LETTER TO THE NCA BOARD

Dear Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) Board-members

   I write this letter to applaud your most recent effort to hold a Community Advisory Group Meeting (CAG) at the Bushwick Branch of the Brooklyn Library in East Williamsburg. Bringing the Superfund process further southeast along Newtown Creek can do a great deal towards showing all Brooklyn residents that they have a role to play in how the remediation process develops. Numerous times the CAG meetings were held in Greenpoint and Queens. It was through your efforts that those residents have played a more active role in the Superfund cleanup and remediation processes. Any area in which the Newtown Creek Alliance can have a presence will help aid its cause.

  As some of you may recall, I was the artist working on the project about the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. Since 2012, the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT (EKP) worked to bring greater attention to the ecology of this part of the waterway through multimedia art work and social engagement. With the help of Dr. Sarah Durand, the EKP experimented with bio-remediation strategies to find ways to bring constructed wetlands and filter feeding organisms to this heavily polluted site. A motivating force for the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT was the goal of informing the residents of Bushwick and East Williamsburg about the problems of Newtown Creek. During my many presentations and participatory workshops about re-imagining English Kills, I felt that if people can see the problems of the creek, it can lead to action. For too long this neighborhood of underserved residents of color have been subjected to the health effects of a polluted creek in their environment and living next door to 40% of New York City’s waste transfer sites. It would be difficult to deny these as clear signals of environmental discrimination.

  Now that the Newtown Creek Alliance recognizes the importance of outreach to other neighborhoods I encourage your organization to double its efforts to bring more Community Advisory Group, as well as NCA board meetings to neighborhoods surrounding English Kills. From 2014-16 the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT was active in conducting numerous workshops, lectures and talks at various venues, galleries, art spaces and bars along the Morgan Avenue L Train stop. These places are still available should you inquire. Artists, local activists and longtime residents of Bushwick and East Williamsburg are an untapped constituency for our shared mission. But the other stakeholders in the community, the Spanish speaking residents, need attention as well. The Hispanic population in Bushwick is 58%, and approximately 52% in far East Williamsburg. Hosting meetings within neighborhoods where Hispanic residents live is important, but so is conducting a meeting where Spanish is spoken and utilizing interpreters. Having meetings where Spanish is spoken and available for all the people affected by Newtown Creek and its Superfund status is not only fair, it is long overdue. CAG meetings for Spanish speaking residents with interpreters would go a long way towards bringing greater inclusiveness to the environmental movement and to the mission of the NCA and the Superfund process. I have confidence that if the effort is made to mobilize your Spanish speaking fellow stakeholders, they will make themselves available to aid the Newtown Creek Alliance for many years to come.

  Though I no longer live in Brooklyn and NY, the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT will continue to thrive. It is unfortunate that our planned collaboration with Newtown Creek Alliance on fabricating and installing new floating island habitats in 2017 will not come to fruition. Understandably, new commitments arise which redirect focus and efforts to new urgencies. Nonetheless, the EKP will continue to follow-up on the vision of a community-led strategy to bring floating islands as new wetland filters and habitats to English Kills. An EKP Floating Island experiment will allow for more rhizomatic root exposure to act as filters for harmful waterborne bacteria. Its exposed underwater root system will generate sustainable levels of oxygen organically rather than through a mechanical process with pumped air tubes. Floating organic and modular designs create new wildlife habitats while supporting existing ones without duplicating the existing grey and metal infrastructure of Newtown Creek. With the help of my assistant Elizabeth Skolnick we have identified two financial supporters that have expressed interest in funding the Floating Island project. A list of volunteers has been cultivated. The ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT will seek other non-profits for fiscal sponsorship and new partnerships.

 Again, I am encouraged about your scheduling a Community Advisory Group Meeting in East Williamsburg. I firmly believe that if the NCA were to spend more time in this neighborhood and in Bushwick, and to collaborate and partner with the Spanish speaking residents, it will produce good will, neighborhood equity, ethnic inclusivity and a greater constituency for Newtown Creek Alliance’s position in the Superfund process.

