For many, parks have become necessary public space during COVID. A place to stretch our legs, get away from our computer screens, and take in fresh air, our local parks provide a great and free service to countless neighbors and visitors. Local artist Beatrice Wolert has found solace at Greenpoint’s McGolrick Park, not just recently but in her childhood — and throughout her life.
Her growth with the park inspired her to lead “The Heart of Greenpoint: Chalk Quilting Bee,” a community-wide chalk-a-thon held on Saturday, September 18 (rain date for the 25th). All neighbors and participants will be invited to color in the hexagon tiles with chalk, with the goal of covering as many tiles as possible. All are welcome, and the event will go from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM at the McGolrick Park Pavilion. Learn about the artist’s upbringing in Greenpoint and inspiration for this free event below!
Greenpointers: Let’s check in first: you’ve participated in Greenpoint Open Studios and are a beloved local artist. How has COVID treated you?
Bea Wolert: I have had the pleasure of participating in the Greenpoint Open Studios for a number of years while in different studio locations. I was overjoyed when Greenpointers featured my studios as top picks on a couple of different occasions, once for my Offering series and then again in 2019 for the Pierogi Project, in which community members make clay pierogi making for an archive.
As for COVID? I moved out of my studio on West Street just as COVID hit. It was a difficult time of great uncertainty. Loved ones and members of my community were sick and it was painful knowing that there was little I could do to help. I transitioned to managing operations for my job out of my home while overseeing two elementary school children’s remote learning. While all this newness was challenging to navigate, what other situation could afford me the opportunity to spend heaps of time with my family and appreciate my community in a renewed light?
You mentioned how much of a haven McGolrick Park has been. How did the idea for a chalk-a-thon come up?
I grew up in Greenpoint across the street from McGolrick Park and spent countless hours playing on the whale slide, climbing the dome, playing hopscotch and handball. I moved back to the neighborhood shortly after 9/11 to the same building in which I grew up in. During the pandemic, the park has served as a place of respite for many who could not leave town. Artists would set up easels and paint. Musicians would play music. Families like mine wrote messages of hope in chalk.
During this time, my relationship to McGolrick shifted and deepened. It became an extension of my home, a place for meditation and a renewed source of inspiration. It organically became a canvas, a backdrop for work, a studio for low-touch temporary art and installations where I could engage with community members. Projects like “Listening to the Fallen Trees” and “HOPE/HEAL” addressed concepts of healing and climate change. During that time, many curators organized initiatives that highlighted artists working directly in their communities or in nature. Initiatives like Art Off Screen organized by Eileen Jeng shifted the viewing experience to the community level. The McGolrick Park Pavilion is a central place for convening. It is the heart of the farmer’s market, countless birthday and going away parties, political events, musical performances, and even a recent rally for #MakeMcGuinessSafeNow, where the community gathered to honor a long-standing beloved community member and P.S. 110 teacher, Mr. Jensen who was killed by a recent hit and run.
During a meditation, I saw the hexagon tiles as a patchwork quilt and had the desire to color them in. I have chalked in my background with my children on a number of occasions during the pandemic. With the pavilion’s large scale, I envisioned the community assisting in a chalking quilting bee.
Did you receive a grant for this work, or permission from the park? It’s such an amazing initiative; how was it all coordinated?
Once the idea for “The Heart of Greenpoint: Chalk Quilting Bee” manifested, I felt strongly about executing it. I discussed the concept with numerous local organizations including PS110, Park Church Co-Op, North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, and North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, amongst others. Everyone expressly supported the project and its accessibility and inclusivity to local community participants. I am grateful to all of them for sharing this project with their extended communities.
I applied and received a grant from the City Artist Corps Grants which was launched in June 2021 by NYFA and DCLA with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre. The program is funded by the New York City Artist Corps recovery initiative announced by Mayor de Blasio and DCLA earlier this year. The grants are intended to support NYC-based working artists who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Once I received word that I was awarded the grant, I filed and received a permit from the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. I am still coordinating the project. I do have arts administrative experience which helped with the grant writing and press and promotional materials. For this particular project, the outreach was key. I didn’t want to leave a stone unturned. It certainly takes a community to help realize the scale of the project.
What do you hope participants will walk away with after this event?
It is my goal to create a day of celebration and collaboration while connecting to the park and community members in renewed ways. I want to co-create an experience that will leave a lasting impression even though the nature of the happening is temporal and fleeting. The process of chalking in the hexagons is simple and powerful at the same time. I hope that the community sees that their individual marks make up the collective experience, but most of all I want people to have fun. If they can see the power that lies in the simple gestures and in their commitment to participate, then I can walk away satisfied. If they walk away with a deepened or renewed sense of community or with new perspectives on art making, then I would be very content.
This process seems to highlight the potential for democratizing art and celebrating public art. How is this project in line with your artistic values or hopes?
My work deals with concepts of impermanence and fleeting moments. Oftentimes, in my work, the process is valued over the finished product. My work aims to highlight the beauty of everyday moments in everyday life. It takes inspiration from everyday life. During the pandemic, one of my greatest sources of joy was watching the children build forts out of branches and stones in McGolrick Park. I loved watching those forts evolve over months, constructed and reconstructed in different iterations in different spots in the park. I am interested in the subtle inflections in these iterations. In “The Heart of Greenpoint: Chalk Quilting Bee,” I am interested in the simplicity of the concept and the accessibility and inclusivity that is possible. This piece is very freeing. I am letting go of the making. I become a participant in the mix of the community members. It is humbling and exciting.
You are a first-generation Polish-American artist who was raised in Greenpoint. What does it mean to participate in this project that is so community-oriented?
It is a dream come true! It is an honor to create a piece in the community I grew up in. Working on this project provided me with an opportunity to think about my community in deeper and more expansive ways. My parents, as numerous immigrant groups, helped with the revitalization of Brooklyn. I see “The Heart of Greenpoint: Chalk Quilting Bee” as a testimony to the spirit of collaboration, inclusivity and community. In numerous cultures, hexagons are symbolic of universal coherence, harmony, balance. They are found in beehives as they are the most structurally stable shape for load distribution. These concepts of stability and balance are resonant with the project. Individual actions combine to show each participant’s contribution to the collective effort. I think of all the immigrants who helped build this community and nation. I am hopeful that some of these concepts start to peek through the process on 9/18. Just as I piece this project together and just as immigrants built this community together, I am hopeful that people will see their power in the collective.
Any other projects you want to discuss or anything else you’d like to add? Thank you!
I had the pleasure to create a cow named “In Transit” for the 2021 God’s Love We Deliver CowParade. “In Transit” can be seen at The Bronx Community College campus and was recently featured in Time Out New York. I was pleased to be part of this initiative that provides meals and nutritional education for free to people in need in the NYC area. If you are interested in supporting the mission, please consider bidding on my cow!
I just would like to thank City Artist Corps Grants for helping a native Greenpointer realize this large-scale project. I would like to express my hopes that the city continues providing such opportunities of bringing art opportunities to communities. I am grateful to all the aforementioned community partners, supporters and volunteers! I hope you can stop by to help chalk up the pavilion! Bring your neighbors, friends and family! All are welcome. I am looking forward to working with P&P Shipping, Stationers & Art Supply on upcoming art projects and I am grateful for their contribution of some chalk!
If you’d like to support this project, please visit gofund.me/d0924770.