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Trust Your S•T•R•U•G•G•L•E...at the HIP HOP Seasons Festival by Ross Rice

Like most American urban landscapes, the city of Newburgh often shows the effects of human inequality in stark relief, with shiny waterfront and suburban mall areas bracketing what can appear to be a foreboding inner city.

But a closer look reveals a view of new progress and potential exemplified by the return of restaurants and retailers to the Liberty Street area, a revitalized neighborhood anchored by the newly refurbished Ritz Theatre. Much of this recent improvement has been due to the work of Safe Harbors of the Hudson, a non-profit incorporated in 2000 with the mission of transforming lives and building communities through housing and the arts. With grant money from the state, Safe Harbors has transformed the old Hotel Newburgh into safe and affordable housing, partnered with local church ministries, and, with the Cornerstone Residence, created new community and commercial space downtown.

The Residence is also the home of the Ann Street Gallery, which in the month of May will be ground zero for the cutting edge in what has come to be known as “urban art.” The gallery will be part of the Hip Hop Seasons Festival, a week-long event celebrating what organizer Decora, of the ReadNex Poetry Squad (RNPS), calls the five “elements of hip-hop”: DJ-ing, mc-ing, break dancing, graffiti, and the drum, with special guests, Trust Your Struggle Artist Collective, and a theatrical poetry performance by local students from the RNPS school programs. It promises to be a week packed with music, poetry, action, and art ….all at the right time, at the right place.

Ann Street Gallery director and curator Virginia Walsh has been a consistently positive force since the gallery’ opening in 2006, with a particular interest in contemporary and emerging artists, as well as making a real connection to the local population. Lately there’s been a lot of buzz about the expanding genre of “urban art,” young graffiti artists making the transition from underground—and sometimes illegal—artistic activity into welcomed and even commissioned urban mural painting. The works of some of these artists reveal stunning technique and sensibility, often with bold political and social themes woven into very sophisticated visual statements. Virginia was interested in a full-scale exhibition, and started putting the word out for artists.

Fortunately, the answer came through the gallery door one day. Decora was scouting space to hold a hip-hop poetry symposium and women’s panel, and was checking out Ann St. Gallery. When Virginia mentioned her interest in an urban art exhibit, Decora suggested he contact Trust Your Struggle, a community and socially minded “urban art” collective of seven artists from the Bay Area of California and New York City she’d encountered when the RNPS was on tour a few years back. About one year later, everything came together, and both Decora’s plan for a hip-hop festival and Virginia’s hope for a real “urban art” installation became reality.

The artists of Trust Your Struggle—Tres Rock, Erin Yoshioka, Scott La Rockwell, Borish, Djay Pele, Cece and Miguel Bounce Perez—are a diverse group of young—and frighteningly talented—artists/educators who are “dedicated to creating political and socially conscious artwork.” Collectively and individually they travel all over the world collaborating with local artists and grassroots organizations to produce original large-scale murals and conducting painting workshops with local youth groups. 2006 saw them touring through Mexico and South America, producing eleven murals in two months. Last year they worked their way from Brooklyn to San Francisco and travelled through Canada on their 2008 North American Mural Tour. Members have been active this year painting in Bogotá and Santiago. (The Newburgh installation will feature TYS members Borish, CeCe, Tres Rock, Shaun Burner, and Miguel Bounce Perez.)

The TYS collective seems to work collaboratively much the way a fine music ensemble does, with everyone trusting the mad skills of his/her partners, and helping each other with scale and perspective. The results are fast and impressive, occasionally sculptural, and carry strong messages: pro-social justice, equality, community, humanity, and anti-oppression, fear, and violence. And not unlike Buddhist sand painters, the artists generally accept the potential ephemera of the urban canvas—the reality that the work could be destroyed, or painted over on a whim. (You can see more about them at www.myspace.com/trustyourstruggle.)

The free-for-all nature of urban art did present one challenging issue to Virginia and the gallery: what if someone wanted to purchase a work? An agreement was made to cover the walls of the gallery with canvas paper, thereby preserving the work, and allowing it to be sold and/or transported, in sections if needed.

As much a performance as an installation, especially with the addition of a DJ and the school-age children performing their theatrical poetry, the Hip Hop Seasons Festival should be an uplifting event for the hip-hop and urban art fan. And who knows…the next Picasso could very well be a kid from the streets of Newburgh, holding paint cans in both hands.—R


SIX QUESTIONS WITH TRUST YOUR STRUGGLE ARTISTS BEN (BORISH) ROJAS AND CECE CARPIO

I understand that the five artists in the upcoming Newburgh show are frequent collaborators. How did this association come about? What has the process of collaboration done for your personal artistic vision?

