In August 2010, the North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition (nbART) put out an open call to Brooklyn-based artists for nbAUDIO 2011, a sound installation project that would represent and engage the community. Come late spring, No Bills: Stories and Songs of North Brooklyn, a work by artist Nick Yulman that tells the neighborhood’s history, will be displayed on construction sites throughout the area.
No Bills is a collection of recorded interviews from longtime and new members of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint communities. The title is a nod to the signs around construction fences that read, “Post No Bills.” The audio, according to nbART’s Web site, will be heard from peepholes in six to seven construction fences that are connected through a site map and lead to a final site. People passing by can peek through a series of tiny holes and “see an art installation that includes a collection of small, digitally-controlled mechanical sound-making devices constructed from materials scavenged from Brooklyn’s industrial streets and objects that refer back to the stories heard in the other stations.”
Yulman, a Greenpoint-based artist who specializes in mechanical musical instrument installations and orchestras, said No Bills is “an attempt to take these [construction] sites that most directly represent the area’s developing future and use them to explore its history.” He is interested in “taking these sites that are temporarily blank, suspended between past and future, and [try] to imbue them with some life – use them as literal sounding boards.”
Executive Director of nbART Katie Denny said that No Bills had overwhelming support from a panel of judges at the organization who were “attracted to it because it has a lot of community involvement and historic preservation.” The judges were also impressed with Yulman because he worked with StoryCorps, a national organization that “has collected and archived more than 30,000 interviews from more than 60,000 participants,” according to its Web site. Denny said that the No Bills walking tour, which will take place either in May or June, will hopefully be available on a Web site where people can download podcasts of the interviews.
In order to find participants, Director of Programming Cara Jordan said that Yulman and members of nbART reached out to El Puente, Councilmember Diana Reyna, and different arts organizations around the community. Yulman said that there is “no shortage of great storytellers in Greenpoint and Williamsburg and almost everyone who I’ve interviewed has recommended others who they feel have had an important impact on the neighborhood.”
So far, Yulman, Denny, and Jordan said that No Bills is going well. They received a grant from Brooklyn Arts Council for the project, and, according to Denny, it was one of the highest the group has given out in years. Aptsandlofts.com and Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn have also said they are supporting the project.
The most poignant part of No Bills, Jordan said, is that it combines the past, present, and future of the neighborhood with the developments that will transform the landscape. She hopes that it “will have a positive impact on newer residents and that they will be able to connect with more established residents who have a lived here a long time. We want to build a sense of community between those two groups.”
No Bills has been a meaningful project and learning experience for Yulman because he has an even deeper respect for the people “who have fought to keep the neighborhood strong when it has been threatened in the past.” The only times he’s faced problems have been when he’s tried to reach out to interviewees, just to find that their longstanding businesses have closed.
For his final product, Yulman said he wants No Bills to “create a shared listening experience and feed into people’s curiosity about the neighborhood’s history. While some may specifically seek out the project sites, I’m hoping that there will be serendipitous encounters as well – people who hear a voice coming from the construction fence and then stop to listen. Beyond this, I hope that people learn some things about the neighborhood that they didn’t know and that it inspires them to keep asking questions of those around them.”
**Yulman is still searching for stories about the McCarren Park Pool, the “anything for Thanksgiving” tradition, Greenpoint’s movie houses, the neighborhood’s Doo-wop groups, and people who have worked in factories in the neighborhood. You can reach out to nbART on their Web site, www.nbart.org**
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