Updated: 4 days ago
Recently, Concourse House was visited by Chrystal Genesis who runs Stance, an award-winning arts and culture podcast. While there she spoke to the artists behind the Mothers’ Art Crew, Jess Rolls, Arts Curator, Yafatou, Amanda and Dayanara, Art Apprentices, and Charles G. Esperanza, Artists in Residence. The Mothers’ Art Crew and the art program at the Concourse House were largely birthed during the pandemic when a need for a safe space for expression and creativity was realized.
Grace Gelder (2022)
Jess explains that the purpose of the program is to give the women and children the opportunity to, “Learn, have fun, experiment with their public art.” From large crochet murals to beautiful painted benches, the art program has allowed the women and children to explore vast mediums of art, styles and expressions. “These women work as a team to change stigmas around women's shelters and homelessness. We need more than a roof over our heads, we need space to imagine our futures,” Jess told Chrystal. The piece that most stands out to Jess is the giant bamboo and crochet hoop earring. Inside the earring are the words, “Let it Go,” which is a motivational mantra for those who pass by and has become a slogan for the Mothers’ Art Crew.
Amanda Renae is a former resident of the Concourse House but now has permanent residence in an apartment with her seven year old daughter. When she first came to the shelter she saw the tree and was enthralled by it, sparking conversation with Jess, who encouraged her to come visit the art team and get involved. Now, Amanda has collaborated on several projects, contributing her amazing beading skills to the murals. Amanda explains that despite leaving, she still enjoys coming back to work on art because it reminds her of when she used to live here. “Concourse House was part of my beginning but has become my future because I was able to move out,” Amanda says.
The most notable project the Mothers’ Art Crew has worked on is the Blossom Tree. A vibrant work of art right outside the House, it is made of dozens of flowers in shades of pink and white. The piece is a symbol of the connection between the residents and the neighborhood. Amanda explains that looking at the piece brings joy and excitement. “We want to show the community it's okay to come together as a family. So every time you walk by the tree of friendship just know we got you and it's gonna be alright.” With locals constantly walking by to ask about the art, it sparks conversations between residents.
Dayanara is the spearhead behind the Blossom Tree and another Art Apprentice on the Mothers’ Art Crew. Dayanara began her crochet journey with the art program and has become an extremely talented artist. Getting started is the hardest part but once you get started it's a piece of cake,” Dayanara explains of her learning to crochet. “The best part of crochet is introducing it to the community and seeing the different reactions we get.”
Dayanara explains that the blossom tree was a huge group effort. Loads of flowers were made by hand to be stitched together to form the tree, as well as dozens of beads being glued on to add layers. “For me it signifies community, friendship and togetherness. While we were working on it we engaged with each other.” Dayanara explains that she experienced a healing sensation while working on the tree. “ It created a safe place for us to grow and heal.”
Yafatou, a mother of two, is another former resident and Art Apprentice working with the Mothers’ Art Crew. She is currently attending college to get a degree in nursing. Prior to living at Concourse House, Yafatou lived in another shelter where she explained that she never went out. When she moved she met Jess who encouraged her to utilize her amazing crocheting skills. “Once I started to see the beautiful colors [from the yarn] it ignited in me and helped me to develop confidence,” Yafatou explains.
Yafatou credits her journey with the Arts Program in encouraging her to pursue other passions. She tells how it gave her passion to get up and do something during the day. “I know it's hard, it's not easy. You think the sun is never going to shine on you,” she says. “Rise up, take care of children but take care of yourself too. You have to be a good role model to your children.”
Collaborating with the team is teaching artist Charles Esperanza. Prior to his work with Concourse House, Charles had never worked with children and mothers before, though he has worked with all ages from kindergarten to seniors. “Working with mothers and children ,it's a very interesting experience but one I've grown to appreciate because sometimes the mothers are more enthusiastic than the children,” Charles explains. “Like many other people, they haven't had an art class in a while so this is a good way for them to connect with their children and express their creativity.”
Charles explains that if it wasn’t for his work with the shelter he would likely spend all day in his studio, while instead he gets extra inspiration from the community. “I hope for a renaissance in the Bronx and that the world will take note,” Charles says.
So true is Charles’s words, as Bronx artists take over the Fordham-Bedford area with public art displays across the neighborhood. “They have an amazing voice, it's just giving them the space to go out there and use it,” says Jess.