BEN ROJAS (BORISH)- Trust Your Struggle collective (TYS) came about in the year 2003 with three of its members: Scott La Rockwell, Robert “Tres” Trujillo, and myself. We were part of three different crews, but felt that each of us wanted more out of our groups, something more political, more aware of the world. So we formed TYS, and put on an art show entitled “Real Revolutionaries Eat Pork.”

As for my personal artistic vision, this collective has made me improve 100 times over, and it is still making me work.

CECE CARPIO (CECE)- I got initiated into Trust Your Struggle in 2006, painting with them through the first “Trust Your Hustle” mural tour throughout Mexico and Central America. I have known the individuals of TYS from different parts of my life in the Bay Area through family, community, cultural, and activism work. Being part of TYS has allowed me to expand my knowledge, skills, and vision in ways that would have not been possible painting alone. To be able to share my love and passion in art with homies that have similar worldviews and political perspective is a rare find. We have shared interest in artistically developing our skills as a team and as individuals, as well as having a collective consciousness to paint stories of our communities, experiences, and struggles. Painting with TYS is like finally finding a music band to play with—we all have our own individual skills…but together we are better and stronger.

Was your artistic vision and technique affected at all by any kind of formal training or education?

BORISH- It was affected. I learned a few things from college, which I use now when I teach in my classes. But the majority of my vision and techniques come from just experimentation, and learning from my close friends.

CECE- I have always drawn as long as I can remember—consistently intrigued by the beauty and power of visual creation. As a youth, I learned to paint in the streets hanging out with my older brothers and his friends; it was a form of releasing and recreation. I went to undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, double majoring in Community Studies and Arts. My emphasis in arts was printmaking and sculpture. I never took a painting class in my life. When I left school and did not have access to a studio, drawing and painting became the most convenient form of artistic practice—and I immediately fell back in love with it.

Traveling is also a big source of growth for me, where I am able to gain inspiration from parts and pieces of places I have been and people I have met. I learned most from hanging out with my artist peers and mentors who are generous enough to share their work and techniques, so that I am able to develop my own artistic forms and styles.

How do you feel about the inevitable labeling: “urban art,” “outsider art,” etc.? If you had to label yourself, how would you? Would you even bother?

BORISH- I personally don’t like the labeling, but I won’t stress about it. I honestly cannot find a label for myself, or my art. I grew up doing graffiti, but I wouldn’t call myself a “graffiti artist,” because within the context of the culture of hip-hop, graffiti art really has to do with the art of the letter, which I do not do. I was influenced by urban settings, but did not grow up in an urban environment. I have some training in formal painting, but feel I learned more from my friends and from traveling. Some of my art deals with Latino/Chicano life, but I wouldn't label myself a Chicano artist. In other words, I have no label.

CECE- “Urban Art” is an inevitable label because I am living in an urban environment; “outsider art” is also inevitable because artists are constantly labeled as outsiders. I label myself as artist. I like to keep the definition broad. My work, my style, my themes evolve as I evolve.

How does commerce enter the picture here? Can you sell your work to collectors? Is that even a consideration?

BORISH- Yes, some work can be purchased. Some that are painted on walls stay where they are or are painted over. For some reason, creating something that no one can have interests me. Or creating something that will be destroyed fits perfectly within the rest of the world. Things come into life, live, and then pass on. I believe it is important that our art does the same. It is made of us, so it should go as we do.

CECE- In our era of economic crisis, artists also need to eat. We are always grateful to get monetary support through donations and sponsorships that support our work and do not compromise our mission or artistic integrity. We are more than willing to sell our pieces for collectors, art lovers, community members, friends, family, etc who can appreciate the work that we do. I consider this as one of the biggest forms of support for us, so that we can continue to create new pieces to show.

In mainstreaming “urban art” (if that label applies to your work), is there something lost in taking it off the street and into the gallery?

BORISH- When art is taken off the streets and into a gallery I believe it can lose its larger audience of normally “non-art-lovers” people. Those that wouldn’t go into a gallery but would see something on a wall, truck, train, pole, or bathroom and appreciate it, learn from it, or are influenced in a good way from it. Within the gallery it gains a newer but smaller audience, but one that may give money for it.

CECE- I do believe that sometimes gallery spaces limit the type of audience who view the work. However, in our case, we are deliberate in reclaiming these spaces so that anyone and everyone can gain access to galleries and transform them as a cultural and educational hub so that they can serve as a place for everyone to participate, expose and educate themselves in solidarity.

If you’d like, feel free to say anything you want to about what and why you create...

BORISH- I create because I believe that I have no other choice. This is what I was placed here to do. I create as my ancestors did, and I create for them, and for seven generations into the future.

