Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Harlem One Stop Welcomes NYCAHC to Sugar Hill to Promote West Harlem as a Tourist Destination

The annual general membership meeting of The New York City Association of Hotel Concierges was held on April 28th in Sugar Hill, West Harlem, at the new Sugar Hill Apartments and future home of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling, designed by David Adjaye. The Association’s meeting was held in West Harlem at the invitation of Harlem One Stop as part of a West Harlem cultural tourism initiative funded by a grant from the West Harlem Development Corporation.

The Broadway Housing Communities, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling hosted a reception following the meeting in its 9th floor Rio Gallery II and patio with a breathtaking unobstructed views of the surrounding Harlem/Washington Heights neighborhood.

“It’s not just where we can get space for us,” said Thomas Meckl, NYCAHC member of 27 years, who discussed the array of meeting locations. “It’s also is it a place we want our colleagues to know more about.”

As ambassadors of New York to visitors from around the world and across the country, travelers trust NYC hotel concierges to offer comprehensive information about the best that the five-boroughs have to offer.

“Manhattan is garnering these tourists and there’s a history to Harlem," said Gunter Kleemann, member and former president of the NYCAHC. “There’s a whole amazing world up here that’s as unique as any other neighborhood in Manhattan.

With special events and festivals occurring throughout the year, home to preserved historical landmarks embedded in New York’s past, and the center of cultural diversity with guided tours, the area is beginning to see a steady influx of travelers that’s growing.

Speakers of the evening included Ellen Baxter, founder and executive director of Broadway Housing Communities. She spoke of the projects that the BHC has erected which provided homes to nearly 300 households. After the meeting she lead a tour previewing the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

“What I was amazed at was the size that museum was going to be downstairs, the tremendous amount of interactive stuff, and how exposing preschoolers to art really contributed to their cognitive development,” added Meckl.

The Harlem museum was built to highlight the significance of art to children ages 3-8 in an engaging way that stimulates their appreciation for creativity. SHCMAS’s educational program is guided by Steve Seidel Director of Harvard University’s Arts in Education Program and also features the historical richness of the neighborhood itself in relation to the surrounding Washington Heights and Harlem communities.

Also exclusive to Harlem is the blend of cuisine available throughout the community. The African and soul flavors were featured from Farafina Café and Lounge, which hosted the NYCAHC reception.

After opening about two years ago, the restaurant is also featured in Forbes Magazine as one of the top ten African Restaurants in New York City.  

Owner, Steve Abreu, and Chef Lemon, of the Ivory Coast, made an appearance to discuss the menu with guests and further share the culinary information of the neighborhood with the association.

“A lot of great things are happening soon and I think Farafina has something to offer anyone from any culture, and if you look at the food we serve you see the similarities with the food in the Caribbean cultures, as well as American,” said Abreu.

Dishes featured included the chef’s special take on the traditional recipe of Chicken Yassa, served with an array of staples such as Mac & cheese, mixed vegetables and Farafina’s couscous.

“The more events you have the more you explore and can participate by taking one of the tours going to the restaurants, going to the museums, and seeing what the neighborhoods have got to offer and then you are more aware and then you become more able to make first hand recommendations to the area,” added Kleemann.

(Photo credit: NYCAHC)

(Photo credit: NYCAHC)
(Photo credit: NYCAHC)
(Photo credit: NYCAHC)

Friday, April 3, 2015

HAF Uplifts Artists at 2015 Gala

Supporters of the Harlem arts community gathered at Madiba - MIST Harlem to celebrate the Harlem Arts Festival's 4th Annual Gala on Thursday, April 2nd.

"Our mission is to offer opportunities and resources, anything we can do for the artists, so if we're providing them that platform the artists take care of the rest," said Neal Ludevig, one of the co-founders of the Harlem Arts Festival.

