Guests at Bronx Museum of the Arts spring gala/Courtesy of the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Guests at Bronx Museum of the Arts spring gala/Courtesy of the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Can art serve as a catalyst for revitalizing neighborhoods? It’s a question being explored by two unique art projects: “Back in the Bronx,” a new campaign launched by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and Out to See, an art and music event focused on bringing attention to the South Street Seaport area post-Hurricane Sandy. Borne out of the need to increase private funding in a slow economy, “Back in the Bronx” reaches out to well-known Bronx natives, such as Kerry Washington and Chazz Palminteri, to raise greater awareness about the state of the borough.

The Bronx became a national symbol of urban decay in the 1970s with many longtime residents fleeing to the suburbs to escape arson fires, crime and poverty. While the borough still has challenges with poverty, unemployment and education, there have been signs of recovery over the past few years evidenced by new shopping malls, hotels and a forthcoming national ice sports center. The museum wants to add to that momentum.

“Our goal was to bring people back and show the vibrancy of the borough with a museum, economic stimulation and sports facilities. And our goal is to bring younger Bronxites together with older generations,” said Allison Chernow, the museum’s director of external affairs.

Currently, out of the museum’s 350 members, 30 percent live in the Bronx. To increase this percentage, the museum is re-imagining itself as a community hub. Efforts include engaging public programs, a council of local residents to advise on outreach strategies and free admission through 2015 made possible by a $500,000 gift from philanthropists Shelley and Donald Rubin. The museum also raised an estimated $770,000 at their spring gala held Monday, March 3, which will likely help support community engagement programs.

“In our community; with so few resources and not many cultural institutions, it is important to be open and welcoming and invite the community in,” said Chernow.

On the other side of the city is the South Street Seaport, an area left devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Nearly a year-and-a-half later the neighborhood has seen many businesses reopen. Out to See, a new art and music celebration hopes to boost the comeback with an added splash of culture. 

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The column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of arts administration company, Souleo Enterprises LLC.