In 2008, Penn State School of Visual Arts faculty members John Bowman and Ann Shostrom founded First Street Green (FSG) with the goal of cleaning up the rat-infested vacant lot next to their New York City apartment and creating an “art park” for the Lower East Side community. After three years of planning, fundraising, and gathering local support, their dream became a reality when they launched First Street Green in First Park in collaboration with New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Partnership for Parks.
Today First Street Green not only serves as a valued community asset in the Lower East Side, but also an important place for Penn State art students to gain hands-on experience in arts administration and event planning through internships.
According to Bowman, FSG’s interns—which have also come from New York University and Cooper Union—carry out a variety of crucial functions for the organization, including coordination of publicity and social media, logistical support, and community outreach. “We rely on the interns for their expertise in working on the proliferating social platforms that are re-making our contemporary internet commons,” said Bowman. “They also help us with essential analog functions, like providing muscle for deploying our material resources in the park, placing seating, providing electrical hook-ups for films and musical performances, and returning equipment to our storage facility after an event. In addition, they help to comprise the public face of our group, and serve very important roles in our public relations efforts. We are proud that they are from Penn State SoVA.”
Shostrom said working with interns and other young people at First Street Green is an extension of their work as Penn State faculty members. “Part of what John and I do as professors is mentoring,” she explained. “A lot of teaching in the visual arts is about mentoring; you help students figure out what they need for their individual development and growth.”
Elise Warfield, a B.F.A. candidate in painting, is this summer’s First Street Green intern. She said she decided to intern at FSG because it sounded like a fun way to gain professional experience. “So far, I’ve gained hands-on experience with art space work and learned a lot about the management of ‘open art spaces,’” she explained. “This experience will help me prepare for gallery work. Eventually I’d like to become a painter, and gallery work would be a good way of supporting myself while I pursue that goal.”
Because FSG collaborates with many community groups, Shostrom and Bowman work with people of all ages, including high school students. This summer Shostrom will be working again with the Lower East Side Girls Club—they were the first community group ever to collaborate with First Street Green—on a project that will include fabric dyeing, sewing, and making wearable items. “I have often included students in my projects,” said Shostrom, a painter who uses fabric as her canvas. “We have long understood the great professional and pedagogical opportunities that working in a metropolitan cultural park could provide for students at Penn State and other young people.”
In 2014, Victoria Brown (‘14 B.A. Art) was partnered with First Street Green as part of the Lower East Side Cultural Corridor Arts Job Training Program. Her duties included promoting FSG events on social media, designing publicity materials, and event planning. Today Victoria is an artist living and working in Maryland, where she uses the skills she obtained during her internship to help her market and sell her work. She recently was selected, after an open call, to paint a mural for First Park.
Murals are just one part of FSG’s programming. Along with public artworks, they offer music, dance, and theatre performances, workshops, and temporary installations, in collaboration with community and cultural groups, artists, designers, and architects. Recent installations include “Signpost,” by Stuart Ringholtz, featuring emotions instead of street names on the street signs, and “The Space Between Us,” by Henry Kielmanowicz, a sculpture of a moon created with repurposed bottles and resin that lights the park at night with solar power. Upcoming events include an electronic music concert to celebrate the summer solstice (June 21), and an interactive musical art exhibit where people can become part of the song (June 26 and August 20).
“We are now in our fifth season of programming at First Street Green,” said Shostrom. “As our program matures, we find that our interns are assuming increasing roles of responsibility in our organization. One of our former Penn State interns, Liz Pasqualo, has performed a curatorial role in our efforts, bringing volunteers, artists, and projects to our program. We find that we are growing a community of participants and collaborators.”
FSG has won grants from BMW, the Citizens Committee for NYC, Partnership for Parks, and Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, School of Visual Arts, and College of Arts and Architecture. The organization is currently raising funds for its fifth year of programming. To donate, visit https://www.ioby.org/project/fsg. For more on First Street Green, visit http://www.firststreetgreenpark.org/.
Photo, from left: Elise Warfield, Ann Shostrom, and NYC Parks Manhattan Chief of Operations Namshick Yoon at the First Street Green Live Painting Benefit.