NYC-ARTS

S2020 E499 | FULL EPISODE

NYC-ARTS Full Episode: October 8, 2020

A look at the Audubon Mural Project, whose mission is to create murals that pay tribute to beautiful birds at risk due to climate change. Followed by a profile of Ayodele Casel, one of today’s most dynamic tap dancers and a passionate advocate for her art form. And a profile of Iain Forrest, an electric cellist known as Eyeglasses, who is participating in MTA’s Music Under New York program.

AIRED: October 08, 2020 | 0:27:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(beeping)

- [Paula Zahn] Coming up on the NYC Arts,

a look at the Audubon Mural Project in upper Manhattan.

which pays tribute to birds that are at risk due

to the climate crisis.

A profile (indistinct) Ayodele Casel,

one of today's most dynamic tap dancers.

- Tap dancing for me is magic. It's music in motion.

- [Paula Zahn] And we'll meet up with Iain Forrest

also known as Eyeglasses, a talented cellist,

who is part of the MTA's Music Under New York program.

- They'll play a bass part, percussion part,

a harmony part on the cello.

And then I can loop that segment over and over again.

I'm playing nine or 10 different cello parts

at the same time.

- [Man Speaking] Funding for NYC Arts is made possible by:

Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation,

The Lewis "Sonny" Turner Fund for Dance,

Jody and John Arnhold, Rosalind P. Walter,

Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown,

Charles and Valerie Diker,

The Nancy Sidewater Foundation,

Elroy and Terry Krumholz Foundation,

The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation

and Ellen and James S. Marcus.

This program is supported in part by public funds

from the New York City department of Cultural Affairs

in partnership with the city council.

Additional funding provided by Members of 13.

NYC Arts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

- [Woman Speaking] First Republic Bank presents:

First Things First.

At First Republic Bank, first refers to our first priority,

the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step, recognize that every client

is an individual with unique needs.

First decree, be a bank whose currency is service

in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

- [Man Speaking] And by Swann Auction Galleries.

- [Woman Speaking] Swann Auction Galleries,

we have a different way of looking at auctions,

offering vintage books and fine arts since 1941,

working to combine knowledge with accessibility,

whether you're a lifelong collector, a first time buyer

or looking to sell information at swanngalleries.com.

(upbeat music)

- Good evening and welcome to NYC Arts.

I'm Paula Zahn.

Since March, many of us have been spending more time outside

as a safe way to get some fresh air and exercise.

And during that time we've been exposed

to more of the city's bird life.

Maybe you watched eggs hatch

from your apartment window this spring,

or enjoyed listening to birds singing in the park

over the summer.

However, according to the Audubon society,

these songs may disappear over the next few decades.

In a report released in 2014,

the society revealed that

about half of all birds on our continent

will soon be threatened by climate change.

To draw attention to the plight of those birds,

Avi Gitler, a Manhattan art dealer,

teamed up with Mark Jannot from the Audubon society.

Together, they launched the Audubon Mural Project.

Its mission is to create murals

in Hamilton and Washington Heights

that pay tribute to at-risk birds

and draw attention to the climate crisis.

(bright music)

- I had opened the gallery

and wanted to bring some attention to the gallery.

So I asked the one fine artist I knew

who also did quote on quote Street Art

to paint a mural on the adjacent Gates to this art gallery.

And he's from Florida.

And he said to me, I'm gonna paint a Flamingo for you

because I'm from Florida, bring some Florida flavor.

And I made the connection, John James Audubon, birds,

and that's how the project really got started.

- I said, "Wow, this is a great idea.

Get, get the word out about, you know

the threatened birds, beautify the neighborhood

but let's, let's be a little more ambitious.

Let's not do just a dozen birds.

Let's do all 314 you know, threatened birds,

do murals of all of them on gates and malls

all over this neighborhood."

And Avi crazily said, "Sure, let's do it."

And we've been, you know, chasing our 314 number ever since.

- So it's really nice

to sort of publicize one of the great Americans

and really one of the most interesting Americans

to people who are familiar with the name,

but unfamiliar with the actual person.

- [Mark Jannot] John James Audubon

was possibly America's greatest bird

and a natural world artists

and an extraordinary pioneering ornithologist.

He spent the last 10 years of his life

here in Washington Heights.

- The center of the project really has, has shifted

to what was once the Audubon Estate between 155th

and 156th street in Broadway,

and it's appropriate

because John James Audubon final resting place

is in Trinity Cemetery on 155th.

We made the decision to paint

from approximately 135th street West

to 193rd street, which is the end of Audubon Avenue.

And there's no great logic to it

but we sort of thought it would

be nice to keep the project uptown.

Picking the locations is a bit of a challenge

but one of the things we decided from the beginning

was we weren't just going to paint anywhere,

we were looking to beautify.

So we're seeking out spaces that are

in need of some sort of fix some sort of improvement.

