Harmony: Harlem’s Celebration of Life Earth Day Concert

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Back to Life

Jam in the Garden

So, it seems that our project is continuing to evolve. Such evolution has its ups and downs especially when it comes to the design process. Trying to come up with a theme and develop a coherent design for the promotion of any event can be quite challenging. However, that process is made even more so when dealing with an event that is still in the process of development.

Our project began as a celebration of life in Harlem, then it shifted to an on campus celebration of life in the upper Manhattan community, and now once again it has undergone a metamorphosis into a celebration of life and art in the garden. As one can imagine, all three forms of our event are relevant to the local community as well as to environmental concerns, however, because the concept between each is different the designs and relevant imaging for each is different as well.

Thus, the design and imaging portion of Jam in the Garden must begin anew. For the new variation of our event I hope to be able to create images and art work that reflect the importance of local parks, gardens, and wildlife in the everyday lives of local New Yorkers. I hope to highlight the joy and energy that these elements bring to our lives. I will travel to local parks and around the city in attempt to capture New Yorkers interacting with the environment.

However, all things considered, just as our last shift in event theme seemed to bring more relevance to our goal, so does this latest shift. After all, this class is about environmental ethics and the ways in which people can make changes to interact positively with nature. And what better way is there to highlight such interactions than by focusing on gardening.

Gardening and human cultivation of nature in general is a wonderful issue to bring to the forefront in our community. Why? Well because our interaction with nature is vital to positive mental health, physical health, and environmental health. Human interaction with nature, whether it be a casual stroll through the park, tilling a garden, diving the Atlantic, lounging on the beach or hiking through the forest has long been a source of solace and inspiration to people.

Especially in the bustling streets of Manhattan, people rarely take the time to pry themselves away from their respective computer screens and “smell the roses.” New Yorkers, and people and general, have become entities removed from nature and the experience of life. We search for the answer to our burgeoning levels of stress, depression and anxiety in a plethora of prescription drugs, when maybe we should really be looking to how unnatural our lives have become. When most people spend every waking moment in the confines of air conditioned cars and sterile office cubicles, eating processed Franken-food, glued to computer screens and almost completely sedentary, I would be amazed to find one person who feels in touch with nature.

What we need is a reintroduction of the role nature and our interaction with it can enrich our lives and the environment. In many ways, it is overwhelmingly sad that we need to be reminded of this. However, by bringing at least a few people back to the garden, back to life, nature, and some semblance of normalcy we hope to be able to remind each other just how important interacting with and being a part of nature is.

What Kind of Jam?

"Jam in the Garden" the title of my last blog post is the title for our hunt for musicians on Craigslist- the very popular on line classifieds.

Here is the link: http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/tlg/145366640.html

Our posting, title and its description running since last sunday has been a tremendous success. Already we have sparked the intrest of a (4) time award winning jazz singer, one of MTV's up and comming singer/song writers, an award winning mass choir from Harlem, an electric harpist and Native American flute players-- to name a few.

The title "Jam in the Garden" is truely the way we invision our event. Not jam as in "peanut butter and jam" but as in a melding of cooperative forces, coexisting and performing "in Harmony." The title of our ad also seemingly strikes the fancies of particular types of musicians; Many of whom have us sent links to their web sites and others invited us to upcoming gigs or rehersals.

As demonstrated by Dr. G on our initial visit to the seniors garden, these performers seemed to completely vibe with our intention. Their replies to our ad have had life celebrative tones and the types of music they create do the same.

Check out the links to a few of our potential acts:



Our patience, faith and willingness to be flexible and open about the possibilities that are presented, has proven to be a rightgeous approach. This is the way we (the Harmony group) approach our lives daily.

The Importance of Gardens, for me

I've grown up in gardens, or maybe that statement in and of itself can't help but be a lie; so instead I'll say, I've stayed around the age of 5 because I've always come home to gardens.

