An Open Letter to the Mayor of New York City
Dear Mayor Adams,
This letter is written by More Art, a New York City non-profit organization that, for more than 15 years, has supported collaborations between artists and communities to create public art projects and educational programs that stimulate creative engagement with social and cultural issues. We are writing today after many conversations over many months with our community of artists, activists, educators, community organizers, immigrants, new New Yorkers and lifetimers to address the crucial, intersecting issues of guaranteed access to food, health and housing for all New Yorkers. Inspired by the grassroots efforts of organizers, activists and artists to provide much-needed care for their communities during the pandemic, we are determined to continue advocating for the City’s underserved populations and demand your new administration prioritize their well-being with a series of policy reforms.
New York City is in a housing crisis and has been for a long time. This basic right has reached a new critical point after the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 2021, and now into 2022. Housing insecurity is one of the most widely felt issues across New York City — people are experiencing homelessness, gentrification, shortages of affordable housing, rent hikes and evictions across the city’s boroughs. The new administration must make New York livable for all, not just the wealthy.
We are calling on the mayor to:
- Put an end to tax breaks for foreign investors that leave units vacant and deter landlords from renting to locals. Put an end to “warehousing” and issue penalties for leaving vacant storefronts and buildings unoccupied when they can be rented to the neighborhood.
- Restructure affordable housing requirements in new developments to reflect the actual income of neighbors vulnerable to displacement.
- Prevent the privatization of the New York City Housing Authority. NYCHA residents are just as much a part of the community as homeowners; they have a right to stable and livable conditions.
- Invest in collective land trusts, nonprofits and community-based organizations that are designed to ensure community stewardship of land. The trust acquires land and maintains ownership of it permanently. With prospective homeowners, it enters into a long-term, renewable lease instead of a traditional sale, increasing access to non-traditional homeownership and combating the ongoing effects and realities of redlining.
- Implement tangible and immediate accountability for landlords to ensure ALL tenants across NYC have access to appropriate, vital resources/utilities that are seasonally appropriate; crucial and timely repairs; and to ensure all residential spaces are safe and up to code on a regular, ongoing basis. Ensure landlords are regularly held responsible for violations to the fullest extent.
- Sustained support against evictions (including prolonged moratoriums) along with necessary resources to ensure no one is left without necessary shelter especially during the ongoing pandemic.
Food is often the center of a community or neighborhood, yet New Yorkers already living precariously prior to the pandemic were hit particularly hard. In response, mutual aid efforts worked to provide groceries and meals to communities most impacted by food deserts, financial loss and closures resulting from COVID-19. Longstanding food deserts in places such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville, Brooklyn, saw the rise of Bed-Stuy Strong and Collective Fare, while community fridges popped up from Chinatown through the Bronx. The new mayoral administration must learn from these grassroots collectives. For a mayor who has touted the benefits of a “healthy lifestyle,” the first priority should be securing healthy, local food systems for all.
We are calling on the mayor to:
- Subsidize community gardens, especially in public housing. Funds for education and management of the gardens must be included in the budget to ensure the sustainability of these public, nourishing, regenerative spaces.
- Implement a long-term commitment to composting. Composting must become an integral part of the city’s waste management system. Composting removes organics from the waste stream (thereby reducing methane off-gassing in landfills), can be utilized in growing more food, and, when appropriately applied to rangelands, can actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, returning it to the soil (see: regenerative agriculture). The city should require restaurants to compost (and/or donate unused food to cut down on waste). Eventually, residents should also be required to compost and should be provided with brown bins for curbside compost pick-up as well as increased drop-off sites.
- Decriminalize and actively encourage urban foraging. Anti-foraging policies are rooted in racist and colonial paradigms vis-a-vis land “ownership.” These policies prevent communities from providing for themselves and passing on valuable, culturally-important knowledge to future generations. The city should encourage stewardship of the land and train others to join in taking responsibility for it.
New York City was the country’s center of the COVID-19 pandemic during the early height of the virus in 2020. The impact of the pandemic will be felt across the City for years to come, with new health issues arising in its wake. With many New Yorkers already living without access to healthcare, these additional consequences have proven to be catastrophic to the City’s overall health. The physical, mental and emotional health of all citizens of New York City will have to be prioritized in new ways by this incoming administration.
We are calling on the mayor to:
- Implement clearer, targeted communication regarding health-care resources, as it is the number-one barrier when it comes to receiving appropriate care, particularly for low-income citizens and people of color. Outreach must remain sustained and community specific, supported and funded at top levels but built from the ground up.
- Expand and make permanent mobile-testing vans, easy-to-use texting/mobile apps for information and appointments and telehealth options. Build off of the grassroots work done out of necessity during the pandemic, learning from community care, pop-up medical services and pro-bono support.
- Initiate mental health services at the preventative stage, before a crisis hits. The challenges of pandemic fatigue, compounded with the decline of daily quality of life, healthcare inequity and a need for greater access to mental healthcare must be addressed immediately. The administration must ensure quality, culturally competent care for all classes, communities and citizens of the city.
- Create a city or community care corps employing people to maintain and build connections between various health and social services networks; this is a major step in creating a more equitable healthcare system while also providing new jobs. The long-term version of this restructuring and community emphasis would be a publicly controlled insurance model.
Eric Adams has called attention to the racial disparities in medicine and the city recently declared racism a public-health crisis. You have pledged to build clinics in low-income neighborhoods that lack access to top-tier hospitals, and, correctly reasoning that poverty exacerbates health problems, want public hospitals to double as hubs for social services. We support this line of intersectional policy reform and call on you to concretize this promise and provide legitimate structural support for such initiatives.