Sincerely,

Henry G. Sanchez

Founder, ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT

The END and a BEGINNING

I am reminded of the old phrase “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” This essentially becomes the story of the socially engaged collaboration of the English Kills Project with the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA).

Everyone in Brooklyn has commitments. Things change. Focus is redirected. They say they are all over committed on the ground. Well, one commitment was dropped, the English Kills Floating Island project and it shows a lack of consistency and trust.

Socially engaged art projects are about commitments. One must be able to trust the other parties to follow through on what is promised. While it doesn’t have to be grandiose, nor should any party over commit beyond their resources, certainly a commitment based on trust, feasibility/affordability and conceptual flexibility is reasonable to expect. At the same time one has to weigh whether the parties themselves are the right fit for delivering on the project. In the collaborative EKP-NCA floating island project, each of us had the requisite experience and availability. Most certainly there were questions about my time since I moved back to Houston in August 2016. But as I have continued to stress and remind my collaborators, I was more than willing to make the back and forth trips from Houston to NY to assure the fabrication, launch and completion of the experiment. However, if one party backs away from the commitment for reasons that were never an issue, then it is fair that the other party hold them accountable. This collaboration was worked on through numerous meetings, events and talks, and has been advertised for over a year. All of which suggest a commitment to the project. Therefore holding those to account for backing out of commitments on an unfounded premise is to be expected.

Admittedly the communication between all the parties has been sporadic at best. Almost all of my attempts to reach them have been missed, ignored or forgotten. I guess it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. Still, there can be no doubt that I was consistent in my efforts to stay in touch with everyone. I made all the efforts to do so.  Perhaps this is where the major weakness existed. If there is no robust communication things will fall apart. Which is exactly what happened.

Our English Kills Floating Island Plan was a collaboration with the NCA. It was not an independent project of the EKP. It was designed and agreed together with Dr. Durand and the NCA leadership. An English Kills Floating Island Project is a bio-remediation experiment that tests the viability of an unobstructed and a more natural wetlands habitat with different substrates. It is more green and organic than it was floating dock. This project did not reinforce the grey infrastructure of Newtown Creeks’ metal bulkheads.

Flexibility and feasibility were important principles throughout the planning. My vision for floating island was different than the NCA. But in order to accommodate, my design was sacrificed in favor for the experiences of NCA and their cautiousness. Therefore the floating island design was based on the NCA Living Dock.

The EKP Floating Island experiment is an affordable project. At the time of the crafting of the design and agreement it was described to me as affordable because of the excess material left from the NCA Living Dock fabrication. At the same time the EKP has cultivated financial support from two individual sources to help defray an additional fabrication costs. The NCA would not have to incur any significant costs for the floating island project.

There is currently a team of people that were willing to maintain any new EKP and NCA collaborative on English Kills. Each of the team members are residents of Bushwick.

However, it was strongly conveyed me that I was the one that must cultivate community support or at least identify the demand for helping, participation, collaborations, and volunteers in my old neighborhood. This is difficult to do now as I live in Texas. But as I demonstrated, I did my best through numerous workshops, events, talks and openings. When I did it was one of the few times that NCA actually made a appearance in Bushwick and East Williamsburg. Currently the NCA makes little effort. I argue, how can I be expected to find neighborhood support if my supposed partners and collaborators wont start a project that can actually help create the constituency they seek. “You have to start a parade in order for people to follow.” Again, another proverb, it’s like “putting the cart before the horse.” Should I shoulder the all the blame when it is the NCA that has been negligent in cultivating support!?

