‘Believe the Hype’ Column: An Ode to FiveMyles Gallery

By Christine Stoddard | cstoddard@queensledger.com

New York City, the City of Dreams, the city of magic and momentum. For a creative person, there may be no better place for inspiration or opportunity, with virtually every culture and industry represented. It is also the capital of hustle and ambition. New Yorkers yearn. We strive. Like many transplants, I moved here with a vision for a more exciting and fulfilling creative career and, dare I say it, life overall . I wanted access to experiencing and, in some cases, making art, music, fashion, movies, and media. While I had a few contacts when I first made Brooklyn home, I still had many more people to meet. When it came to really knowing the borough’s movers and shakers, I didn’t know anymore. Networking and making connections is crucial in a city full of millions of enterprising (sometimes pushy) people. One venue that gave me a chance early on was FiveMyles Gallery in Crown Heights.

Madi Dangerously & Arts East New York

Some things happened for me quickly after I moved here in mid-2016. Curator Madi Dangerously, aka Mariama Rafetna Primus, who is a local mover and shaker, invited me to participate in a group show. This was 2017 and the idea was a one-night event dedicated to the divine feminine. Not too long after that, Madi also generously invited me to participate in an exhibition on gentrification at the now-defunct Arts East New York, founded by Catherine Green. It seems that the gallery was another casualty of the pandemic. May another contemporary art space replace it. East New York deserves to have that kind of resource and space for expression. Every neighborhood does. But back to Madi: She was bringing together newcomers and long-timers alike to have visual and performance art conversations about migration and real estate. It was a welcome opportunity for someone like me who genuinely wanted to contribute to the community  that was already established here. Not all of us want a Starbucks on every corner. Thank you, Madi, for seeing that in me.

Hanne Tierney & Marine Cornuet

Insert snowball effect. By early 2018, I had my own show at FiveMyles. To that, I should say thank you to Hanne Tierney. Hanne is the founder of FiveMyles, which she opened 25 years ago. The place was incorporated as a non-profit in 1999, championing experimental and largely non-Western work or work by otherwise under-represented artists. At the time that I met Hanne, her second-in-command was Marine Cornuet, a French poet who has since moved on to a career in literary publishing. Marine was really my main point of contact, though I was immediately taken by Hanne’s warmth and passion for the arts in Central and East Brooklyn. She is a friendly, likable person, which is the type of personality more gallery owners should consider cultivating and projecting. Kindness is a skill.

Lady Pandora

My first show at FiveMyles was a one-night affair called “Lady Pandora,” and featured a video art installation, live poetry performances, and framed photos hung pretty traditionally on the wall. I directed the night, which was about feminine power and the tension between the magic and struggles of womanhood. All of the videos and photos were ones I had created; the line-up of poets, which included myself, featured mostly women who appeared in the videos and photos. They were my collaborators and the vast majority of them lived in Brooklyn, from Greenpoint to Fort Greene. One message present in much of the work is that we conjure spells because of our challenges as women. We aim to reclaim our power. The gallery was packed and I met neighbors and had conversations that still inspire me.

Since then, I have had two smaller events at FiveMyles–screenings of my film Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares and video poems from my project Belladonna Magic. The first took place last fall; the other took place this month. Maybe these events were smaller because I did not promote them as hard as “Lady Pandora,” but I suspect the attendance had more to do with the state of cultural institutions in New York City. People go out less often. Virtual events are more common. We have lost some of the synchronicity and thrilling chaos of a time before ubiquitous screens and livestreaming. What a difference a few years can make. Ironically, my reach is larger than it was before the pandemic. Social media as an arts platform has created new types of exposure and attracted new fans. Brooklyn Magazine named me one of its Top 50 Most Fascinating People in 2023. They came to that conclusion because of an online survey that spread via social media. Still, I thank FiveMyles for the in-person space to meet fans in real life and make face-to-face connections. I feel comfortable speaking for many people when I say Crown Heights will be a different place when FiveMyles closes in June. Yes, I purposely buried the lede. To quote Ruby Lindsey, who replaced Marine at FiveMyles, “Sometimes it’s just time.”

Find out more at FiveMyles.org.

Photos are from the columnist’s personal archives. 


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