An Apartment Building That's a Gallery — for Now

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Cathedral/Catedral, an installation on Sugar Hill's ninth floor terrace by Scherezade Garcia.

There's a place in Harlem that is neither a museum nor a gallery —it's an affordable housing development. Yet right now, it is filled with two floors of art.

The exhibit was created to introduce the building, designed by David Adjaye, to locals. That's because the developer of the project, Broadway Housing Communities, has a mission of developing community both within their buildings and the neighborhood.

"It's a site that is going to be affordable housing, giving a new start to many families," said Manon Slome of arts organization No Longer Empty, who curated the art in the building.

Slome chose art works that explored immigration, community building, civilization and racial profiling. The pieces range from sculptures like a city built of a quarter-million sugar cubes, to a digital triptych showing the rebuilding of a city.  Other local cultural organizations used the art as as inspiration to create collaborative dance, music, poetry and spoken word performances. They are displayed in the hallways and offices of the building — as well as in its apartments.

Sugar Hill canned Smiles by Nari Ward
Sugar Hill canned Smiles by Nari Ward

The 22 local, emerging and internationally-acclaimed artists include photographer and mixed-media artist Bayeté Ross Smith, who is from Harlem. His ongoing installation of portraits of everyday residents of Sugar Hill is accompanied by original music composed by Frank Hooker Jr. and Jaime Bryce using the voices of the people in the pictures.

“The basic concept is taking people from the community,” said Ross Smith, “allowing their voices to be heard and presenting those voices in a public space.”

Artists like Ross Smith were nurtured within the community, said  Ana Ofelia Rodriguez, director of community development of Broadway Housing Communities. “They had a space to show their work and now other people are embracing them and taking them in different direction and that’s what it’s about.”

Lana Turner, Harlem native
Lana Turner, a Harlem native by Bayeté Ross Smith

Broadway Housing Communities has introduced arts and education into housing projects since 1997. The gallery on the ninth floor will have art on a rotating basis even after tenants move in this August. Twenty-six of the building's 124 apartments are reserved for people currently in the New York City shelter system. The building also includes an Early Childhood Education Center and the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

“If You Build It” will run through Aug. 10 at the Sugar Hill Building on 155th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem. The exhibit and events are free to the public.