If there is a concern that the number of team members I identified to maintain a floating experiment in English Kills are not sufficient, then the NCA should feel an obligation to do greater outreach in Bushwick and East Williamsburg. The NCA cannot expect to have potential shareholders on the English Kills side of Newtown Creek for a Floating Island project without stirring interest in the Superfund process among the residents of Bushwick and East Williamsburg. The NCA should have an established presence with a more inclusive programming for a neighborhood of people of color, Spanish speaking and low incomes. Part of the mission of the EKP was seeking neighborhood support for bio-remediation strategies, the NCA objectives, the Superfund process and creating a greater awareness of the problems of English Kills, Newtown Creek and the rest of its tributaries. The EKP would be appreciative of similar help from the NCA in a neighborhood deserving of the same kind of attention as Greenpoint and Queens.

Should I write a letter to the NCA board? It could detail the merits of the project as well as the disappointments due to the lack of follow-through from the NCA. I would insist that the NCA do more outreach to other parts of Brooklyn. Areas and places could be identified to hold meetings, CAGs, fundraisers etc. But they must to do the legwork, not me.

The letter will, of course, add to my assertion that English Kills is a major source of freshwater to Newtown Creek. It will discuss my intention to return to Brooklyn periodically to work on the English Kills Project.

The EKP still has work to be done, video primarily. Plans are in process about the Schamonchi, killi-fish, shrimp and underwater videos. I would like to turn this rejection into something creative. How? Obviously it’s time to put these journals in article form. With the failure of a socially engaged facet, all the more reason to get this first-hand experience in shape. It will take some time as three journals need to be transcribed. It must be reshaped into something engaging, with humor and in a form that can impart some scholarship. An EKP history will be the first written experience of a socially engaged artwork from the viewpoint of the artist initiator. The literature of social practice is missing this perspective.

With a lingering sense of the dejection, I called my assistant Elizabeth to explain what occurred and basically told her that the NCA and other supporters are out. She was understanding but was still optimistic. Elizabeth feels that there are other organizations in New York that would be willing to help, provide their imprimatur, or be a fiscal sponsor. She feels it is too good of an idea to abandon. I wasn’t expecting this this much confidence, and I am grateful. She is right in the sense that I don’t have to worry about problematic collaborations and can now be free to do a more daring, more organic, exciting design. I don’t have to rely on ideas of gray metal habitats on gray infrastructure. Unfortunately, I wont have the obvious community organization for input. Elizabeth gave me a different way of looking at what should have been a great disappointment. We will be doing research in the summer months to find the right organization to work with. When I come back to New York in the Fall maybe we can set up a meeting!

A FLOATING ISLAND FOR ENGLISH KILLS

In 2016 the EKP collaborated with the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) on a design to bring constructed wetlands to the EK tributary. There are several existing models currently being tried along Newtown Creek: Whale Creek, Dutch Kills and No Name Creek. The EKP-NCA collaboration yielded a design similar to the NCA Living Dock, which continues to exist as both a rare and clean habitat (milk crates) for small marine life and a functional boat dock. http://livingdock.tumblr.com/

The EKP trial will take a different twist to bring wetlands and habitats. A floating island designs brings the same horizontal feature, yet is mobile, modular, maximizes habitat scale and simultaneously serves as a bio-experiment to determine which of 4 different substrates (while carrying living organisms) is most sustainable in English Kills water, the most polluted part of Newtown Creek.

Our version commits more of the basic footprint to constructed wetlands (island or floating wetlands) and minimizes the dock portion. It’s H shape provides 4 bays with trays placed inside each. The experiment consists of utilizing 4 different stretched substrates: Hydroponic felt, polyflo bio-filter material, burlap and polythylene geo-textile. Each bay is a removable lattice of biodegradable materials and substrates that support and contain spartina and ribbed mussels. Spartina plugs would be planted between the lattices. Roots would expand under each tray and provide shelter and microbes for marine life.

The project will test whether one substrate can sustain itself and living organisms best and eventually released to float without being confined in the bay. A successful Floating Island project can be expanded to speculate how wetlands can extend horizontally throughout the length of Newtown Creek’s vertical bulkheads. If it can survive in English Kills’ static and polluted water, then it holds promise for sustainability in the other tributaries.

The east inlet of the EK basin would be the ideal spot for installation. Boat or barge traffic would be unhindered by the position of the Floating Island. Navigate to the Constructed Wetlands page for more detail, principles and background info.

