- Working Waterfront: Memories Holdproduced by Staten Island Arts’ Folklife
Working Waterfront: Memories Hold, an exhibit organized by Staten Island Arts' Folklife (SIAF), creatively immerses visitors into the St. George Ferry Terminal's Culture Lounge using the memories, skills, and material objects central to the unique identity of New York City's last working waterfront.
Memories Holdis the product of a curatorial collaboration between SIAF's Director of Folklife, Naomi Sturm; SIAF Folklore Fellows Bob Wright, Carl Gallagher, Lina Montoya, and Sachindara Navinna; New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) intern Sharna Brzycki; and Senior Folklife consultant Dan Ward. Fieldwork and curation were funded by a grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council. The New York State Council on the Arts provided additional support.
The Culture Lounge is a big and bright room in a row of food vendors and newsstands in the terminal's central corridor. In addition to exhibits, the space plays host to visual and performance art. "The goal," as explained on the Staten Island Arts website, "is to turn passengers into participants—engaging them with art, and inspiring them to venture past the terminal and into the cultural hotspots found all over the island."
Objects, text, mounted photos, and digital content fill the room, arranged in three thematic sections: (1) "Storms and the Sea," (2) "Generations of Maritime Occupation," and (3) "Waterlore and Material Culture." Against the room's left wall, an attractive display of found objects (life jackets, bottles, and buoys contributed by Fellow Bob Wright) and two large original maritime-themed art works catch the visitor's eye from the other side of the lounge's glass doorway. An original soundscape, composed and produced by Wright, plays quietly. Visitors hear the voices of Native Americans, fishermen, and airplane pilots layered over a drifting banjo tune and sounds of the water. Behind the reception desk is the name of the exhibit and essential details (credits and running dates) but no introductory text. On the right wall, for the section "Generations of Maritime Occupation," visitors are presented with a mounted tablet and a pair of headphones. "Listen to accounts from tugboat drivers, longshoremen, sailors, and maritime engineers throughout the decades," reads a brief block of text. This tablet, like those used in other sections, loops three 5-minute videos. Each video presents audio slideshows developed from fieldwork materials created by the project's collaborators. While listening to family stories and learning about changing reasons for working on the waterfront, visitors see a photograph of a boat under repair and a pair of rope boat fenders from the collection of Elizabeth Beebe. In the middle of the room, a hammock invites visitors to stay a little longer while also dividing the space. On the back wall, there are more photos of the harbor: one of a tugboat, another of an oil tanker, and two views of the Bayonne Bridge. A 1940s flotation ring (another found object from Beebe's collection) provides a focal point between the photos.
Visitors are then beckoned into a small room in a dark back corner, the " Trouble the WaterProject Viewing Room," where a monitor plays a video of personal narratives about Superstorm Sandy illustrated with maritime imagery. Several small stools enable comfortable viewing. The interview excerpts shared here come from fieldwork conducted by Sturm and SIAF's former Director of Folklife Chris Mulé (now Folk [End Page 372]Arts Director at the Brooklyn Arts Council). Collectively, they interviewed nearly 40 Sandy survivors and first responders as part of SIAF's 2014 Trouble the Waterinitiative. In one clip, a woman laughs and remembers with a friend her declaration that if she were to drown, she would prefer to drown drunk. From beginning to end, the video is more than 10 minutes long. It might be a bit much for some visitors, but candid and captivating stories like these cannot be abbreviated.
On the room's left wall, "Storms...