In our 15 plus years of work with artists and social-justice activists, we have made a point of dedicating our small team and resources to seeking out and elevating the voices of everyday citizens, those who have traditionally been underrepresented in the art world, but also in politics and — more importantly — in policymaking. The imperatives called for in this letter are a reflection of the immense wealth of knowledge and innovation possessed within those communities — communities who know what it is they need and clearly have the vision to make it so. We implore you, the new mayor of New York City and your administration, to align your tenure and agenda with the needs and aims of the real stakeholders of this city — those too often left out of the decision-making process, too regularly sidelined, if not actually displaced by more moneyed interests. The demands outlined above are necessary to build a more equitable, sustainable and livable New York, for all.
If you would like to sign, please follow the link here.
Micaela Martegani, Executive Director, More Art
Shawn Escarciga, artist, Director of Special Projects, More Art, Brooklyn
Shona Masarin-Hurst, Curatorial Director, More Art
Madison Markham, Communications and Programs Assistant, More Art
Candace Thompson, artist, land steward
Betty Yu, artist, educator and activist; Brooklyn, NY
Jeff Kasper, artist, professor, UMass Amherst
Jessica Wallen, American Planning Association
Silvia Rocciolo, Arts & Culture Professional, New York, NY
Catherine Grau, artist and cultural worker
Maria Niro, artist, Un-War LLC, Manhattan
Judith Rubenstein, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Sari Carel, artist and activist, Brooklyn
Kirk Gordon, SCAPE Landscape Architecture
Alain Groenendaal, marketing consultant, Morningside
Micaela Giovannotti, art curator, certified health coach, Brooklyn, NY
Nathan Hunter, Bronx based educator and land steward
Clarinda Mac Low, artist, arts worker, Culture Push
Justin Wong, composer and performer, arts administrator, The Shed, Chinatown
Mary Mattingly, Artist
Serena Trizzino, Art Advisor
Jim Furlong, Director of Arts, Hudson Guild
Margaux Caniato, Marketing Strategist, VP+C Partners
Jennifer Dalton, artist, Brooklyn NY
Amy Andrieux, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA)
Kemi Ilesanmi, The Laundromat Project
Caron Atlas, Arts & Democracy and Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY
Kate Shaw, Brooklyn, NY
Brooke Anderson, Citizen
Rejin Leys, artist and art educator, Queens
Cora Fisher, Cultural Worker, Brooklyn, NY
Pablo Helguera, artist
Allison Freedman Weisberg, Recess
Jennifer Wright Cook, The Field
William Powhida, Artist
Roderick Schrock, Eyebeam
Shaun Leonardo, Artist & Co-Director, Recess
Radical Evolution Performance Collective
DAVID LING ARCHITECT, NYC
Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, Executive Director, Dance/NYC
Jacqueline Herranz Brooks, Artist and educator, Queens
Tessa Grundon, Artist
Amy Ritter, Artist, Brooklyn NY
William McAllister, Columbia University
Randi Berry, IndieSpace, Indie Theater Fund, Queens NY
Prerana Reddy, Artist & Community Fellow, Recess
Priscilla Stadler, Artist and Educator, Queens
Nick Giordano, DEI Specialist, Brooklyn, NY
Jenny Polak, artist
Jodi Waynberg, arts administrator, Artists Alliance Inc.
martha rosler, artist and resident, brooklyn
Álvaro Franco, artist, Bronx, NY
Andreas Petrossiants, writer and associate editor e-flux journal, Brooklyn
Rory Golden, artist, 40 Ann Street, NY NY 10038
Shimon Attie, Artist, New York, NY
Noah Ortega, artist & educator, Queens, NY
Annie Kurz, artist, Queens, NY
Ford Phillips, artist, Brooklyn, NY
Susan Sandler, More Art board advisor, Manhattan
Martha Bone, artist
Carin Kuoni, curator and editor, New York
Esther McGowan, Executive Director, Visual AIDS
Annie Del Hierro, community-engaged visual artist and educator, Brooklyn
Kim Cullen, Executive Director & CEO, New York Live Arts
Lily Honglei, artist, Queens, NY
Johanna Ottolinger, Mort Art Board, NY Employee & Citizen
Lucas Acuff, Brooklyn, NY
francesco simeti, artist, Brooklyn NY
Elaine Caldwell, Brooklyn, NY
E. Fran, musician, Queens NY
Sara Parkel, printmaker, Queens, NY
Monika Wuhrer, Open Source Gallery, Brooklyn
Lyla Ribot, artist, Brooklyn, NY
dominika ksel, artist, rockaway, ny
Amanda Alic, Fuse Works, Brooklyn
Anthony Goicolea, Artist, Brooklyn, NY
Floor Grootenhuis, Artist
Young Min Moon, artist, professor, UMass Amherst
Robert Raphael, Artist, Brooklyn, NY
Bridget Bartolini, artist, oral historian and educator, Queens, NY
Eriola Pira, curator, Brooklyn, NY
Nathalie Anglès, Residency Unlimited, Brooklyn
Marisa Tesauro, artist
Audre Wirtanen, Hyp-ACCESS, Brooklyn
Reverend Darryl Mabe Queens N.Y
Jason Compere — Brooklyn Housing Development / International Village Development
Lisa Bateman, artist
Harley Spiller, artist and Ken Dewey Director, Franklin Furnace Archive
Fabienne Lasserre, artist, Brooklyn NY
Nina Meledandri, artist, Brooklyn, NY
Kristen Doty, Brooklyn, NY
K. Jarmon, artist and art educator, Brooklyn, NY
Chris Peterson. Union Stagehand and Artist. East New York, Brooklyn
If you would like to sign, please follow the link here.