My grandmother had a garden. She grew vegetables and tobacco for a living, but around her house she had a flower garden. "Crazy Lottie's Crazy Garden" a sign made by some children at church said. In the South women have a way of sticking "trash" into their gardens, little doo-dads and knick knacks that someone found in the dump, wires and tires somehow turned into beautiful, creative art to give the garden intrigue when the flowers aren't blooming. My grandfather grew petunias in the beds by the river, and every Sunday after church the two of them would walk beside the river picking trash out from in between the blooming plants.

At the church they used to attend, the grave of my aunt and now my grandfather we have covered in Hasta and Day Lillies. We have sprinkled seeds of wildflowers yearly. My family goes to these graves, kneels, and tends flowers. We've never believed much in death, we've got too much power for creation for that. Things die when you let them. Our flowers tell us that's true.

My mother had a garden that took up half our front yard when I was a child. A giant rectangle completely full of flowers. The nieghboors hated it. She had Carolina jasmine climbing on everything, strangling the roses. There was Wandering Dew seeping into the drive way. Honeysuckle was all tangled in the Azaleas. But it was always blooming. The neighboors saw it as a mess- they wanted to see something more manicured. To mother and me, it was an amazing dance of color.

My first job was in a garden shop. Whenever I travel I am sure to visit gardens. There is something special about the creation of a place solely for the purpose of allowing plants to bloom. And there is something special simply about blooming all together.

My grandmother has a pillow sitting on her couch, (She now lives in a retirement home, her patio overrun with potted flowers, and she's begun to dig up the landscaping outside her door to make room for some collards) that a friend embrordered for her. It says "To cultivate a Garden is to walk with God." She's 92 and still planting flowers, so I think the pillow just may speak a little truth.

To have a life permeated with flowers, so richly saturated with every aspect of their being, I am delighted to have Harmony taking place in a Garden.

Dr. G told us she had started the garden ten years ago. The kids in the neighborhood would come to her saying, "Miss Vicky, Miss Vicky, come out and play."

"So I came outside, and we made a garden," Dr. G. said.

We can say the commonness of humanity is enough to keep us all understanding one another, to keep us all connected. And I've got faith in that. But I know I'm a white girl from rural North Carolina, whose spent a good deal of her life chasing flowers. And that's real different from growing up in Harlem, or even just growing up in New York City or LA. And the truth is, in dealing with city folk, communication bounderies pop up looking like glass, but I keep ramming my head into them and find out they're real.

But gardening, now that's a language I can speak, one I can understand. So the boundaries are still there, but now we've found a room all of us can fit in, one I can finally fit in.

People are different. Every day I'm realizing that is actually true. People have completely different value systems. People stand so far at the other end of the spectrum, they couldn't see you, or even imagine you. I think the location of the garden gives us just enough space that we can all come together, and small enough a framework that we're all truly seeing one another.

And the garden has cats. Adrionna and I have always loved cats.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Jam in the Garden

Two Sunday's ago around 10am I got a phone call from Professor Detrrick. She wanted me to call Ms. Goldson who she'd met at a meeting on Columbia's expansion in Harlem. Mrs. Goldson runs the seniors garden on 153rd street between Columbus and St. Nicholas. Later that Sunday I contacted Ms. Goldson (aka Dr. G) to set up a day and time meet and discuss the posibility of using her garden for our concert/festival. She said "What better day then today. Two hours later Megan and I were standing in one of the most beautiful gardens in the city. "What better place to have a party, than in a garden," Dr. G said.

Dr. G wanted our celebration in her garden just as much as we did. The garden big enough to hold 300 people, is tended daily by the neighborhood youth that helped Dr. G revive it from beneath four feet of garbage years ago.

The garden serves as the back yard for the brownstones faces north on 153rd (where Dr. G lives) and a senior center on 154th street. After getting a tour of the grounds and good conversation with Dr. G, we went in the center, told elders about our event;we asked for their permission in part, but more so their participation in our celebration.

The seniors garden is privately owned grounds and rest atop an auqifer. Collards, tomatoes and other edibles are grown there. We saw an assortment of colorful flowers preparing fully show out. There there are childerens sculpters and beautiful mosaics that boarder the garden. That was last Sunday.