The EKP looks forward to working with the NCA on this project. Fabrication is expected to start in the late spring.

SVA’s Bio-Art Lab talk Nov. 16th

EKP at BIO-Art Lab

Were it not for the Bio Lab at the BFA Department at the School of Visual Arts, I would not be able to produce much of the photos and videos of the small animal and wildlife of English Kills. Suzanne Anker, Chair of the BFA, founded this lab in 2011. This is the only level one bio-lab at a fine arts school in the country. I do my microscopy and magnifications here. Suzanne, invited me to conduct a talk for her Bio-Art class. Though I no longer work for SVA and Suzanne, I was still able to show some of my former students who were taking this course what I have been working on all these years. It wouldn’t be much of a lecture if we didn’t have an appearance from the Great Egret. I think it took the students by surprise. Overall, I think that Suzanne and the class was pleased. Check out the Bio-Art Lab website for more information about this innovative space.

Were it not for the Bio Lab at the BFA Department at the School of Visual Arts, I would not be able to produce much of the photos and videos of the small animal and wildlife of English Kills. Suzanne Anker, Chair of the BFA, founded this lab in 2011. This is the only level one bio-lab at a fine arts school in the country. I do my microscopy and magnifications here. Suzanne, invited me to conduct a talk for her Bio-Art class. Though I no longer work for SVA and Suzanne, I was still able to show some of my former students who were taking this course what I have been working on all these years. It wouldn’t be much of a lecture if we didn’t have an appearance from the Great Egret. I think it took the students by surprise. Overall, I think that Suzanne and the class was pleased. Check out the Bio-Art Lab website for more information about this innovative space.

THE CITY RELIQUARY August 25, 2016

The City Reliquary is one of Brooklyn’s hidden gems. I was invited by its executive director, Sarah Celentano to give a final talk for the summer. This venue was especially accommodating and helpful. Sarah and Molly were great hosts! Again, I announced my collaboration with the Newtown Creek Alliance to fabricate on a floating wetlands, salt-marsh and mussel habitat, hydroponic, bio-experiment in English Kills. This night’s talk had the largest attendance for an EKP event to date. At least 30 or so came to see the variety of work that has been produced to date. I featured new video edits of the Pubic Service Announcement and the Mussel English Kills water test. Edward the Egret paid a visit to finish off the talk. Over all everyone had a great time. I was happy to show so many people who haven’t attended previous workshops and talks. I am very grateful. Thank you Sarah!

SUNVIEW LUNCHEONETTE TALK, July 14, 2016

SUNVIEW LUNCHEONETTE  July 14, 2016 The Sunview Luncheonette is located in the Greenpoint neighborhood of north Brooklyn. It is know as a platform for artists, thinkers, community organizers to give talks or workshops. The audience this evening was a very engaged group. Everyone seemed to have comments or questions about the prospect of bringing wetlands to English Kills and Newtown Creek. This was the first time I unveiled the plans for floating wetlands and the prospect of collaborating with Newtown Creek Alliance. We are to fabricate it next year in late spring or early summer. Our design is based on the NCA’s Living Dock. Though the project will be smaller in scale, it portions a greater percentage (40%) of its footprint to habitats. This would be a bio-experiment on different substrates to understand what works best for a salt-marsh and mussel habitat hydroponic system. New underwater videos of killifish in English Kills was featured. I was assisted very ably by one of my former students Sarah Von Putkammer. We also got a special visit from the “Alba Homoniño”! 

