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MEET THE ARTS ORG: Xmental

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Our featured group this month is Xmental. Here we interview founder Ralph Perez, who talks about his life as a street artist, his passion for working with young people, and an exciting new project on the horizon – Xmental University.

Why and when was your arts group founded?
I founded a graffiti crew when I was 12…and I loved X-Men, so that was our name, and it’s one of the biggest graffiti crews now, it’s international. Once I started to get back into the scene about 5 or 6 years ago, I went to an art show [Urban Legends]. They were honoring me for some reason and I didn’t know why, and when I got there, there were tons of kids there who were into graffiti. They all had their blackbooks and they were all asking me for my tag in their books. And I saw a bunch of kids that were just like me when I was a kid. My life wasn’t too great as a kid and it all started with graffiti – that was my gateway crime so to speak. And I decided there and then – it kind just hit me like a lightning bolt – I’m supposed to be helping these kids so they don’t go through the madness that I went through, ‘cause it started with graffiti and it ended up with all kinds of craziness. So I knew I couldn’t use X-Men because Marvel would sue the pants off of me, so I put “t-a-l” at the end of it and called it Xmental. We say now that we used to be mental but now we’re Xmental…like we used to be crazy but now we’re not crazy. What we do is work with the kids using the elements of hip-hop, graffiti, break-dancing, MCing, DJing, and knowledge – and tough love – and we try to steer them in the right path. So that’s how it started, that’s the short version.
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Meet the Arts Org: Dancing Crane Georgian Cultural Center

Our arts group of the month from BAC’s Directory of Brooklyn Arts Orgs is Mapleton-based Dancing Crane Georgian Cultural Center whose mission is to preserve and present Georgian traditional performance arts.  Here we interview Executive Director Victor Sirelson, who gives us some insight on what its like to run this nonprofit arts organization.

dancing crane 2

Why and when was your arts group founded and by whom?

Victor Sirelson began our organization in 1996 when, embarking on a plan to learn Georgian dance, he partnered with a professional Georgian dancer Merab Tsereteli. Over the next 5 years our organization took on the name “Dancing Crane,” incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and attracted a serious group of immigrant Georgian top professional performing artists to form the Dancing Crane Georgian Performance Ensemble. After creating the Georgian Theater of New York in 2008 and establishing our children’s school for Georgian arts and culture during the years 2007-present we became a major focus of Georgian immigrant artists and families in New York City as the Dancing Crane Georgian Cultural Center.

Where in Brooklyn are you located?

Our school, studio and cultural center are at 6401 20th Avenue, Brooklyn at the corner of 64th Street and 20th Avenue.

Who is your primary audience?

Our focus is in two directions: on the opportunity for Georgian immigrant artists and families to honor their traditions and artistic interests and skills through our classes and professional performances; and on the exposure to the greater New York community of the beauty, energy and high culture of the Georgian traditional arts. Our primary audience therefore is the Georgian immigrant community in New York and our secondary audience is the general public.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?

Clearly the most challenging aspect is funding. There is a very limited pool of available money for arts organizations and the procedures for exploring such opportunities are very demanding in terms of time, energy, inspiration and searching out the requisite expertise. Our staff members are almost entirely volunteer by necessity and without professional paid development staff the obstacles are even higher. The support from the government offices and the City Council are at best marginal and there is no clear path towards receiving either recognition or support unless you have an established relationship already. So it is like entering a closed circle.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?

Brooklyn is the major center of Georgian immigrant culture and we see the value of our programs in the lives of residents on a daily basis. There is also a developing sense of an arts community in Brooklyn, supported a great deal by the Brooklyn Arts Council.

Dancing Crane

What do you see as the biggest issues facing the arts community today?

Funding, audience development and becoming free from the pressure on all arts organizations to focus on themselves as a matter of survival rather than developing an arts community.

Do you have any major events, projects or expansions on the horizon?

We have two plays in the works from our Georgian Theater of New York, our Brooklyn Schools residency program will be active in the spring, we have scheduled and planned performances of our dance, music and children’s programs. We also are participating in the New York City Cultural Affairs ”Community Arts Leadership” initiative to help improve the infrastructure of smaller arts organizations in New York City.

We are in the process of inviting the very well-known pair Lela and Eteri Tataraidze from Georgia to share their folklore from the high mountain region of Tusheti in Georgia. Two of our singers were part of Lela’s renowned vocal trio before they came to the United States. Eteri is a highly regarded folklorist.

Meet the Arts Org: Haiti Cultural Exchange

For the month of November, the featured group from BAC’s Directory of Brooklyn Arts Organizations is two time BAC Grant recipient Haiti Cultural Exchange. Here we interview Executive Director, Régine M. Roumain who gives us some insight on what its like to run this nonprofit arts organization.

Brother High performs and leads procession at Mizik Ayiti! - June 2013

Brother High performs and leads procession at Mizik Ayiti! – June 2013

Why and when was your arts group founded and by whom?

Led by Co-Founder and current Executive Director, Régine M. Roumain, Haiti Cultural Exchange was established in 2009 by seven Haitian-American women in response to a dearth of opportunities for Haitians to explore their culture and for Haitian artists and those in the Diaspora to share their work with new  and diverse audiences.

Where in Brooklyn are you located?

We are located in Crown Heights.

Ibi Zoboi reads stories at Krik Krak Storytelling & Songs - August 2013

Ibi Zoboi reads stories at Krik Krak Storytelling & Songs – August 2013

Who is your primary audience?

Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?

As a small, under-resourced arts organization, our staff has to wear many hats.  We struggle with finding the right balance between doing the work that is core to our mission — providing high quality and engaging community arts programming — and all of the other elements that are required to effectively run a nonprofit: finding support for the organization within a limited pool of institutional donors, reaching diverse audiences in Brooklyn, hiring qualified staff etc.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of running an arts organization in Brooklyn?

Brooklyn is the home of so many Haitians – first, second and third generation immigrants; so many of whom are artists.  The vibrancy of the arts scene in Brooklyn and the community networks that we have built over the years makes this work very rewarding.

What do you see as the biggest issues facing the arts community today?

Remaining relevant and responsive to our respective communities.  Coping with the difficult economic situation facing New Yorkers.  Events in Haiti that have a direct impact on our communities.

Jean Mary Brignol on drums, Chico Boyer on guitar & Renald Felix on flute at An n' Pale with Georges Vilson

Jean Mary Brignol on drums, Chico Boyer on guitar & Renald Felix on flute at An n’ Pale with Georges Vilson

Do you have any major events, projects or expansions on the horizon?

HCX plans many events and programs throughout the year and we strive to be a dynamic arts organization that provides  our constituency with multiple ways to become engaged in HCX programs.  In the spring of 2014 we are planning a two-month long festival celebrating Haitian culture – SELEBRASYON! will showcase a diverse array of artists in the performing, visual and literary arts in venues all across Brooklyn.  STAY TUNED!

Meet the Arts Org: The 5th Ave Bay Ridge Storefront Art Walk

2012 SAWArtist Chris Bonnell

2012 SAWArtist Chris Bonnell

Our arts organization of the month from BAC’s Directory of Brooklyn Arts Organizations is The 5th Ave Bay Ridge Storefront Art Walk (SAW). The SAW gives artists the chance to work with merchants to create art that has an aesthetic connection to its surroundings. Their goal is to support and promote emerging and mid-career Brooklyn artists while celebrating local Bay Ridge businesses. The SAW is a 2013 BAC Grantee. The Art Walk is going on now until June 21. View their Directory profile.