New York City can be a depressing place to live for myriad reasons: signal among them is the dizzying stream of people younger, prettier, and smarter than you who are leading successful lives at an age when you could barely make it to class on time. On that note, here’s a list, in no particular order, of young people making a difference in the world, living life on their own terms.
Trained in tango, circus, trapeze and silks, Sharpe launched her company Mad Sharp Productions in March, when she directed the 111-performer aerial extravaganza Narcissa Starving. Since then she’s been busy teaching classes in Brooklyn, preparing a new duet she just performed in Miami during Art Basel, planning a follow-up to her Williamsburg Bridge stunt and developing a new performance she’ll debut at the Gowanus Ballroom (December 9, 16 and 17). “Right now it only exists in my head,” she says. “But my visions have a funny way of coming to life.” (Photos by Crystal Gwyn)
In May, 2010, Philly-raised recent RISD grad Ashley Zelinskie moved to Brooklyn to pursue her new media art practice. By early 2011 she’d not only found a studio for herself, but an entire floor of studios and exhibition spaces in a non-descript Johnson Avenue warehouse. In February, The Active Space hosted its first set of exhibitions and open studios, marking a unique and immense addition to the Bushwick gallery scene.
The palpable giddiness on opening night had something to do with the size and polish of the space, but also the atmosphere that Zelinskie, its director, has managed to foster at 566 Johnson Avenue. “I teamed up with the landlord, David Welner,” she explains, “and we decided to create a professional studio environment as well as exhibition space for artists in all stages of their careers.” Since then she and Welner have converted another floor for a total of 27 studios, and they’ve just begun renovating the ground floor into more studios and exhibition spaces. “It’s like having all the benefits of art school without the exorbitant price tag.” (Photos by Crystal Gwyn)
Born and raised in Greenpoint, this 23-year-old has already made a name for himself, shooting Zac Posen’s 2011 Look Book; he’s also done work for Kanye West, and has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, Nylon, and Brooklyn Magazine. “I feel I’ve had invaluable experiences in my work process, but I try not to think about achieving something ‘notable,’” he told us. “I just work and keep producing, trying to figure out myself and what I am trying to express.” As for ambitions for the future? “I hope to become a food editor as a side job.”(Photo by Crystal Gwyn)
Green, the resourcefully made, formally assured first film by Sophia Takal, won a prize at SXSW this spring, played BAM and MoMA, and is officially life-changing cinema. Takal explains: “I recently heard that a couple (that I didn’t know) broke up after watching Green. They’d been thinking about it for a while but apparently Green made them realize it was time. I felt bad at first, but then I thought it was kind of cool—my movie inspired them to examine their lives and make choices.” Green’s a knowing, moody study of a Brooklyn couple, played by Takal’s close collaborators, her filmmaker fiancé Lawrence Michael Levine and their roommate Kate Lyn Sheil, whose relationship fissures after they move to a vaguely Southern location to live sustainably.
Takal is currently in development on her second film, about “a fervently politically correct white woman who goes to Africa to find herself,” which may faintly echo Green’s fruitful study of fish-out-water urbanites. Her ambitions going forward, she thinks, are to continue to make films on her own terms, but “I would also really like to make a movie that plays outside of the festival circuit!”(Photos by Crystal Gwyn)
These identical twins and Minneapolis natives arrived in New York two years ago. “Within days, the twins took the city by storm, literally stopping traffic with their signature styles and confident attitudes,” according to their website. The two might only be “21 years young,” but the Brooklyn residents have already fitted celebrities like Nicki Minaj and Serena Williams with their distinctive sunglasses. They’ve branched out into other accessories and a line for kids. Recently, they became the faces of Renault, the French car company. They’ve also been spending a lot of time painting. Painting? “We are really focusing on mixing fashion and art together,” they told us. “This next Fashion Week, be expecting some surprises.”(Photo by Crystal Gwyn)
Despite being one of this year’s SXSW hot tickets, Brad Oberhofer is not yet jaded. And it all started with the freestyle rap competitions he attended as a kid, in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington—because “I was never good at writing melodies,” he explains—a practice that kicked off what this son of an opera singer refers to as a “miraculous” series of events that would lead to touring alongside Sleigh Bells and Neon Indian earlier this year. So, hit by a car at age 13, Oberhofer suffered a severe concussion, got a melody stuck in his head, sat down and taught himself how to play it on the piano. Clarinet, drums, guitar and the like would follow, eventually evolving into the uncontained, post-punk tracks on his blog-praised demos. His debut LP is due out on Glassnote early next year (“They came to a show in March 2010, and made a point to come to every show since”), re-working a majority of the demo songs in his idiosyncratic, tension-rising, happy-go-lucky energy. “I think anything that I do is going to inherently sound like that because I have that feeling all the time,” he says. So, you see, there’s no reason for him to be jaded, really. (Photos by Crystal Gwyn)
