Interview with Stephanie Diamond
Stephanie Diamond is one of four commissioned artists in 2015 who, in collaboration with the project partners, advisory committee, volunteers and most importantly, local feedback and support, is transforming Pier 42 into a vibrant accessible waterfront park for the community.
Hester Street Collaborative (HSC) had the opportunity to ask Diamond about her experience working on Paths to Pier 42. Diamond’s Pier Ambassdors Project is an art and educational project developed with youth leaders from the Lower East Side to create audio and walking tours of the neighborhood leading to Pier 42. Over the course of ten weeks, participants in the project engaged in workshops that built their skills in storytelling, public speaking and audio recording. Examples of workshops include: sound editing, improv acting, history walking tours with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and more. Through these creative encounters, Pier Ambassadors became empowered in telling their personal stories, representing the community they live in while gaining the tools to bring awareness of the Pier to people in and outside the neighborhood. Tour participants will be exposed to exciting and unique narratives compiled by Pier Ambassadors about their personal, cultural, historical, and environmental surroundings.
Pier Ambassadors: Zion Quintero, Zachary Quintero, Ethan Justiniano, Dylan Rivera, Princess Marie Melendez, and Princess Merry Melendez.
Partners: Jim Mattingly, Sound Artist; Vison Urbana: Eric Diaz, Director, Empire Mentorship Initiative
What was your initial approach to the Paths to Pier 42 project? How is the project connected to past projects and the values that motivate your work?
I was interested in Paths to Pier 42 as a community space, as a park that was being developed with the community, not just for the community. I thought it would be important to have voices from the community reflected not just in the park’s design, but in its presentation and contextualization, so I had the idea of Pier Ambassadors, young people from the community who created tours about their own neighborhood based on their experiences and histories. I was interested in creating an experience that would further promote community-building, but through empowering the young people in the neighborhood to tell their stories and become ambassadors for their neighborhood. I have a long history of working within educational frameworks, so this project fits into that approach to my work. I also value the opportunity to collaborate with communities, to work together on developing a project as opposed to me making a project on my own and showing it.
How did the various components of your project (workshops, installation) develop?
I worked with our community partner, Vision Urbana, to consider what kind of program they already had set up. I knew it wasn’t up to me to create a whole new structure and bring people together from scratch, that’s why working with Vision Urbana was so important – they already had a close-knit group of engaged young people together, who knew each other, knew the neighborhood, and were eager to do something creative with me, a stranger. For the actual content of the program, I thought about leading guided tours and the different elements involved: walking, talking, observing. We explored these elements in different ways: improv workshops to get more comfortable being in front of a group, taking a tour at the Tenement Museum to observe how other people are designing tours of the Lower East Side, learning about professional sound recording Jim Mattingly in order to produce the best possible quality audio tours. There were 10 workshops total, you can read all about them in my blog posts on the Paths to Pier 42 site.
What issues on Pier 42 and in the surrounding neighborhood most interested you? How do you feel that your project responds to or addresses these issues?
I was really interested in the way that Pier 42 is being developed with the community, not for the community. And I especially loved the fact that artists are being brought in to collaborate with designers and local groups in order to experiment with what a park means to the neighborhood today.
What do you hope the students will take away from this project?
I hope that the Pier Ambassadors will leave feeling more connected to their neighborhood and the place that they live. One of my goals with this project was to empower Pier Ambassadors with the knowledge and new skills they’ve gained from the project. Through the program, they have strengthened their skills in public speaking, storytelling, community-building and audio recording. I believe that this experience has given them a chance to better know their unique position as community members and community leaders.
What do you hope comes about from the Pier Ambassadors project for the future?
I hope that the stories that the Pier Ambassadors have created will remain, because they are compelling ways to present the Lower East Side to people visiting Pier 42. I also hope that there will be more opportunities for new Pier Ambassadors to share their knowledge in other ways in the future.
How do you think the experience of this collaboration with students will inform your work moving forward?
It is always inspiring to work with creative and dedicated young people. I learned so much from them about the Lower East Side and about how we tell stories. I also really valued the opportunity to work with Vision Urbana, and I know that going forward I will always work with a community partner on these types of projects.
Has this project changed how you view the Lower East Side and the Path to Pier 42?
It has definitely given me a new perspective on the Lower East Side and its history, and I got the chance to learn new information and history about this neighborhood that I never knew before. To that end, I hope that people who take the Pier Ambassadors tours will have the same experience.
Is there a favorite moment or anecdote from the project that you’d like to share?
Giving and receiving hugs with the Pier Ambassadors and our community partners at the end of our project. When community projects begin I never know what journey I am about to embark on. When they end with hugs and love we all know it was a success!
“Making of Paths to Pier 42″ is a series of interviews with the artists and designers behind the creation of the Pier 42 park.