SUNVIEW LUNCHEONETTE  July 14, 2016

The Sunview Luncheonette is located in the Greenpoint neighborhood of north Brooklyn. It is know as a platform for artists, thinkers, community organizers to give talks or workshops. The audience this evening was a very engaged group. Everyone seemed to have comments or questions about the prospect of bringing wetlands to English Kills and Newtown Creek. This was the first time I unveiled the plans for floating wetlands and the prospect of collaborating with Newtown Creek Alliance. We are to fabricate it next year in late spring or early summer. Our design is based on the NCA’s Living Dock. Though the project will be smaller in scale, it portions a greater percentage (40%) of its footprint to habitats. This would be a bio-experiment on different substrates to understand what works best for a salt-marsh and mussel habitat hydroponic system. New underwater videos of killifish in English Kills was featured. I was assisted very ably by one of my former students Sarah Von Putkammer. We also got a special visit from the “Alba Homoniño”! 

3 Young, Citizen Scientists work with the EKP

On Saturday afternoon, May 21st, I had the pleasure of helping 3 citizen-scientists with their latest science project of testing the water on Newtown Creek. They are Isabel Tribe, Lily Rudd and Indie Jacobs who attend the Salk School of Science in Manhattan. Their idea was to collect waters samples from multiple locations along the creek the same morning and to test them in the lab. The Chair of the School of Visual Arts BFA Fine Arts, Suzanne Anker was generous to provide the Bio-Lab as the setting.

This was no easy task for the young scientists, as they had to travel to the waters edge to fill recycled plastic bottles of the creek water at low tide on the same morning. The locations were at the North Brooklyn Boat Club, the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, Masbeth Ave. and English Kills. I volunteered to collect for them at English Kills due to the difficulty of gaining access.

This was no easy task for the young scientists, as they had to travel to the waters edge to fill recycled plastic bottles of the creek water at low tide on the same morning. The locations were at the North Brooklyn Boat Club, the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, Masbeth Ave. and English Kills. I volunteered to collect for them at English Kills due to the difficulty of gaining access.

Each sample (two per location) was tested for pH and total Alkalinity, Total Hardness, Nitrate/Nitrite Nitrogen, Iron, Copper, Free Chlorine and Total Chlorine. While the test levels yielded very similar results (except in the English Kills “spring” sample) the whole effort was not a waste. One has to take into account that it was done at the ebb of lowest tide and 12 hours after a slight rainfall.

Each sample (two per location) was tested for pH and total Alkalinity, Total Hardness, Nitrate/Nitrite Nitrogen, Iron, Copper, Free Chlorine and Total Chlorine. While the test levels yielded very similar results (except in the English Kills “spring” sample) the whole effort was not a waste. One has to take into account that it was done at the ebb of lowest tide and 12 hours after a slight rainfall.

Any kind of science experiment will not immediately reveal results that are anticipated. In fact, even the 2010 study of water in Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills, completed by Dr, Durand and LaGuardia Community College students, were over a period of several months, with testing every few days.

Any kind of science experiment will not immediately reveal results that are anticipated. In fact, even the 2010 study of water in Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills, completed by Dr, Durand and LaGuardia Community College students, were over a period of several months, with testing every few days.

What I explained to Isabel, Lily and Indie was of more importance is their methodology of collecting the samples. As far as I know it was the first such water tests that were (near) simultaneous of multiple site collection over the length of the creek! The 2010 Newtown Creek study was done the same location, Dutch Kills. Our young scientists are creating a model for more rigorous testing of Newtown Creek water (testing with time, location, distance in unison). I hope that this novel idea will be used in the future.

What I explained to Isabel, Lily and Indie was of more importance is their methodology of collecting the samples. As far as I know it was the first such water tests that were (near) simultaneous of multiple site collection over the length of the creek! The 2010 Newtown Creek study was done the same location, Dutch Kills. Our young scientists are creating a model for more rigorous testing of Newtown Creek water (testing with time, location, distance in unison). I hope that this novel idea will be used in the future.

all photos courtesy of Mark Tribe (2016).