The Los Angeles native came to New York, where she’d always wanted to move, five years ago for college: first, the New School; then just straight Parsons. Now a photographer, her big break was getting to travel with the modern master of the lived snapshot, Ryan McGinley, for five years. But what does she consider to be her most notable achievement? “Having been able to evolve myself, my psyche, through living in New York, and expanding my horizons through meeting people and doing different things,” she tells us. “Ultimately finding something I like to do, and following through with it into ‘real life.’”(Photos by Sandy Kim)
Jessica Walsh grew up in a home whose backyard straddled state borders. “There was a stone that said CT on one side and NY on the other,” she tells us. “I always liked to be on the NY side.” Still, she didn’t move here until after graduating from RISD—literally the next day—to take a job at Pentagram. Since then, she’s been art director at Printmagazine, had work displayed in Paris’s Les Arts Decoratifs, had work in both the New York Times and the Times Magazine, and designed a Levi’s billboard that once graced Soho and now hangs in Paris. What does her future hold? “I have a book I’ve been working on a while I want to finally publish. A curated design website I’ve been working on, which I will launch,” she tells us. “Most importantly—make smart, beautiful, interesting work.” (Photos by Crystal Gwyn)
The young organizers of Occupy Brooklyn—who are not, of course, its leaders—are involved in the flagship protest across the river. But “we also are working hard on issues particular to Brooklyn,” says Eliana Horn (22), one such organizer, including foreclosure rates and subsidized development in Downtown Brooklyn. “There are also neighborhood-specific General Assemblies that have been organizing as well, in Bed-Stuy, Red Hook, Sunset Park and, coming up, Crown Heights and Flatbush,” she continues. “These groups tackle issues specific to their communities. For example, Organize Bed-Stuy is fixing up The Slave Theater.” These meetings draw an average of 65 people, sometimes as many as 130, with new people showing up all the time. “People come to OBK with different ideas about how Occupy Brooklyn relates to the larger OWS movement,” she said, “and excitingly there is room for all of them!”
This 23-year-old fashion designer’s medium is leather. Her biggest claim to fame thus far is crafting the harnesses Lady Gaga wore in the “You and I” video, though her work has also attracted the attention of Katy Perry, Milla Jovovich, Kelis, and others. (The Voice calls her “harness-maker to the stars.”) Born in Seattle, educated in San Francisco and briefly a Berliner, Bayne now hand-crafts her S&M-inspired pieces out of a studio in Williamsburg.
Audrey Gelman might just be the most glamorous press secretary any borough president, in any borough, anywhere, has ever had. The 24-year-old New York native, who now lives in Brooklyn Heights, works tirelessly on behalf of Manhattan Borough President M. Scott Stringer (“I believe he will be the next mayor”), and yet somehow finds time to appear on HBO TV shows (Girls, created by close friend Lena Dunham, debuts next year). Oh, and did we mention her boyfriend is Terry Richardson, patriarch of hipster iconography? When asked about her plans for the future, Gelman was as cagey as you’d expect a press secretary to be: “I’m grateful for where I already am today, so right now I’m focusing on doing the best job I can in my current capacity. I can say though that I’d never want to run for office, and will always want to remain behind the scenes.” (Photos by Crystal Gwyn)
This uptown MC’s meteoric rise from obscurity to signing a $3 million deal with Sony/RCA in just five months surprised everyone except his parents, who presciently named him after the rapping half of legendary hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim. But unlike other rappers who’ve been snapped up by the majors after building an immense online following, A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) hadn’t released a small collection of widely circulated mixtapes. When the ink dried on his contract he only had a half-dozen songs to his name.
The mixtape LiveLoveA$AP followed shortly thereafter, giving a better sense of his range and fueling hopes that he might be the spark that New York City’s increasingly marginal rap scene needs. Which is funny, because he sounds nothing like a conventional New York rapper—more a mix of Bone Thugs’ singing, Wiz Khalifa’s rapping, and smoky, bass-heavy Houston production. “I’m just really influenced by Houston’s culture,” he told Complex in October. “That’s the shit that really gets me going.” It’s also got his career off to the fastest start since Dr. Dre signed 50 Cent almost a decade ago—and that was only a $1 million deal. (Photo by Ysa Perez)
When we shot Rosie Gray at her desk at The Village Voice, a crumpled, metallic birthday balloon idled behind her. That’s because Gray just turned 22—but even as one of the youngest writers on staff, she’s already played one of the most vocal roles in Occupy Wall Street coverage to date. Gray has been one of the few to cover OWS from the protest’s inception, and now, just two and a half months later, her Twitter follower count has quadrupled as a result. “It was one of those stories that was impossible to stop covering,” Gray told us, humbly discussing her OWS reporting as a learning experience. But tweeting from the front lines of the eviction of Zuccotti Park has earned Gray serious journalist cred. “The raid was pretty fun,” Gray said, smiling at what must have been a thrilling moment for a young journalist. “Well, I shouldn’t say it was fun.”
