Landlord and Longtime Activist Give Bushwick A Sparkling New Community Space
Just around the corner from the booming Jefferson stop — amidst the cocktail bars, organic grocery, and vintage stores — another new establishment has grown out of the dirt. But unlike some of what has started to clog up Troutman, the Mayday Space isn’t simply for the Catey Shaws of the neighborhood.
The massive, freshly renovated space (about 5,500 square feet) will be open to community activists and social justice causes that might not otherwise be able to afford a space of their own. In addition to welcoming smaller groups, Mayday is also teaming up with Make the Road, an activist organization dedicated to protecting the rights of immigrants that got its start in Bushwick and has grown into a nationwide network. Make the Road already has a facility close by, but it’ll be moving into a spot at Mayday, where it will host adult literacy programs and ESL classes.
EcoStation NY will also have a space of its own in the Mayday Space. About 3,500 square feet of terrace and rooftop will be dedicated to the organization’s “Farm-In-The-Sky” project that will recruit Bushwick youth to tend to an urban farm and learn about sustainability and healthy eating a long the way.
Ana Nogueira is co-founder of the Mayday project, which is split into two separate entities– the community space and a bar. Nogueira explained that proceeds from the latter will be used to subsidize the former. “Basically it’s a bar, with a really great event space that community groups, grassroots groups, activist groups, could use as fundraising space– which is sorely needed in NYC, because everything is so expensive.” Space for rent will be priced on a sliding scale.
“It’s just a place to gather,” she said. “A very active space where people can plug into their community, plug into social justice issues, things like climate change, all that stuff.”
The project is miles away from what the rest of Bushwick development looks like these days. The community space, Nogueira said, is intentionally framed to address gentrification, which is progressing at a lightning-fast speed in the neighborhood. “We recognize that the split is there, and everyone wants to change it and bridge it, and we hope this space can be a conduit to that,” she explained. “Groups like Make the Road say that they want to make connections with the incoming population, they want to collaborate on things. It’s everybody’s community now, so it’s definitely an explicit goal of Mayday.”
Ana, who has worked as a documentary filmmaker, journalist, and activist, has certainly been around the neighborhood for long enough to see it change. “I’ve lived on the block for 13 years,” she said.
Though Mayday seems like a logical culmination of Ana’s work over the years and her longstanding commitment to the neighborhood. That, and some serious luck were at play– Ana happens to know a good landlord, which is something of an oxymoron in New York City, especially in rapidly gentrifying areas. “I have a good relationship with my landlord, and a couple of years ago he came to my apartment and was like, ‘I’m building a new building on that empty lot across the street, help me do something with it.’”
Ana explained that she recruited some neighbors and friends to think about the best way to utilize the space. “We helped to transform the zoning of this building, which was a church, to community use, with some commercial use and light manufacturing,” she said. Then came the idea for the bar.
“The community board is not very excited about more and more bars coming in to the neighborhood at all,” Ana explained. “But they really support Mayday because they see that we have a different kind of mission, and the bar is more of a financial engine and a cultural space to bring different communities together.”
Something about this story seemed too good to be true. A landlord wants to give something back to the community? We just had to phone this guy.
Turns out Iona Sita is the mystery landlord. He also owns the building that houses the Bushwick Starr just down the block. He’s not a resident of Bushwick, but he said he’s worked in the neighborhood since 1985. Though he had very little to say about the actual happenings in the space– in fact, he insisted he was not involved– Sita said he supports the Mayday project. “I work with my tenants to support them,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve known Ana for a long time.”
Mayday still has a ways to go until it’s fully functional, and the bar is still a few months off, but parts of the building are already buzzing with activity. One activist group, 350.org, is renting out some of the space for art production in preparation for actions related to the approaching United Nations Climate Summit.
Walking around the space, Ana was in her element– she described exactly how the center would work, and painted a palpable image of what things would look like once Mayday was fully functional. As for the bar, Ana admitted she’s never run a bar of her own before, but said she’s been getting help from some “extremely supportive” local bar owners. “I’ll learn as I go along,” she said.