CECE- As an artist with Trust Your Struggle, I use art as a tool for education and social transformation. I embrace and expose the everyday reality and find beauty to emphasize and create images that the public can pay attention to and hopefully learn from. I get inspiration from nostalgic moments of people of color’s history, immigration and ancestry, and display it with a contemporary lens by using spray paint. Being an artist allows me to have the power to create and envision the world we want to live in without overlooking where we came from.

Trust Your Struggle unveils their Ann. St. Gallery installation—as part of the Hip Hop Seasons Festival—on Saturday May 2nd, with the exhibition showing through June 27th. Ann St. Gallery, 104 Ann St., Newburgh, www.safe-harbors.org, 845.562.6940. Gallery hours Th/Fr/Sa 11 AM- 5 PM. Reception and performance by Newburgh students Sa 5/2, 6-9 PM


Decora—from renowned Newburgh-based hip-hop/social activist group ReadNex Poetry Squad—is one serious multi-tasker. With the help of fellow RNPS members Freeflowin’, Cuttz, Latin Translator, and DJH2O, he’s put together the week-long Hip Hop Seasons Festival with events all over Newburgh at the end of April. Amazingly, he had time to respond to some questions:

How did your part of this upcoming performance/installation come to happen? Did you have any previous connection to Trust Your Struggle?

The installation that will be going up at the Ann Street Gallery is part of a week-long Festival I am putting on called Hip Hop Seasons Festival. This is the second year we have put this festival on. Last year we only represented two of the five elements of Hip Hop (those being DJ-ing, MC-ing, break dancing, graffiti, and the drum). This year the ReadNex Poetry Squad and I made sure we included all elements of Hip Hop in the Festival. Since we’ve known Trust Your Struggle for about a year and a half and know that their ideology is in line with ours, we decided to invite them. All artists participating in The Hip Hop Festival are conscious artists who perform their art to better themselves and their community.

Please tell me a little about the youth program....is this something you and RNPS are involved with ongoing?

When not on tour, we, The ReadNex Poetry Squad teach in high schools and in after-school programs (The Nex to Be Read Program and Hip Hop and Poetry Saved My Life Program). Both are centered around helping youth gain self-confidence, respect and to help them express themselves through the means of urban art. We have taught our eight-week program in nineteen schools since we started it two years ago, six of which have been in 2009.

Any upcoming plans for RNPS this summer?

After Hip Hop Seasons, we have some short tours going to Albany, Denver, England, and Guatemala. I am also planning the first Green Hip Hop Tour with an organization out of the South Bronx called Grassroots Artists Movement. This tour will be in line with a project I currently run called Hip Hop Garden here in Newburgh with nine high school Students from N.F.A. The rest of the group’s programs will spill into the summer as well.

As a resident and long-time advocate of the city, do you think the revitalization of Newburgh can continue in these difficult economic times? If so, what do you think needs to happen to make it possible?

First we must define “revitalization of Newburgh,” because to some, that definition is analogous with gentrification….I find it very important that the revitalization of Newburgh happens with the residents of the community. During these tough economic times, it’s important that people in government think outside of the box to raise the cultural capital we have in Newburgh. There are tons of abandoned buildings here, and tons of people with building skills. With the economic stimulus money coming, it can be a nice combination, if managed correctly. There is an awesome group called Community Voices Heard that is exploring some of these possibilities.


Hip-Hop seasons festival schedule all locations in Newburgh

Th 4/23-
Dinner and a Movie, Liberty & Broadway. 7-9 PM

Fr 4/24-
Children of the Night Scholarship Concert feat. ReadNex Poetry Squad, Saul Williams, John Forte, Rugged & Raw, Alex Schein, and Eunice, N.F.A. Auditorium, 201 Fullerton Ave. 7-9 PM

Sa 4/25-
Drum Circle & Brazilian Capoeira, Downing Park Amphitheatre, Carpenter Ave. at 3rd St. 12:30 PM-?

Sa 4/25-
Triple Threat: Beat Battle, DJ Battle, Break Dancers & Freestyle Challenge, Mount Saint Mary College Hudson Hall Auditorium, 330 Powell Ave. 8 PM

Su 4/26-
Where My Ladies At?: All Women’s Hip Hop Panel, Newburgh Free Library, 124 Grand St. 3 PM

We 4/29-
Poetry Coffeehouse Black Box Theatre, Newburgh Free Academy, 201 Fullerton Ave. 7 PM

Sa 5/2-
Hood Scrapers Low Rise High Fall (with Trust Your Struggle Art Opening), theatrical poetry with local students, Ann St. Gallery, 104 Ann St. 7 PM



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