In the mid-to late 1980's the area surrounding the seniors garden was on the cusp of drug war territory in upper Manhattan. This activity kept the elders inside the center as they were in fear of being robbed and/or harassed by wandering drug feinds.

According do Dr. G the garden has served as rehabilitator of the elders veiw of young people and the outdoors. The elders work in the garden and rest there. "It gives them the opportunity to engage with young people in a positive way" she said.

Obtaining this particular space has added a new and very important demension to the project. These are historical grounds in which its creators and ancestors still reside. This garden space is also unlike the city owned park or Barnard's campus is maintained by the members of its commuity. This space is truely a community space and lends itself to a stronger community feel.

Dr. G's enthusiasm for toward our event and her desire to use Harmony as a tool to promote the maintanense of green spaces, elevates our project from one of inovation to activism.

Harmony, is once again and finally, a celebration of life and the enviornment in Harlem. The event will take place on Earth Day (April 22nd,2006) from 11a-5p.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Back to Square One

Our NEW logo!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

On knowing and believing

Jennifer and Adrionna have given the updates on prject changes, and the project has me tired. I am talking to the people, making the connections, and working with the daily buzz of all it takes to make Harmony happen, just as we all are. Amidst all this, I find the need to remember what it is I'm doing- honestly, where my investment is in this project, why I have claimed it, helped to create it, and why I want to see it work. So for now, I offer no updates on the project- just updates on why it is that this project need happen at all because I need to take a moment to remember. For me this class, and every environmental class I take, is not ever just about that class. It is ALWAYS about a larger mission, it is always about piecing together the shambles we are making out of our planet. The first day of class I said the thing special about me was that I feel things really, really hard, and that was no lie. I want to remember Harmony's weight, the weight of our class, and the weight of all of our projects- with hopes that others will believe in their weight and intensity.
I am learning that all environmentalism is is making the case for what we Love. Harmony is an attempt to make an entire community fall in Love with the same thing I have fallen in Love with.
"What is it that I am in Love with?" I must then ask myself if I am expected to make others fall in Love with it as well. And I suppose I would answer by saying, "all that is beautiful and the triumph of that beauty for all time." And since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I have given myself an immense range of options to convince people they must fall in Love with. But now, am I brilliant enough (is Harmony brilliant enough), once I have had them all fall in Love with "all that is beautiful and the triumph of that beauty for all time" to prove that the Earth holds the only guarantee to the protection of their new-found deepest Love?
That is the mission. One will risk all for something she Loves. Many a human would sacrifice her life for a child, a sibling, a mother, money, a culture, wherever it is she has directed her Love. So the quest of the environmentalist is to prove the dependency of whatever one Loves on the Earth.
People give up kidneys for their loved ones. Am I skilled enough, is Harmony brilliant enough, to teach a community that every second the Earth is their kidney donor and each of us are in dire need? Is Harmony clever enough to teach people that it makes more sense to test for their vitals in the air, the water, the soil, than in their own wrist or neck? What does it take to make people see they have never been a closed system?
Science class lied to us all. Our digestive tract is linear, either end open to the environment. Our respiratory system is circular with our environment making up half of the circle. One cannot measure her vitals simply in her wrist and get any sense of her health or what health the future holds for her. One must also incorporate the vitals of the rest of our system- this Earth.
How does one make such a truth be believed by people? People cannot even believe that their heart does in fact provide them with life, until they experience its disfunction. Only then is one able to see, "yes it is this little organ within me that allows for me to exist at all." And then one recognizes the desire to care and look after it. And that is within our own bodies, that is so clsoe to home- perhaps that is the difficulty in seeing. How can one make the truth real without the urgency of near-failure?
It's a funny mission, this quest to make people believe in what they know is true.

Now that we have a location, that is my new goal. Harmony must devise a way to make a community believe in what they know is true. I am looking forward to the joys of planning.

Monday, March 06, 2006

community action

We have a location!!!

