The New Victory Gardens

The New York cityscape is a canvas for change, whether it’s your local bodega turning into a cocktail bar, five-story high advertisements being peeled off while you’re sleeping, or an abandoned lot that becomes the site of a shiny luxury hotel. But two upcoming canvas changes — Sharecropper and Windows Brooklyn — have more to do with art than commerce. In different ways, they seek to engage the community and give back to it, while creatively, temporarily altering the city.

Sharecropper is the public art and micro-farming project of Leah Gauthier, an intermedia artist who looks at how plants, food, and performance converge in sustainable, community-building ways. She’s constructing a farm from seventeen donated swatches of “land” around the five boroughs, including nine in Brooklyn alone! The spaces range from a fire escape garden on Lorimer to full-fledged gardens at Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park (where another artist, Christina Kelly, is planting Iroquois corn), Snug Harbor in Staten Island, and rooftop plantings at Chelsea’s Eyebeam.

Each of the seventeen “farmers” will be responsible for one organic crop, such as tomatoes, watermelon or sunflowers, using seeds from Seeds Savers Exchange, the non-profit that distributes heirloom varieties. Volunteer gardeners will help take care of the plants throughout the summer, and come harvest time, there will be an array of accompanying programs such as an urban farming panel discussion, cooking performances and art-related events. Additionally, some of the harvested edibles will be donated to soup kitchens.

The micro-farming component is obvious — Sharecropper proves anyone can grow food in the smallest and most challenging of places. But how does Gauthier’s citywide planting qualify as public art? Like Relational Art, she explains, in which “an artist presents circumstances, and it takes viewers to complete it,” Sharecropper will be completed by many hands, not to mention the whole host of factors that affect any kind of farming effort — weather, animal threats and quality of care.

To see what this summerlong “grand experiment in urban gardening” will look like, you can join Sharecropper’s Facebook group, sign up to be a volunteer gardener or follow the Project Blog.

In addition to Sharecropper, Gauthier is also co-curating Windows Brooklyn, along with her former MFA classmates and Brooklyn-based artists, Sara Jones and Andrea Wenglowskyj. Artists chosen by the three women will transform 34 storefront windows in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens into weeklong art installations, from June 6-13. (Above is Candy Chang’s refashioning of Court St. antiques shop Yesterday’s News, last year.)

The windows are still waiting for their makeovers, but Wenglowskyj gives me a sneak preview of a few: Nate Kassel, who “basically draws with a sewing machine” will be setting up shop at 0.00156 Acres Art Space. Stephanie Liner, an artist who combines furniture with fashion, will be employing live models in the window of the Court Street boutique, Ali Kat. And at Soula, Eric Corriel’s video art will be projected day and night.

The Windows Brooklyn opening party at the Transit Garden on Smith Street and 2nd Place (one of Sharecropper’s “farms”) will kick off things this Saturday, June 6, from 1-6pm. It coincides with A Bite of BoCoCa, a neighborhood food and wine tasting event, and promises bands and a shadow puppet play at dusk.

Sent by Nicole. Text by Alicia Kachmar Photos from top courtesy Andrea Wenglowskyj, Leah Gauthier, and Candy Chang.

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