He, along with fellow co-founders JJ El-Far and Chelsea Goding presented the 2015 Lynette Velasco Community Impact Award to Dr. Brenda Green, the Executive Director for the Center of Black Literature at Medgar Evers College.

Green devoted years to teaching, scholarship, writing, editing and research, with an intense focus on multicultural and African American literature. She is editor of  a book of essays titled The African Presence and Influence on the Cultures of the Americas.

"Lynette was a strong supporter of the Harlem Arts Festival in the early years and had a clear demonstrative passion for protecting, developing and cultivating new programs," was a connection she highlighted for it resonated with her personally. 

She recalled her middle school years in Springfield Gardens Queens where she and Lynette attended P.S. 3 and the narratives that took hold of their lives which  lead them to their calling of service to future generations in literature and art. 

"I always remember I could not do it alone," said Green, during her acceptance speech. "I stand on the shoulders of many and I am very deeply grateful to all those on whose shoulders I stand."

She thanked her family for their presence, contributions and support in her life and work, even noting how her father always reminded her of the importance of the life of the mind. 

Answering dutifully to the call of service pertaining to evolving artists and new writers was what she expressed as a continuing commitment, resounding the significance of "all lives matter."

The evening also showcased intimate performances by HAF 2015 artists Samora Pinderhughes, on piano, dancer Alia Kache and Farrah Boule, with a live band. 

The signed work of Pink Floyd, Prince, Whitney Houston and James Brown a few of the many pieces offered during a silent auction to benefit the organization's ability to enrich opportunities for growing talent.  

The evening raised around $10,000 that will support current artist initiatives and this year's festival which runs from Jun 27-28th.

"Its been an amazing evening from the speakers, to the honoree, to the performers, to the food - it's just an atmosphere of love," said Shannon Berry, visual artist, performer and West Harlem resident.

To build up artists in such an uplifting way was unique to the organization. She said the energy of optimism and support that HAF provided to the community of performers and artists were invaluable.

"I was sitting at my table grooving, then I started crying because the pianist was so moving," said Berry.

The full lineup of HAF 2015 artists were also revealed at the gala which includes an array performers with backgrounds in music, dance, theater and visual arts.

"This is such a small piece of what's happening this year and we're more than happy to be apart of it," added Ludevig. 

For more details, artists or upcoming events visit

Thursday, April 2, 2015

'Streetbird' hatches on Frederick Douglass Boulevard

Marcus Samuelsson's latest eatery, Streetbird Rotisserie is new to the Harlem foodie scene and opened its doors on Thursday, Apr. 2nd for the first time.

Lead by the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Red Rooster, Streetbird's cuisine adds international elements to familiar dishes to create a satiating visual and dining experience. 

The eclectic menu features 'The Fly Girl' - black kale, romaine, green beans, toasted rice with lime-coconut dressing, 'Tack-Tack' - house fermented tortillas filled with choices of piri-piri spiced fish, pickled cucumber and avocado or rotisserie chicken, mole, pickled red onions, lettuce and cilantro, and on the sweet side, 'The Sweet Dog' - inspired by the traditional Swedish dessert of brioche, almond paste and whipped cream.

Although the blend of cross-cultural cuisines from Ethiopia, Sweden and Harlem are an integral part of the joint, there's thoughtful attention to detail given the atmosphere as it drips in art, music and culture artifacts relevant to the times. 

From counters lined in dominoes, to the repurposed Harlem church pews that don designer label cloths and West African fabrics, the ever evolving mix of culture is visible from the signage to the authentic subway tile flooring. 

The ambiance calls to the comforts of a Sunday cookout and familiarity of a neighborhood block party with an open kitchenette. Before it's served on the plate guests are able to see their food come together and their birds roast fully. 

