A January 22 performance art piece at the Borough of Manhattan Community College's Shirley Fiterman Art Center further solidified the art center gallery’s role as a cultural destination in Lower Manhattan, as well as a place that students can learn the nuts and bolts of New York City’s thriving art industry.
The one-time live event, called “Sewing Music Into Art,” featured a quirky but clever creation of a paper art book where artist Elena Berriolo used a sewing machine to stitch an intricate design. The machine also set the tempo, much like a metronome, for the two musicians, Edith Hirshtoff on piano and Rosie Hertlein on her violin as they improvised to the beat
Gallery a hive of activity
The performance that evening was another chapter for the Paper Reveries exhibit at the Shirley Fitterman Art Center that opened December 10 and ended February 7, 2015. Paper Reveries is part of the ongoing ArtAhead series, curated by American artist Kathleen Kucka. A portion of the proceeds from any of the art sold during the series goes to the BMCC scholarship fund.
That night, the buzz of conversations filled the north and south galleries, many visitors milling about with friends, others on their own, all checking out the pieces hung on the expansive white walls.
Students gain valuable hands on experience
BMCC Foundation Board Member Elizabeth Butson said an art exhibit such as Paper Reveries serves as inspiration to students who visit and try to understand what a piece means, what materials were used and what the artist is trying to say. She called the space a plaform of ideas that incorporates students in the process.
"Current and former students that work in the gallery have helped Curator Kathleen Kucka with all the little details of hanging the show," said Butson.
For example, former BMCC student Allon Morgan, who now works as an assistant in the gallery, said the experience of preparing a big show and opening such as Paper Reveries had been fabulous. Morgan, who was president of the school’s live drawing club, found out about the gallery job from art professor Simon Carr. He said he eventually hopes to pursue architecture.
“Right now, I get to learn from different artists, curators as well as professors,” he said of his experience at Fiterman Arts Center.
Former BMCC student Laurie Sackey also works at the gallery. She’s currently studying psychology at City College of New York. Last year, she met Morgan in the drawing club and he told her about the gallery. She loves the diversity of the artists and their work.
“It was great to actually witness an artist show her work in such a unique way, not only through the medium of pencils and paper, but also, live performance,” said Sakee.
Sakey hopes to combine her loves of psychology with art, developing tools that help individuals work with their emotions through art and creativity.
Former BMCC student hopes to go into toy design
Former BMCC student Harold Tandjung, now a fine arts major at Fashion Institute of Technology as well as being a student New York City College of Technology, also works at the gallery. He said he loved art before coming to BMCC, but never really got the chance to fully experience it. He took his first art class at BMCC and says he immediately felt it was something he should have done years ago.
Tandjung said his participation in all the work and planning that goes on behind the scenes before an event such as Paper Reveries had given him invaluable experience.
“There are just so many different aspects and tasks to preparing an art gallery show,” he said.
Tandjung, who someday hopes to have a career in toy design, said he hopes that when people come into Fitterman Arts Center, they appreciate the full artistic experience as much as he does.
Fiterman and the rebirth of downtown
There’s no doubt that the area surrounding Fiterman Hall has a storied past in the world of art, and the dynamic new BMCC building housing the school's gallery is also one more symbol of the downtown’s ongoing rebirth. The neighborhood is a magnet for visitors to the city. An estimated 9.6 million tourists visited the Lower Manhattan area in 2013 according to the nonprofit organization Downtown Alliance.
Painter and photographer Nancy Manter, who has art featured in Paper Reveries, was chatting with a friend before the show. She said she’d lived in the Tribeca area for 25 years up until the events of September 11.
“It’s so beautiful to come back to the neighborhood and see this building so alive with activity,” she said.
Manter, whose work is based on the elements of weather, the environment and landscapes, said one of the more wonderful elements of the building are its big windows.
“People walk by and see all the life and creativity happening in here,” she said.
BMCC President Dr. Antonio Pérez said the arts center is not only a gem and gift for BMCC students, but also the community.
“We see the arts center as a conglomerate, bringing the students, faculty and community together in one focal point, enjoying the arts,” said Pérez.
He said he believes the arts center will only increase in popularity over the years, serving multifaceted artistic purposes for both the school and community.
“This is becoming a sort of destination to see and view different types of art in New York City. It’s a great asset for the college and community,” he said.
Arts Center and the artistic community
Curator Kathleen Kucka agreed, saying the arts center had worked with faculty arranging for students to come, then write about the art, and in the process, become part of the artistic community.
She says she’s seen students who didn’t realize the gallery even existed. Meanwhile, she said some students get excited and inspired when they visit for the first time.
“The location is amazing. It’s a neighborhood spot. A lot of the artists in the two exhibitions I’ve curated so far have been local,” said Kucka.
Pianist Edith Hirshtal, who performed with artist Berriolo, said there’s nothing more important to life than art.
“Art allows you to be an individual. When you’re young, you have very few inhibitions, It’s a perfect avenue for finding your expression,” said Hershtoff.
Violinist Rosie Hertlein, who performed with Hirshtal and Berriolo that night, also said having a space at BMCC that encouraged artistic expression was invaluable.
“Artistic expression can open you up to so many other perspectives, and that’s important, because otherwise, we become robots, “ said Hertlein.