guitar and amplifier to school and asked to be allowed to participate in the music class for another grade. This little boy was honestly one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever met in my life. He told me he wants to be famous, so I told him “Famous wants to be you, Tyberias, you are entertainment itself!”

    AFP is hosting a summer music instruction program, held in the music classroom at Humanities Preparatory Academy, which is offered to AFP current and former music students who have excelled, and are seeking more advanced instruction in music theory, guitar, piano, voice, bass, and drums. The last session focused on the song “At Last”, made famous by Etta James. We first worked out the chords on the piano, choosing chord inversions that take advantage of the piano’s layout, but also discussing the character and function of each chord in the progression, then we translated that progression to the bass, arpeggiating each of the chords in eight notes, then dropping out every other note to make a walking bassline from the chord tones. Next, we found the chords on the guitar, again finding inversions that make use of the unique voice of the guitar. Once everyone was comfortable with their parts, I played the drum-set, while we played through the progression slowly, then faster. Again, I’m blown away by how quickly we went from counting keys on the piano and building chords, to manifesting a simple jazz ensemble. I’m looking forward to the next session, where we’ll start to explore melodies and soloing.

    That’s all for now! Enjoy these pics from some of AFP’s classes and workshops


  • Recently I saw the Kara Walker installation “A Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby” which was on display at the forme r Domino Sugar Factorythrough July 6th. The event was organized by Creative Time, an arts based nonprofit that has commissioned various large scale public art projects with many artists within New York and internationally since 1974. The full title of the piece, “A Subtlety Or The Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” has poetic undertones and underscores many of the complex issues that Walker is driving at within the installation.

    On a recent weekend, I made the trek to Williamsburg to see Walker’s installation. When I arrived at the Kent Street waterfront where the Domino Sugar factory is located, I was astounded by the amount of people in line. It extend down the street for almost an entire block. I took my place in the back of line with only my sunglasses to shield me from the late spring sun and waited. As the line continued to grow, several volunteers for Creative Time emerged to help answer questions and to hand out releases to sign to enter the factory. The line progressed and soon I was in the factory.

    When I entered the space, I was overcome by a smell—a pungent, sticky and sweet aroma that seemed to fill the factory. The overwhelming odor was present partly because of the materials Walker used and the build up of molasses on the walls from years of production. As I walked further into the space, I encountered the first part of the installation: fifteen cast sculptures of young boys that were placed throughout the factory floor. Standing at five feet tall these resin and sugar cast boys are depicted carrying large baskets or bunches of bananas and are reminiscent of the figurines one might buy as a souvenir in a roadside shop. The cast sugar boys show physical signs of being left out in the open for weeks– some had formed a sugar puddle around them while others had parts of their baskets and banana bunches shifting from their original location
    1APhoto Credit: Creative Time

    Against the backdrop of these sculptures, the sugar woman towers over the sculpture measuring 35.5 feet high by 26 feet wide and 75.5 feet long. The figure is naked, crouched on all fours with her exposed, elongated limbs commanding the factory space. Around the sculpture is trail of sugar which traces the outline of her body. She is beautiful, fantastical, and jarring. It is evocative of the larger meta-commentary Walker is making on the history of the sugar trade but also trudges up issues surrounding race and sexuality. The imagery and subject matter are no stranger to Walker’s work who is best known for her wall installations which use black paper silhouettes that explore race, gender, sexuality, identity and the history of slavery. “A Subtlety” is Walker’s most ambitious work to date and does not back down in the sociocultural issues it is raising.
    walker4Photo Credit: Creative Time

    It is a powerful statement that has been able to engage various communities from the greater New York City area and beyond. From the Domino Sugar factory who donated the sugar for the work, to many volunteers who have come out each weekend to lend a hand in help others enjoy Walker’s work; there are many levels to kind of labor involved in the creation of this work, the labor of the sugar trade and those who have come to view the installation.

    Photo Credit: Creative Time Photo Credit: Creative Time

    One of the volunteers I encountered that day was Shelton Roberts, a retired Domino factory worker who had come back to his former place of employment to help out with Walker’s exhibition. Roberts who worked at the factory from 1984 to 2004, held various position within the corporation. His jobs included being a wash station operator and forklift operator to overseeing the maintenance of the plant in various capacities. When Roberts came across the call for volunteers for the Walker installation he jumped at the chance to help out. Roberts said, “As a volunteer for the Walker installation, it has made me laugh and cry at times. The exhibit is so powerful and it really gives the public to treat to see the work. It also gives them a chance to learn about the sugar refinery process”.

    While Roberts is right that Walker’s installation does involve the sugar refinery process, it also serves as a commentary on the history of sugar, the consumption it and what the implications of this are on a larger social scale. While sugar is no longer a luxury, it is through the overwhelming consumption of it that has sparked debates around health, poverty and how it is disproportionally effecting the poor. When you are faced with 80 tons of sugar in a former sugary refinery plant the reality of this conversation becomes illustrated in a new way. In many ways this is exactly what Walker intended for the work to do: to spark imagination, conversation, and debate around an everyday commodity that often is taken for granted. However, as Walker reminds us, the history of sugar and those involved in it, is nothing but complicated.

