Cultural Wasteland

Ainsley Burrows, who lives and works in a basement apartment in Canarsie, wants an arts center in his neighborhood.
Ainsley Burrows, who lives and works in a basement apartment in Canarsie, wants an arts center in his neighborhood.

The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs budget to fund cultural organizations and activities is $155 million from July 2012 to June 2013. That means the city spends around $18.80 a year for every New Yorker on arts and culture – but none of this money is going to Community District 18, which encompasses Canarsie.

Compared to many other neighborhoods in New York City, Canarsie is a cultural wasteland. Neither the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs nor the New York State Council on the Arts funded any activities in the neighborhood in the last two years.

Local artists and a nonprofit organization, Americans for the Arts, criticize the lack of arts and culture. They argued that Community District 18 could benefit from an increase in cultural activities, and proposed ideas for what could be done. “All of the indicators show that it is extremely good for a neighborhood when cultural activities are going on,” said Robert L. Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts, in a phone interview.

Nearly 200,000 people in Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Marine Park or Paerdegat Basin have no cultural activities funded by the government. The area has no possible venues for cultural events, said Ainsley Burrows, who has lived in Canarsie since 1996.

Burrows, a painter, writer and poet who has performed in poetry slams all over the US, in Canada and in Europe, said “I’m not known in Canarsie. If I go downtown Brooklyn, people know me as poet or as a performer.”

He criticized the lack of arts and culture in his neighborhood. “Everybody needs to have access to art,” he said. “I can’t really say what it does, but I know it does something that makes people better.”

Lynch, whose NPO promotes the arts in the US, agreed with Burrows. He said studies show that arts are magnets for other businesses and that students get better grades when they have arts at school. “We have seen a very clear connection that kids at risk have a turnaround with the involvement of the arts in after school programs,” he said.

Emmanuel Gilles, alias EBOI, wants to change his neighborhood through a community center. “Once people feel to express themselves creatively, you can see people get more involved in the community,” he said.
Emmanuel Gilles, alias EBOI, wants to change his neighborhood through a community center. “Once people feel to express themselves creatively, you can see people get more involved in the community,” he said.

Like many neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Canarsie in CD18 suffers from crime, poverty and teenagers at risk. “It seems that people who need art the most don’t have access to it,” Burrows said.

The rapper EBOI, whose real name is Emmanuel Gilles, organized a series of free concerts three consecutive summers at the basketball court in Canarsie Park. He said that Canarsie needs some sort of community center that would also offer classes in videography, songwriting or how to become a DJ. It would be a safe haven that would give people something to do, Gilles said. Right now, he said „the only thing out here is the streets – either that or you stay at home.“