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The Harlem Arts Festival started three years ago, through the vision and tenacity of a few young arts activists – Neal Ludevig, JJ El-Far and Chelsea Goding. The weekend festival, which takes place in June at Marcus Garvey Park, showcases emerging, local performers and artists from Harlem and throughout the city. The event is continuing to grow and gain momentum as one of Harlem’s most anticipated outdoor arts and cultural events. There is no fee to attend: Art lovers and families need only show up, take a seat, and stay all day for a full line-up of dance, theater and musical performances. The Festival also features a gallery of visual artists, food, vendors, and “Kids Corner”.
Powered by an entirely volunteer staff, the Harlem Arts Festival Annual Gala helps to raise the funds that make The Festival possible. Their 2nd Annual Gala was a night to remember that took place on Thursday, April 2, 2015 at MIST Harlem. The event welcomed 125 guests and highlighted preview performances by upcoming HAF performing artists, along with the presentation of the Lynnette Velasco Community Impact Award to Dr. Brenda Greene – the Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. The 2015 award was a work of art, designed by HAF visual artist, Lance Johnson.
Lynnette Velasco, who served as Councilmember Dicken’s Chief of Staff until her untimely passing in 2012, was a friend and staunch supporter of the Harlem Arts Festival in its formative stages. Through her efforts and guidance, the Harlem Arts Festival was transformed from a dream to reality in 2012. The Community Impact Award was introduced in her memory last year, and will be presented annually to champions of the arts, like Velasco.
For the inaugural year, the award went to Linda Walton, Executive Director of the Harlem Arts Alliance, along with the late musician and social activist, Fred Ho. Dr. Brenda Greene, who was the proud recipient of the 2015 award, has fought to preserve, cultivate and expand the appreciation and value of literature produced by Black writers. “Throughout her career, Dr. Greene has demonstrated a clear passion for protecting, developing and cultivating the spaces, programs and resources that make it possible for Black writers and their artistic work to thrive,” said Neal Ludevig, Executive Director of the Harlem Arts Festival. “Her work personifies everything that Lynnette Velasco believed in and stood for during her life.” Dr. Greene was also a childhood friend of Velasco’s. In her acceptance speech, she remembered Velasco fondly and challenged the audience to begin contemplating and shaping their legacies.
Gala night ended with a lively dance party and $10,000 raised for the 2015 Harlem Arts Festival! harlemartsfestival.com
Photos: Julie Discenza. (Top) HAF performer; (Above) HAF Co-founder JJ El-Far presenting award to Dr. Brenda Greene and HAF Gala dance party
Marcus Samuelsson’s latest venture has been four years in the making. Over the bitter winter, it secretly took shape behind the butcher-paper-covered windows of a former bank at the Southwest corner of 116th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Despite heavy foot traffic from the subway entrance at that very spot, one would never have suspected the transformation taking place inside. The lively intersection is home to Harlem Tavern, Silvana, Lolo’s and a brand new, can’t-miss Kennedy Fried Chicken. Streetbird – the newest kid on the corner – fits right in and seems to, somehow, embody a smidgen of them all.
A stylish, but modestly priced kitchenette, Streetbird boasts divers iterations of plump rotisserie chicken. In addition to whole, half or quartered birds served with a variety of special sauces, the menu includes Asian-inspired noodle dishes, chicken sandwiches served with Ethiopian sauce, and a number of meals and fixings inspired by international as well as neighborhood cuisine. The restaurant seats 52, with decor that pays homage to early hip-hop and throwback Harlem – cassette casings serve as chandeliers, a boom box installation blasts the tunes of local hip-hop artists, and graffiti, iconic street signs and vintage hip-hop posters plaster the walls. A museum of sorts, Streetbird is diligently curated to showcase Samuelsson’s culinary and multicultural flair with a deep inclusiveness that celebrates the streets, people and lore of Harlem.
The restaurant, which offers dine-in, counter service and take-out (with delivery soon coming), opened its doors for lunch on Thursday, April 2nd. The launch was without flashing lights and celebrity fanfare; they seemed to simply open the doors, to walk-ins and a knowing few, and roll out the chicken delights. Streetbird may be making a quiet entrance, but it won’t stay quiet for long. As the weather breaks and the busy intersection bustles back to life, they are poised to add an extra layer of fun and homegrown excitement to The Boulevard. Now is probably a good time to get a seat! Streetbird 2149 Frederick Douglass Boulevard @ 116th Street | streetbirdnyc.com
Photos 1 & 2: Courtesy of Kelly Madden. Photo 3: www.streetbirdnyc.com