Within a 30-second walk from one block to another, Lark Street will play host to two very different shows in two very different spaces that are totally worth checking out tonight during the June edition of Albany’s First Friday. Among the complete list of events, the Planned Parenthood building and the Icarus Dreams Gallery will be transformed, literally overnight in some cases, into two diverse art collections with almost opposite and unique vibes that showcase local talent and local volunteer efforts.
During a conversation on the stoop outside of the Icarus Dreams Gallery and over some time-killing (and necessary) Thai food, I learned about the background and mission of the Albany sector of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) for the first time. For those (like myself) not previously in the know, USCRI is a nation-wide committee, based in D.C., that assists refugees with resettlement into the American culture, economy and daily life.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the USCRI and the 5th annual refugee month with a tie to Albany specifically. The non-profit organization in Albany works to serve immigrants and refugees from Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Sudan, Eritrea and the Congo, and helps both adults and children alike adjust to American culture. The government provides refugees with 3 months of assistance and then, after that point, displaced refugees (often forced to leave their native countries due to war, environmental disasters, political/religious reasons, etc.) are essentially on their own to survive in America. The network of volunteers provide various services for refugees including helping people read their mail, overcome language barriers or illiteracy and mentor refugees one-on-one.
June is “Celebrating our Refugee Neighbors Month,” and this year there are 6 different cultural and educational events, scattered throughout this month, to raise both awareness and money. The events celebrate the sixth year of social action involvement that Albany volunteers have conducted with over 1,500 former refugees that reside in and contribute to the local community.
First Friday became a creative and productive outlet to partner with USCRI to display the daily cultural struggles and achievements to the community, as expressed through art. Katherine Rasmussen, a passionate and active volunteer to USCRI, shared with me an overview of the work that she is heavily involved in and gave me a guided tour of the Icarus Dreams Gallery, alongside artist and gallery owner Seth Sanger. June marks the 3rd First Friday that the space has curated a show and this month, will display refugee-created art, as well as host a silent auction, comprised of donated works from area artists such as Tommy Watkins, K.V. Khai (who is this month’s featured artist across the street at the UAG), Jillian Caraco, Robert Simpson, David DiPasquail and many others. All profits from artwork sold will be donated to the USCRI Emergency Relief Fund for Refugees.
Katherine Rasmussen and Elena Cruz-Allen have dedicated countless hours towards mentoring, exposing refugees to various forms of art and inspiring others to create work of their own. Both expressed that they are very pleased at program’s progress working with refugees and the community, as well as the abundance of the work that has been created throughout the whole process. Cruz-Allen is working towards developing a more sophisticated curriculum for teaching art workshops and finds herself inspired by the skills that the refugees develop over time, as both an artist and a teacher.
“Getting a lens to their eyes through their artwork has been the most interesting part,” Cruz-Allen says. “Even though we exposed the kids to different art movements and mediums, landscape has been the most popular; they draw their homes, such as landscapes of Burma, from the back of their minds.”
The Icarus Dreams Gallery is a very cool spot and new addition to the art scene on Lark St. The gallery has been a labor of love for Sanger, who shared with us that when he first began to work on the space, he was faced with transforming Pepto Bismol colored walls into providing an interesting balance of exposed brick that grooves with smooth, white walls, fit for rotating art. Sanger also created a stage out of 8,000 wine corks, where the Icarus Dreams Gallery hosts live music and performance. The space at 252 Lark St. has been transformed into a working art gallery and has made its way onto the First Friday map as a must-see pit stop. Hours are standard with First Friday and run tonight from 5-9pm.
Meanwhile, across the street at the old Planned Parenthood building, 30+ area artists (several of whom donated to the Icarus Dreams silent auction) have set up camp all week to transform the vacant rooms into an underground art exhibit organized by artist Chip Fasciana.
The former Planned Parenthood was cleaned out for the most part prior to their move over to Central Ave., but several books and filing cabinets remained, as well as phonebooks, original signs on patient rooms and various other items that the artists recycled into their designated art space and incorporated into their work.
The show will run tonight during First Friday and will also be open via appointment leading up to Art on Lark on June 11th. The progressive idea of the Underground Art Exhibit and the innovative recycling of both space and material creates an interesting exhibit unlike anything you’ve ever imagined to take place at a Planned Parenthood building before. Street artists have been known to cater towards unwanted and unused spaces to breathe new life into urban decay and the Planned Parenthood building adapts well, transforming into a fun and creative spin for both fine and street artists alike. Each room (and several hallways) was taken over by a different artist with a no-rules-but-utilize-the-space-and-materials type of premise, and the results thus far are fantastic. Artists were working as I arrived, as I checked back a couple hours later and as I left, and likely working up to the 5pm opening.
The artists include Michael Conlin, Abe Ferraro, Tommy Watkins, Noah Sheetz and The Chefs Consortium, Dan Hogan, Audrey Hammond, Jason Blue Lake Hawk Martinez, Sarah Martinez, Sean Mahoney, Justin Baker, Aaron Smith, Nick Matulis to name a few in the mix.
The Underground Artists exhibit is both interactive and engaging, with each room able to stand on its own vision while still sharing the space and spark a collective curiosity for viewers and artists alike to explore; the only shame (and perhaps some of its splendor) is that this is a temporary use of the space and will recoil into its former vacancy after a week’s time.
Bounce from room to room and across the street and back to check out what’s going on for First Friday tonight from 5-9 and down at Marketplace (with OFI and Trumastr on the decks!) for the Structure show. Structure features sculpture in various mediums with Peter Leue working with wood, Samson Contompasis with stone, Matthew Hart with metal and Abe Ferraro, also of the Underground show, working with performance, with Ferraro’s performance art piece has been post-poned to take place on June 10th.
The absolute fucking best part of this so far for me was seeing the Facebook comment asking if the Underground Artists Exhibit was taking place in New York City. Nope. Albany.
To view a few more pictures, be sure to check out Andrew’s flickr.
NOTE: The Refugee Expressions auction still open. Contact Icarus Dreams for gallery hours. Auction concludes at cultural fair June 25. More info here.