Public Art Project Invites Gentrifiers to Confess Their Sins

On a Saturday evening a few weekends ago, several artists, performers, activists, and writers gathered at an apartment in Chelsea to discuss their relationship to the city-wide process of gentrification. The event, Gentrifiers Anonymous, was a kind of colloquy loosely modeled on the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting template of therapeutic interventions that are, in this case, geared toward helping attendees to see gentrification as a process in which they have a degree of conscious or unconscious participation. The email invitation described the evening to be as “to publicly confess their own sins of gentrification, large or small, in order to explore their complacency and complicity in the citywide struggle for ‘affordable’ housing and the wholesale displacement of low-income New Yorkers.” The garden apartment were we met for this was upscale and tastefully decorated — a tranquil setting for what ended up at times being an uncomfortable conversation.

Mildred Beltre, half of the Brooklyn High-Art Machine duo that co-developed the event along with Month2Month, began the session by doing a bit of housekeeping: asking everyone to keep their answers short, explaining that a reporter was on hand to make audio recordings of the event, and then set her phone to give an audible alert when each person’s two minutes were expired. Beltre then started off the conversation portion by saying, “Hi, everyone I’m Mildred, and I’m a gentrifier.” She went on to explain how she became aware of her own socio-political position in the ongoing struggle (that despite being a city-wide phenomenon has a distinctive character specific to each neighborhood) a good while after moving into Crown Heights. Beltre says that she attended a tenants meeting where she eventually discovered that everyone else was talking about how to keep people like her, someone who had come into a renovated apartment with a rent higher than that charged most other tenants, out of their building. At that moment, the issue of gentrification became personal for her, she says. This account set the tone for much of the rest of meeting.

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