BRIC TV features EKP on 4-21

April is turning out to be a busy month! In addition to Art & Science Collaborations, Inc extending me as their member of the month till the end of April, (http://www.asci.org/artikel1476.html), the ENGLISH KILLS PROJECT will be featured on BRIC TV. This 5-minute documentary directed by Michael Intile will be shown on their Thursday 1-3pm slot. The video is an interview with me about the mission of the EKP, records the installation of the mussel habitat in English Kills and a workshop event. See the link below to watch it live on April 21st. BRIC will soon be uploading the video on their website and YouTube. I’ll keep everyone informed about the posting of the video!

http://bricartsmedia.org/community-media/bric-tv/watch-bric-tv

MUSEE Magazine features the EKP Shrimp

MUSEE magazine has released their 14th issue about artists working in the field of Science and Technology. Im very proud to announce they have featured one of my photographs of the grass shrimp from English Kills. It’s quite an honor to be in this new, beautiful and prestigious magazine based in New York City. My thanks to Andrea Blanch and Steve Miller.

You can find the online version here: https://issuu.com/museemagazine/docs/musee_edition_14_final?e=0/34394358

You can purchase a full color hard copy here: https://www.peecho.com/sps/13666486804931707/198094-Musee%20Edition%2014

ASCI ANNOUNCES IT'S MARCH FEATURED MEMBER, Henry G. Sanchez

Well, guess what? Last week I was named the artist of the month on Art & Science Collaborations Inc. What an honor! Please see the link to read the interview and visit the feature page directly. Thank you to Cynthia and Ellen of ASCI. A special thanks go to my collaborator, who without her knowledge, experience, guidance, insight and friendship this project would not be possible; Dr Sarah Durand. Below is the email they sent to their members.

ASCI announces its February FEATURED MEMBER, Henry G. Sanchez, a bio-art environmental activist who has created the English Kills Project (EKP) to involve the community in designing bioremediation efforts to clean up this extremely polluted Superfund site in New York City. www.asci.org/artikel1476.html

EKP 2-28 WORKSHOP AT LANTERN HALL

Though I am a little late in posting this…no time like the present! The EKP had a great success in showcasing our recent work. Our event was held on Sunday night, February 28th at Lantern Hall. It is only a few steps away from the Morgan subway stop on the L train. This place was perfectly situated because of the 2-block distance from English Kills. We introduced the experimental mussel habitats, the English Kills Springs and new video of shrimp, killifish and ribbed mussels. Most importantly was the unveiling of the new design templates: DESIGN YOUR OWN MUSSSEL HABITAT and REIMAGINE ENGLISH KILLS. You can see the results on the EKP site under the MUSSELS FOR BIOREMEDIATION and DESIGN WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE IN ENGLISH KILLS pages. I give full credit to the designers, as you can see in each submission. Our participants enjoyed watching the new videos and designing mussel habitats, creating innovative ideas for new wetland construction in the English Kills basin. Thank you to all the participants for coming! Thank you to Jeff of Lantern Hall for providing the venue. I give a special thanks to Alex Bustamante for providing the photos.

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

photos by Alex Bustamante

Closing reception at Galerie Petite Jan. 31, 6-9pm

Galerie Petite and Tyrome Tripoli are generously having a closing reception for "NATURE MADE". The exhibit will have it open it doors from 6pm- 9pm, Sunday, Jan. 31st. See the UPCOMING EVENTS page for more details. Galerie Petite, 114 Wilson Ave., Brooklyn, NY.

AQUATORIUM TALK

Late last month I gave a long talk about the EKP and about the conditions of Newtown Creek / English Kills to a very invested group of people who have created an organization called the Aquatorium. They are composed of residents and interested folk that live adjacent to English Kills. I explained why we see what is visible today, what it used to be and what we can do to affect positive change. I went to some lengths detailing what I am doing with the EKP in terms of creating habitats and getting individuals to design and re-imagine how and what kind of change they would like to see. Im excited to say that they were very receptive and many want to be involved. Especially when it comes to creating mussel habitats in English Kills. See the participation of Elizabeth and David from last blog below. I need more partners like them. So, I am expecting of fruitful collaboration and partnership this fledgling non-profit under the auspices of the Schamonchi LLC. I am making new friends that seem to exhibit a similar consciousness with the nature that lives around them. Stay tuned for more developments with Aquatorium!