Letter to the editor: Open streets, culture for all

open streets
The Open Street on Prospect Park W. in May 2020.
File photo by Todd Maisel

Dear Editor,

I am a born and bred Bay Ridgeite involved with several grassroots organizations focused on culture, history, arts (all forms) and preservation of our built and natural environment. This past year has been more than challenging, as so many have lost so much, including what has become a benefit of being a New Yorker — the opportunity to enjoy arts and cultural gifts at every corner of our city.

With the hope of spring and increase in vaccine distribution, many of us are looking for ways to once again offer performances and cultural events safely. However, we are not out of the woods yet, as parades, Summer Strolls and street fairs, and other large gatherings have to be canceled this upcoming spring.

I have been trying to think outside the box to find ways to offer arts and cultural activities safely. Can we use outdoor spaces, with limited seats to hold a concert? What about offering walking tours? For example, I am working with others to find substitutes for the Norwegian Day Parade where we can still share and celebrate our culture — what about an outdoor lecture and outdoor film for children?  

So, when the mayor announced the city’s “Open Culture” program in February, I was excited. Upon further investigation, I realized that the streets have already been designated and fixed. In Brooklyn, they are mostly located in the North, Downtown, and Park Slope areas, which have each received multiple streets. Bay Ridge has been totally skipped over, which is a shame as we have so much open parkland. And we are not the only community excluded from this benefit. Quelle surprise!  

So, what to do — fuggetaboutit? Never.

The city could still extend their list to include a street from each Brooklyn community. However, this exclusion is indicative of a larger and more pervasive issue. It is time that New York City, the place known as the cultural capital of the country, supports the arts throughout ALL of the city, to all of its constituents. People make art and create culture. This is not predicated by your zip code. Let’s distribute funding for the arts fairly, which means to equal funding and opportunities to ALL communities in our city.

Victoria Hofmo is the founder and president of the Bay Ridge Arts & Cultural Alliance, the Bay Ridge Conservancy, and the Scandinavian East Coast Museum and is the creator and executive director of The Ridge Creative Center.

The “Open Culture” program is an expansive of the city’s “Open Streets” initiative, launched at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to give pedestrians and cyclists room to maintain proper social distancing while getting exercise and fresh air. The “Open Culture” initiative will provide stages for artists and cultural groups to bring live performances back to the Five Boroughs.