The violent shootings and behavior in Crown Heights this past Labor Day resonated with many city residents (perhaps most infamously Jumaane Williams and Kirsten John Foy), including Brooklyn architect-designers Lana Zellner and Kristen Svorka. Disturbed by the events of that weekend, during which 13 people were killed and 67 people were shot, the pair struggled to stay focused on their work.
“During our weekly meeting we were finding ourselves mentally distracted by the shootings that had taken place a couple days earlier and no matter what we talked about while brainstorming, the shootings just kept coming back up. There was a lot of community discussion about the shootings at the time…so we just decided to focus our project on that. We wanted to do something that will help the neighborhood get past the controversy and focusing on solutions,” says Zellner.
And so, Art Not Arrests was born.
The project aims to provide free art programs for kids and teens to help keep them occupied and off of the street. It also consists of an art installation in Crow Hill Community Garden in Crown Heights made of the same type of plastic zip ties that are often used in place of handcuffs and have become symbols of “youth violence and overbearing police presence.”
The concept of using zip ties as art came as a chance encounter.
“We were on the hunt for a good material to use for the project,” Zellner says. “We were considering take out containers, soda bottles, everything you can think of. We wanted something that could somehow link together to build off of itself and grow as the project got more support. And then one day I was walking to the subway at Franklin and Eastern Parkway and I saw a bunch of cuffs tied to the subway gate. They were sitting next to one of the Crow Hill garden planters and it was kind of heart-breaking, this symbol of violence just sitting next to the planter boxes. I took a picture of it and showed it to Kristen that day and we thought it was a great symbol for the violence issues we were working against.”
Using the popular online fundraising site Kickstarter and grassroots-style neighborhood canvassing, Zellner and Svorka hope to raise $4,500 by this Friday (February 10th). So far, they’ve raised about $2,000, but with the support and donations from local businesses such as Owl and Thistle and Neptune Diner, Zellner is confident that they’ll meet their goal.
“We’re in conversation with a lot of other merchants. The community is pretty great overall here.”