The @nplusinterns Twitter feed, the collective voice of the interns of n+1, evokes a connected, self-deprecating but fashionable and fully formed intellectual precocity—“an errant group of high-potential, low-performing Ivy League interns masquerading as intellectuals, bored out of their minds (when not strung out on Adderall), and suffering from an inflated sense of self-worth,” per Kaitlin Phillips, the intern who started the feed this spring, as well as the n+1 Personals Tumblr, a new dating site for people who like to read, write, and bask in their unironic cultural knowingness; it’s just announced a partnership with the legendary personals section of the New York Review of Books. But despite the attention the n+1 interns have gotten for flaunting their unfulfilled literary potential, Phillips says she has no plans to leverage her microcelebrity: “The literary world holds great allure, but I am wary of gaining access by means of social media.” (Still: before our photographer returned to our office from n+1’s Dumbo HQ, @nplusinterns had tweeted: “n+1 interns just had our first photo shoot. We did not smile. Bryce wore a tie. I had on my “adult” blazer. Mara wore a cable- knit sweater.”
This native of northern California moved to New York early last year, landing with a degree from Berkeley in political science (and south and southeast Asia studies) first in Alphabet City and then Park Slope before settling in Sunset Park. From there, he operates his blog, BrooklynPolitics.com, a must-read mix of stories—including some exclusives—followed by local political insiders. “I started the blog because I kept googling the phrase ‘brooklyn politics blog’ and every time was like, ‘Oh, right. There isn’t one,’” he tells us. “Eventually I figured I could set up such a blog myself and just went ahead and impulsively did it.”
She’s 23; he’s 24. She was born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago; he’s from New Jersey. They both moved to Brooklyn to attend Pratt, where they met and began collaborating on fashion, first as twentyten and most recently as Alder Boutique. Out of a studio in the Navy Yard, they design striking but simple clothing as well as accessories frequently based on found objects—window locks, door chains, and various clips and rings. “Alder is doing well for the holidays,” Nina told us. “We have a bunch of cool digital print scarves, hats, jewelry, and bags that people seem to be enjoying quite a bit.”
Yes, it’s true. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years lamenting the idea that it’s not only possible but common, even in the once harder-to-please indie world, to achieve relatively large-scale success without ever having done much of anything. Lana Del Rey, a 25-year-old New York native who famously released a failed album under her given name, Lizzy Grant, is the most recent to pull off such a feat. She’s been made over with an image that incorporates all sorts of hipster signifiers, from the ever-present Instagram aesthetic to the vaguely 60s-ish dresses juxtaposed with hints of hip-hop slang—she was once referred to as the “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” With her movie-star looks and her general willingness to be photographed, it’s not exactly surprising that the internet has had a field-day with her, even though she’s technically only released two songs. She’s reignited all those old conversations about authenticity and the hype machine and what it means to be a pop-star in the 21st century, and, well, there’s a chance we’d be annoyed by it if she didn’t seem so personally invested in the whole thing, and especially in the songs themselves. She’s forcing us to ask a lot of important questions—and it won’t be her fault if we don’t like the answers. (Photo by Nicole Nodland )
Allow us to introduce you to the NYC contingent of the Tar Sands Action group. Officially forming in late September, former arrestees of Bill McKibben’s mass two-week sit-in surrounding the White House earlier that month met up at a rally in New York. Their goal was to figure out what they could do at the local level to halt the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline through the United States, which would increase production of crude bitumen from the Alberta tar sands, generally understood by climate scientists to be one of the most environmentally destructive processes that exists. The group participated in the November 6 protest surrounding the White House that, with roughly 12,000 people altogether, effectively delayed the President’s Keystone XL pipeline decision (perhaps killing it) until after the 2012 election. Young activists like Belinda Rodriguez, 21, Duncan Meisel, 24, and Zack Malitz, 22, have played integral roles in organizing at both the city and the university level. “That’s not to say we’re resting on our laurels,” Rodriguez says. “We’ve got our eye on Congress and will be up in arms if they try any monkey business. We are keenly aware that the climate justice fight is far from over.” Hear that? The kids are alright.
It would be fair to envy Jacob DeKat his looks alone, but this successful 21-year-old model at the Ford Agency is, as they say, more than just a pretty face. Long eager to move to the other side of the camera, DeKat transformed his love of photography into Lovecat magazine, a quarterly fanzine-inspired pub that’s featured no less than Paz de la Huerta and Lindsay Lohan on its first two beautifully shot covers. (Photo Jesse Simon)