Today (Wednesday, January 25), the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, through its “Percent for Art” program, is holding the final meeting to determine the winning proposal for public art commemorating the “Little Syria” neighborhood of Lower Manhattan.
The City’s Department of Parks & Recreation is constructing a new 20,000 square foot park, Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza, in the historic neighborhood and they have agreed to include art pieces invoking the themes of writers and poets who sprang from the Levantine diaspora, including Kahlil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy, Elia Abu Madi, ‘Afifa Karam, and Ameen Rihani.
Until the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel by master builder Robert Moses destroyed much of the neighborhood in the 1940s, “Little Syria” was the cultural and economic heart of Arab-American life, with roots going back to the 1880s.
A robust journalism scene supported a large number of writers active as poets, newspaper editors, essayists, and novelists. Especially in the development of the prose poem, the writers living in New York had a transformative impact on late modern Arabic poetry. Many of these writers, who came together in the early 20th century in an organization called the “Pen League,” are still admired around the world. From their ranks came one of the world’s perennially best-selling books: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (1923).
This new monument will recall a destroyed neighborhood and a lost time, and aims to provide an inspiring symbol of the dreams of these philosophers and poets. Their themes of unity and universal love may influence the proposed designs.
Four highly regarded international artists — Nadia Kaabi-Linke, eL Seed, Huda AbiFares, and Sara Ouhaddou — have developed proposals to incorporate artwork into the park. Today, at Metropolitan College of New York (60 West Street, near the corner of Rector Street) they will present their proposals for 30 minutes each, starting at 12p.m. These presentations will followed by public questions and discussion, and then a final vote by a panel of experts and City officials. In anticipation of today’s event, Metropolitan College has been hosting a related exhibit, “Little Syria NYC” since last week.
A local community nonprofit, the Washington Street Historical Society, has helped sponsor this competition with the Departments of Cultural Affairs and Parks and Recreation. The organization is comprised of historians, literature scholars, and descendants of the residents of Little Syria. Members of the Historical Society, who have been advocating for this project for six years, are eager to see it move forward.
Public meeting with artist presentations begins at 12 noon at Metropolitan College of New York located at 60 West Street. Community discussion will take place at 3:45. All are invited.