Rockaway, New York is a unique beach community on the fringes of New York City. On a good day, it takes about an hour and a half to reach Manhattan, a fortress viewable from the bayside of our four-block-wide peninsula. It is about as south as you can get, sitting at the very bottom of the subway map's version of the city; a little strip of yellow sand. It is no wonder that when the sea surged on October 29 and made its mighty roar, the ocean and the bay met six feet deep on Rockaway Boulevard, flowing into basements, first floors and affecting lives. Houses, cars, businesses, the boardwalk—all destroyed.
Our nonprofit Arts in Parts formed with the understanding that art is restorative. And beyond the immediate emergency, there needed to be an ongoing healing effort to address the less obvious issues. Through the lens of creativity, Arts in Parts hoped to start a dialogue with the children of Rockaway about their experiences through the storm. Chris Martin and Heather Kramer, two Rockaway residents, wanted to help out their core neighborhood after their home and whole community were destroyed. They joined forces with Cecilia de Corral and Diwa Tamrong, two Brooklyn-based teachers and artists who wanted to share their passion for creative learning with the young minds of Rockaway. All four of us shared a like-minded passion to heal through the practice of art. Starting with the help of friends Lizzie Jones, Gillian Jones, Zack Genin and only a bucket of art materials gathered from our apartments, Arts in Parts formed in November 2012.
We’ve utilized donated space and materials to begin teaching in the storm's wake. Set up inside a relief and materials distribution center, we began our art workshops with local children. Every Sunday, kids have gathered in an ever-evolving space to create and imagine, with projects asking them to address what was happening around them through Storm Fighting Superhero comic books to dioramas of their local ecosystem. It was within these two-hour workshops that we’ve realized how powerful these projects were. With the help of art nonprofit Beam Center and Occupy Sandy,we decided to form a summer program that will be held at Smallwater with the help of Michelle Cortez.
The Rockaway oceanside is a resource underutilized by many families for what it has to teach. Along with art and environmental education, Arts in Parts is tending to an educational garden this summer, where seeds can get planted, hands can get dirty, and young minds can grow. Two hours will be spent everyday on making, eating, and preparing local and sustainable food for lunch—an exploration in itself. The kids will learn about different modes of exploration, traveling from their immediate oceanside to the air field, from the corners of our garden to Dead Horse Bay. We’ll make maps of all kinds along the way, using traditional styles of navigation, as well as sound and textures to guide us. Learning about the different ecosystems in their immediate environment will give them a fresh look at their own backyard, and the skills to help rebuild their community in a responsible and positive way. The weeks will end with a celebration and the display of a large-scale, collaborative project: a shelter made entirely of sea grasses, a Rube Goldberg-inspired sound machine, an explorative sensory tunnel, and a parade with handmade costumes. The projects will support the knowledge gained throughout the week and will encourage exploration with the way we hear, see, feel, taste, and interact with each other.
The effects of Sandy can still be seen in boarded-up shop windows and the lack of usual public transportation. But the sun has come out and people are starting to play outside again, neighbors are chatting on whatever is left of the boardwalk and restaurants are re-opening. There is hope with the new spring. Our hope, this summer, is to empower the young minds of Rockaway to be the future of the ongoing, conscious effort that our planet and community needs. If you'd like to be a part of it, consider being a part of our Kickstarter campaign.
This project will be featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push For Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.