    –Anni Irish

  • Within recent years, Brooklyn has become a place that many artists have flocked to. One such artist is Dianna Carlin, who has been active within the Brooklyn arts scene since 2000. Carlin who is better known as Lola Star, has become a local celebrity through her popular Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Disco. Dreamland Roller Disco first opened in 2010 and combined Carlin’s love of rollerskating and the glamor of Coney Island for a wide audience to enjoy. However, the skating rink sadly closed in 2010.

    After four years of searching for new location, Dreamland recently reopened in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Rink. Each Friday Lola Star will host themed skating parties in the new location. This week’s party will be based on the 1980 film “Xanadu” staring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck. With more dance parties on the horizon, Carlin is “excited” to have Dreamland up and running again. The skate parties are scheduled to go through the end of August but Carlin hopes to offer more parties in fall and winter months.

    Lola Star in Prospect Park's Lakeside Rink Photo Credit: Lola Star

    Lola Star in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Rink Photo Credit: Lola Star

    I recently spoke with Carlin about how she got the name Lola Star, how she has adapted to the changing face of Brooklyn and what role community activism has played within her work. Carlin got the nickname because, “I use to skate around my parent’s basement listening to Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ on repeat and dreamed of being a rollerskating star. My parents would yell downstairs ‘What are you doing down there Lola?’” This was in reference to the song’s main character, a showgirl named Lola. The nickname became a part of Carlin’s artistic alter ego and she would eventually name her Coney Island boutique after it.

    After Carlin graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in fine art, she moved to Brooklyn. Although she studied oil panting in college, Carlin had always had an interest in screen printing and had been an entrepreneur from a young age. Carlin said, “I was always an entrepreneur. For example, when I was a kid and first learned how to french braid, I made a catalog of the different styles and sold them to my neighbors for a quarter. When my parents gave me a weaving loom, I wove blankets for my friends’ Cabbage Patch dolls. I was always trying to make and sell things.”

    People have fun at the first Lola Star Roller Dance Party on 7/11/14. Photo Credit: Lola Star

    People have fun at the first Lola Star Roller Dance Party on 7/11/14. Photo Credit: Lola Star

    Carlin’s “make and sell things” attitude continued through high school as well. As a teenager, she began to design t-shirts and sell them. Carlin said “I learned to screen print in high school in art class and really enjoyed it. In the summer between high school and college, I opened my first store, The Groovy Rainbow Planet. At the time, I was selling t shirts at raves, clubs and other venues within the electronic music community around Detroit.”

    When Carlin moved to Brooklyn after college, she became fascinated by the history of Coney Island and what it had become. After spending a lot of them there, Carlin noticed “there wasn’t a cute place to buy a Coney Island t shirt.” With her background in screen printing, and prior business successes, Carlin set out yet again to start a new enterprise which specialized in Coney Island themed clothing. Today, Carlin has two shops located on Coney Island’s boardwalk and plans to open a third shop in Williamsburg in the fall.

    Currently, Carlin works out of her production studio in Sunset Park where she makes many of the products she sells. Like Sunset Park, Coney Island has undergone many periods of change. In 2008, after yet another effort to develop the historic Coney Island amusement district, Carlin intervened with the help of others to form Save Coney Island, a non profit dedicated to stopping the development of the area. Although more changes have come in recent years Carlin said, When I first opened my store in Coney Island 14 years ago, I had no idea it was on the cusp of change and resurgence. Since then, it has been a wild roller coaster of change. With Echelon closing and the city rezoning Coney Island, there has been even more developments which have come about.” Through Carlin’s efforts and genuine investment in the Coney Island community, she has helped to make Coney Island a better place in her own way.

    Carlin hard at work in her Sunset Park studio.

    Carlin hard at work in her Sunset Park studio.

    However as a working artist and female business owner in Brooklyn, Carlin has faced many obstacles, “My experience of being an artist in Brooklyn has been really positive. I think Brooklyn in general is really supportive of the arts. Although, I faced a lot of challenges as a female business owner in Coney Island. When I first opened my store, I was met with lot of opposition because I am a woman and was not from Brooklyn.” Although Carlin faced a lot of challenges in the beginning, she has overcome them and is now strong than ever.

    Lola and her sidekick, Shimmer.

    Lola and her sidekick, Shimmer.

