Keep Me Nearby

An exhibition by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani
With photographs by Nick Lawrence

Opening reception: Friday, May 31 from 6-8p
On view: May 31 through July 21, 2019
Tours: Saturday, June 8; June 29; July 20 [all tours will meet in Cuchifritos Gallery]

Photo: Nick Lawrence

Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 12-6pm
Location: 88 Essex Street NY, NY 10002 (inside Essex Street Market)

so please when I die… / don’t take me far away / keep me nearby / take my ashes and scatter them thru out / the Lower East Side

– Miguel Piñero

For forty years, as New York’s Lower East Side went from disinvested to gentrified, residents lived with a wound in the neighborhood, a series of vacant lots known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Most of the buildings on the 14-square-block area were condemned in 1967, displacing thousands of people–mostly low-income people of color–with the promise that they would soon return to new housing, very little of which ever came. Over decades, efforts to keep out affordable housing sparked deep-rooted enmity and stalled development, making SPURA a dramatic study of failed urban renewal, as well as a microcosm epitomizing the greatest challenges faced by American cities since World War II. Now one of the city’s largest developments, Essex Crossing, is rising on this site. Essex Street Market, of which Cuchifritos is a part, is at its heart.

Ten years ago, artist and urbanist Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani was invited to enter this tense community to collaborate on a new approach to planning through public history and public art. Created in a multi-year collaboration with community activists GOLES and SPARC, and her students at the New School, the exhibitions and performative guided tours of Bendiner-Viani’s “Layered SPURA” project provided new opportunities for dialogue about the past, present and future of the neighborhood. The project is now the subject of Gabrielle’s new book Contested City: Art and Public History as Mediation at New York’s Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

Keep Me Nearby returns to the intersection of Essex and Delancey a decade after Layered SPURA began to help us think about what it still means to make home in this neighborhood, and how understanding the complex threads of this neighborhood’s past can help us imagine a future. The exhibition features never-before seen images by photographer Nick Lawrence of the lived-in apartments that were demolished at SPURA in the late 1960s, and the “Layered SPURA” postcards, Bendiner-Viani’s interactive project that engages the viewer in the many histories, stories, and dreams embedded in this place.

Throughout the summer, Keep Me Nearby will host a series of Layered SPURA tours, letting participants use their bodies, their voices, and their capacity for dialogue to understand the contested urban past, present and future on the Lower East Side. Special guests from SPURA’s long-time community activist community will join the tours, and each event will culminate with a conversation about this old, new, place.

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Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani is an urbanist, curator, and artist pioneering public arts and urban research for community engagement, and is the author of Contested City: Art and Public History as Mediation at New York’s Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. She is principal of the design and research studio Buscada ( and teaches urban studies and public art at The New School. She was Post-doctoral Fellow in Visual Culture at the International Center of Photography and holds a PhD in environmental psychology from the Graduate Center, CUNY. She regularly consults with arts and culture organizations on community and art engagements and strategic visioning. Her creative practice has been shown at institutions including MIT, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Center for Architecture, the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, and Tate Britain. Her work on cities, culture and photography has appeared in journals including Visual Studies, Urban Omnibus, Space and Culture, Society & Space, and Buildings & Landscapes. She lives in New York City.

Artists Alliance Inc. is 501c3 not for profit organization located on the Lower East Side of New York City within the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. Cuchifritos Gallery is supported in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Cuchifritos Gallery programming is made possible by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts. We thank the New York City Economic Development Corporation and individual supporters of Artists Alliance Inc for their continued support. Special thanks go to our team of dedicated volunteers and interns, without whom this program would not be possible.