From the North Shore of Staten Island to the East River side of the Long Island City shoreline to the heart of Lower Manhattan’s Civic Center, five new public art installations that, just weeks ago, were nothing more than stacks of salvaged plywood boards, are now on view in parks and open spaces in each of New York City’s five boroughs.
Created as part of New York art nonprofit worthless studios’ Plywood Protection Project, each unique sculptural installation gives renewed use to discarded plywood boards that were used to seal up Big Apple storefronts shuttered by the coronavirus and deployed to protect businesses during last summer’s historic protests decrying systemic racism and police-perpetrated violence against Black Americans. As noted by worthless studios, the material was a rather scarce commodity in New York last summer with single 4’–by–8′ AC plywood boards going for more than $90 each.
Many of those once-ubiquitous plywood shields and have since come down and found themselves bound for dumpsters across the city. worthless studios diverted nearly 200 of them from the waste stream and put out an open call to artists and designers for provocative, plywood-based installation proposals. Upwards of 200 artists and designers applied, with the five finalists, revealed in April, receiving studio space, tools, fabrication and installation assistance, a $500 budget for other required materials, and a $2,000 artist stipend.
As worthless studios founder Neil Hamamoto explained to the New York Times in a recent article profiling the Plywood Protection Project and similar protest plywood preservation and creative reuse initiatives across the country, the “aim is to create safe, outdoor destinations for New Yorkers during the pandemic while prompting ‘emotionally and politically complex questions’ around pain, anger, protest, property and memory.”
Below are the five realized installations, all of which will be on public view through November 1 unless otherwise noted. Along with location information are brief descriptions of each installation as provided by worthless studios and a link to further information about the work, the artist, and upcoming in-person programming—artist talks, musical events, performances, and more—tied to each plywood masterpiece.
RockIt Black | Tanda Francis
Queensbridge Park, Queens (May 15–November 1)
“A sculpture dedicated to undoing the stigmatization of Blackness by presenting Black identities as divine and a foundation of our shared humanity.” More information here.
Be Heard | Behin Ha Design Studio
Thomas Paine Park, Manhattan (May 15–November 1)
“A sculpture honoring the social justice protest of 2020 by celebrating free speech and civic engagement.” More information here.
Open Stage | Tony DiBernardo
Alice Austen House Side Lawn, Staten Island (May 15–June 30)
“Tony DiBernado’s Plywood Protection Project sculpture, Open Stage, takes the form of a stage where local theater workers will have a chance to perform outdoors — in some cases for the first time in over a year.” More information here.
Poe Park, The Bronx (May 15–November 1)
“An interactive series of portraits and silhouettes of the 2020 protests, created in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement.” More information here.
Miguelito | Michael Zelehoski
McCarren Park, Brooklyn (May 15–November 1)
“A sculpture consisting of two plywood obelisks: symbols of political power, twisted together to form a caltrop or miguelito, a symbol of protest.” More information here.