    As an artistic individual with a unique vision, Carlin has continued to work on the kinds of projects she is passionate about. And she has done this a community she feels a part of. Carlin said “From starting Save Coney Island, I learned I was extremely passionate about community in general. I see it as a larger component of my art and creativity and it is something that has become a huge part of who I am.” Carlin realizes the importance that community ties have and this has been demonstrated within her work in the Save Coney Island organization as well as being active within animal rights by fostering dogs who are in need of a home. She has also organized free weekly Yoga classes that take place on beach at Coney Island. Currently, Carlin is busy writing a book about her adventures which will have illustrations while also adding to her growing number of products in her boutiques. It is Carlin’s enthusiasm and genuine love for the Coney Island community and it’s history, which will help keep her involved in it for decades to come.

    Lola Star’s fantastic skate parties take place from 8-10 PM on Friday nights in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Rink. Admissions is $15 which includes skate rentals and a list of the party themes can be found here

    –Anni Irish

  • Community Workshop 2013

    As a relatively new member and contributor to Art For Progress I wanted to take this opportunity to explain what drew me to the organization and what it has meant to me over the past year and a half. I also, wanted to congratulate all of those who have helped the organization to serve the local community for 10 years. That is truly an amazing feat! As we look ahead to the second half of the summer, I thought it might also be a good idea to give a little preview of what to expect for the rest of the summer from our local music scene in NYC.

    Firstly, any great organization is made up of great people and I realized early on that AFP was no exception. The dedication of the teachers and volunteers was evident from the first event I attended and has not waned since.  This first event was a workshop at the gallery of an AFP artist called NOoSPHERE ARTS. The workshop was aimed at introducing young children from the LES to music, art and photography. At one point in the day two young kids started making music, one on the cowbell and one on the keyboard. It was at this moment that I truly understood the impact of what AFP was doing and the passion of the teachers who dedicate their time to this organization.

    AFP is a true grassroots effort and that was one of the things that attracted me to it. This past fall and winter we organized a monthly live music event called “Homegrown,” that featured local acts from the NYC area, ten in total. The quality of the music was a testament to the amazing music scene we have in this city. This was one of my first forays into event organization and it was a really positive experience; one that makes me look forward to many more years of supporting NYC artists.

    Below is a short calendar of shows that will be worth catching over the next two months. Thanks for reading!


    7/7/14:  Glass Animals @ Mercury Lounge – Their song Pyslla has quickly become one of my favorites. This will be a great chance to catch them before they step up to larger rooms.

    7/16/14:  Flume @ Terminal 5 – One of three shows they are playing at Terminal 5. I am still enjoying his 2012 self-titled album.

    7/24/14:  Sun Kil Moon @ Town Hall – Playing in support of their 6th studio album. I have never seen them, but I have heard lead singer and guitarist, Mark Kozelek, puts on a great show.

    7/28/14:  Born Cages @ Mercury Lounge

    7/29/14:  Conor Oberst w/ special guest Dawes @ SummerStage


    8/14/14:  The Midnight Hallow @ Mercury Lounge

    8/20/14:  Frances Cone & The Novel Ideas @ Knitting Factory

    8/23/14:  Ski Lodge @ Glasslands

    -Peter Trombino

  • Art for Progress Music Programs

    Art for Progress Music Programs

    This spring AFP Arts Education Programs are celebrating the completion of our eighth school year serving NYC Public Schools with exciting, confidence building visual art and music classes and after school programs. AFP Arts Education Programs at the James Baldwin School, Humanities Preparatory Academy, and Hudson High School all expanded this year, and we continue to provide after school music programs at Quest 2 Learn, and at Hudson High School for Learning Technologies. Students at the James Baldwin School asked for an after school program where they could learn music production and beat-making, so AFP implemented a program that brings aspiring producers, rappers and singers together to learn the skills necessary to create professional quality recordings. Humanities Prep’s Music Program had unprecedented success this year, introducing a number of talented students to their first instruments, and fostering the continued development of returning students through after school opportunities.

    In general, AFP has helped to cultivate the creative culture that is now a primary component of the school. Many students and faculty performed in a talent showcase to end the school year on June 6th. Sophomore Abril Tiburcio brought the house down with her interpretation of Lana Del Rey’s “Ride”, while 2014 valedictorian and class president Michelle Bello sang The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” They were backed by Tiana Bush on bass, and Genesis Castillo pounding out the infectious rhythm on the drums. Junior Sean Carey performed a challenging classical piano composition “Openings” by Philip Glass, and senior Aaron Pierre wowed the crowd with his rendition of Matisyahu’s “One Day”, and Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”. AFP teaching artist and Chemistry teacher Rajni Tibrewala performed Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluia”, and was asked to do a repeat performance at the Humanities Prep graduation ceremony.

    Art for Progress also provided arts education workshops to community events in Brooklyn, at the “Save Our Streets Block Party,” and in the Bronx, at the Urban Yoga Foundation/American Heart Association Health Fair at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Many kids attended and participated with various art projects and beginner lessons on guitar, bongo drums and piano. Stay tuned for highlights from this spring’s after school programs and AFP summer music workshops.

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