Samuelsson envisioned a New York during the late 70s - early 90s and brought it back with original graffiti pieces by Def Jam Recording's Creative Director, Cey Adams, and vintage photo displays by renowned photographer Janette Beckman. Images of Coney Island in 1986 on the wall, a floor based art installation by Anthony Vasquez and boomboxes loaded with audio are added features to the space.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Glimpses of Hip-Hop's firsts at the Museum of the City of NY

The Mash-up: Run DMC by Janette Beckman & Queen Andrea

It was a time when rappers, MCs, graffiti artists, b-boys and b-girls ran the city streets. The boroughs overflowed with a mix of vibrant color and raw grit, peaking the senses while drawing all around closer.

There began the story of hip-hop, a movement that started out in the parks and spread to become an expressive culture full of heart.
Today marked the opening of the Museum of the City of New York’s latest exhibit, Hip-Hop Revolution. Detailed with photographs, preserved memorabilia and listening stations, the collective display joins together the work of Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo and Martha Cooper - each who have varying ties to the city, but share in capturing the essence of hip-hop at its origin.

The work features over 100 images of icons and pioneers during 1977-1990, and chronicles its development which continues to impact style and music for decades to come. 

“Everything was happening all around me and it kind of swept me up,” said Beckman, of London, who began living downtown in 1982.

Upon arriving New York, she completed work for The Police, The Clash, The Sex Pistols and Boy George. British punk, Mod and 2 Tone were her background, but that changed after being exposed to the underground hip-hop scene that acquainted her with Run DMC, Salt-n-Pepa, Eric B. & Rakim and Afrika Bambaata, to name a few.

“To me hip hop and punk are very similar,” said Beckman. It was adversity and the lack of opportunity that she saw give way to a distinct creativity and innovative spirit reflected in the style, skills, storytelling and culture of hip-hop.

Her work was deemed too raw for many record labels she applied to jobs initially for, but that natural state depicted the reality of the times. “There were no stylists or hair and makeup people on most of these shoots,” said Beckman.

Joe Conzo's photos including the Cold Crush Brothers
For photographer and Bronx native, Joe Conzo, he said the premise of stylistic and skill based competition also fueled the hype and lead to constant improvement and innovation within the evolving genre.

“Who could wear the flyest clothes, cleanest sneakers, the dopest haircut, the dopest shirts, this that and the other,” Conzo said.

He was witness to a Bronx in shaky times, but the mentality was never being in a state of ‘without,’ but was about creating and reinventing with what resources were available. Hip-hop became a socio-cultural movement and the lens was his way of preserving the life within his community and experiences with his peers.

He painted a picture of the South Bronx, where a walk down the street was filled with the aroma of either cuchifritos or veal parmesan in the air, and down the corner across the street would be rhythms from the congeros. The mixture of music, which also melded with the close of disco, and height of crews such as the Cold Crush Brothers and the Rock Steady Crew are what revolutionized the scene entirely.

Today Conzo’s work is archived at Cornell University’s Hip-Hop Collection, which involves the digitization of over 10,000 photos, but to him those days in the Bronx were as fresh as yesterday.

“You just walked to school and it was just a different cast of characters where ever you walked,” said Conzo. “The Bronx is considered a rainbow and it was just a phenomenal time.”

Frosty Freeze (Rock Steady Crew) by Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper, of Rhode Island, started her work in the late 1970's as a staff photographer for the New York Post and is respected as veteran documentary photographer of urban scenes. 

Her images of street art and b-boys were proof to the outside world that there was something significant to her initial interest that soon grew into a dedicated passion. Cooper captured the makings of Wild Style and Style Wars just as it explode on the scene. The dance of breaking was unlike any choreographed before and her efforts pitching the ideas to editors was the beginning of greater coverage.

Cooper, who has been featured in National Geographic to Vibe, published books throughout the years portraying the expansive movement and evolution of hip-hop. Her rare images include that of the Rock Steady Crew, Keith Haring, Fab 5 Freddy, Crazy Legs and the Dynamic Rockers.

Hip-Hop Revolution is a follow-up of the museum’s 2014 City as a Canvas exhibition on graffiti art and runs until Sept. 15.