On April 30th, 2006 from 11:00 to 4:00 our concert and environmental festival will be held on Barnard's Quad Lawn and Lounge. We are, for the first time thinking and working in terms of our own interest and our own community. We have not compromised the focus or the aim of our project by changing its location, we have only made more sense of it. It's not all about Harlem, and its not all about the kids. It's about all of us.

Sure, I'm black. But I'm not from Harlem and I don't live there. The fact that I buy my herbal deoderant on 125th street or occassionally perchase 5 dollar boot legged CD's there does not give me a right to Harlem.

But I did choose to come to Barnard, and my parents give Barnard their hard earned money, and I do use my hard earned money to pay for overpriced textbooks for Barnard courses, so I do have the right to creating and participating in what's happening on this campus. It is my responsibility. My community is right here. And this is something that Megan, Jennifer and I have in common. These are some of the things that define our community.

Our Celebration of Life and the environment is a community service event now more than it ever was. We are doing our Barnard community a great service by creating a program that is both community and serviced based on its campus. And, we are doing so in an innovative way: responsibly.

This event is not co-sponsored by Aramark for the purpose of getting people together for the sake of unhealthy food give aways. This is actually about community for the community's sake. This is an exercise in community building. And the people that we are reaching out to on campus for support are understanding this and are jumping on board. The Office of Residential Life and Housing has already contributed greatly to our project by helping us secure a space as well as providing us with ways of attaining monetary support on campus and broadening our field of human resources.

Fresh, the new cafe on 121st and Amsterdam, a few skips from the Plimpton residence Hall is ready and willing to donate food for our event.

Making the switch to work within our community has equaled rapid results. Securing a space meant walking into Sulz and talking to Velma and Lorie in Res Life. It all happend in a matter of minutes. And getting support from Fresh Cafe meant walking in and asking for it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Forces of Change

Fluidity and flexibility; these are the virtues of the creative process. This is especially true because an idea rarely materializes without first going through a series of changes. It is essential that any plan has room for tweaking and change or it will be virtually impossible for that to become a reality. This fact is all the more true when one is trying to plan a public event because such occasions require the cooperation and coordination of so many different forces. And this is precisely why the ‘Harmony’ project has and continues to change and evolve as it develops.

The Harmony project has now been changes from the “Celebration of Life Earth Day Concert” to the broader “Community Celebration of Earth and the Environment.” Basically, the focus of the project has shifted from focusing strictly on the Harlem community to encompassing the entire Morningside/Harlem area. The goal of shifting the project’s focus is to truly capture the idea behind ‘harmony.’ By broadening the scope of the event to the entire Morningside area, the hope is that true community awareness of the environment can be achieved. There is an undeniable divide between the Morningside (University campus) area and its surrounding neighborhoods. However, there is no justification for allowing such a divide to persist when we all inhabit the same neighborhood and face many of the same environmental and health concerns. This is precisely why in order to make an attempt at true communal harmony a broader more encompassing focus must be adopted.

The ‘Harmony’ festival will now take place on Sunday April 30th in the Barnard quad. Although the festival is no longer being held on Earth Day, the focus of the event is still to raise awareness of community environmental issues. In addition, thought the location of the event has been changed to Barnard’s campus, that in no way is meant to exclude the surrounding neighborhoods. If anything, by inviting Barnard’s neighbors to the campus, that will only contribute to the goal of communal integration and harmony. In addition, this goal will be further achieved by having all people from around the Morningside/Harlem community celebrating life in that community. Thus, what initially seemed like a continuous cycle of setbacks and false hopes, location changes and road blocks, has turned out to be a blessing. And through continual change while remaining fluid and flexible, this project has taken one giant leap closer to its purpose of communal and environmental awareness.

This page has been created and published by a Columbia University student, faculty or staff member as part of course or other requirements. The ideas and information expressed in this publication have not been approved or authorized by Columbia University, and the University shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever resulting from any action arising in connection with its publication. Columbia University is not responsible for the contents of any off-site information referenced herein.