So, you know

the big walls that we've painted all had crumbling paint

and really we're in a state of disrepair.

We've worked with landlords to secure spaces

like empty alcoves that are boarded up.

And we can work with studio artists

who were painting paddles

that we then install into the building.

We're mostly working with artists who are

from the neighborhood or from the greater New York area.

We work with them to choose a bird.

We try not to paint the same birds twice.

We really ask them to do what they want within reason.

(bright music continues)

Some of the murals contain more than one bird.

So we've painted about 70 birds so far.

There are challenges to painting outside

but there are also benefits of painting outside.

So there are people who come

while an artist paints and they're engaging

the artist and it's a little bit distracting

but the positive is that they're engaging the artist

and they're learning about the project

and they're learning not just about global warming,

they're learning about art.

I'm from the neighborhood originally

and I wanted people uptown to be able to see

the sort of art that you would normally have to go

to Chelsea or the lower East side,

or maybe parts of Brooklyn for.

- One of the things I love

about coming up here to look at and for the murals

is that you can't be sure on any given visit,

which ones you're going to see

or you're going to see them all.

In that way it's sort of like going out

for a birding expedition.

You can't know which birds you're going to see.

When you're talking about half

of all North American birds being threatened,

you're going to see some birds there

that you wouldn't expect to see.

They will shift, they will move.

The Baltimore Oriole is predicted

to no longer be able to be seen in Baltimore.

The Common Loon, which is the state bird of Minnesota

is projected not to be able to be found in Minnesota.

I think that the sort of seeing these murals of birds

in this urban environments,

in a particularly urban sort of art form

is something that gets people's attention.

And I hope they will sort of investigate and see, like,

"What is this? Why are these murals all here?"

And really learn about these threats to the birds

that we are used to seeing around us,

even in an urban environment.

I hope that it inspires people to think about that and to,

and to kind of be inspired to do something about it

- On 163rd we've one of my favorite murals,

it's by the artist Cruz, he's a New York based artist

and it's a painting of three tri-color herons.

In the mural, the polar ice caps have melted

and sea levels are rising.

And the three herons are fighting for the last food,

in this case, a snake.

There's so many things I'd love for people

to take away from the murals

and understanding of the threats that the environment faces,

more neighborhood pride for uptown Manhattan,

a sense that art is accessible.

- [Mark Jannot] I strongly encourage people to get up here

because it's really an extraordinary experience.

(soft music)

- Next on our program we'll meet Ayodele Casel,

one of today's most dynamic tap dancers.

Born in The Bronx and raised in Puerto Rico,

she fell in love with tap.

After watching films from the 1930s, starring Ginger Rogers.

Casel began taking tap lessons while studying acting at NYU

and it wasn't long

before she found herself in the spotlight.

Her mentor Gregory Hines described her

as one of the top young tap dancers in the world.

In the 1990s, she became the only female member

of Savion Glover's "Not Your Ordinary Tappers",

a supergroup of tap dancers.

In 2017, she received the Hoofer Award

from the American Tap Dance Foundation.

Today, she continues to be a tireless advocate for tap.

(upbeat music)

NYC Art spoke with her at The Original Tap House

in The Bronx in 2018.

(shoes tapping)

- Tap dancing for me is magic.

Technical definition of precursive American art form.

(shoes tapping)

It's music and motion.

(shoes tapping)

I would say that I am mostly concerned with being

as musical and as expressive as I can be when I tap dance.

(shoes tapping)

Who you are and like how you came,

how you are here is what informs

and influences the sound that you make,

and the musical patterns that you make.

So I feel like you're

like a conglomerate of all of the things you've experienced.

I started tap dancing when I was 19 years old.

And for me as a black Puerto Rican girl

from The Bronx who idolized Ginger Rogers to know

that this was an African American art form

and that it had such a rich history and such a great legacy,

it just, it really completely changed my life.

(upbeat music)

I love Latin music.

I grew up listening to it.

I grew up in Puerto Rico for about six years.

(shoes tapping) (upbeat music)

Latin music is something that I enjoy listening to.

I dance it socially, but I tap dance to it all the time.

I am a champion for tap dancing

and I will speak about it everywhere I go

and try to put my energy in all kinds of directions.

I'm performing with Arturo O'Farrill,

a wonderful Latin jazz composer conductor.

I was collaborating on a few pieces there.

(upbeat music continues)

You're a musician, you're pretty stationary, right?

You're a pianist, you sit at the piano.

We have the awesome ability to really be as musical

and as melodic, but we get to move throughout space.

And that's actually one of the most fun things

about being a tap dancer, is being able to cover space

and create music while you're doing it.

People will say or have said that tap

is a male dominated art form.

I believe now that that is shifting a bit.

I can tell you that most of my influences were men.

At a certain point in my career

I started thinking, well, where are the women?

What it prompted in me was this need to search for them

because there's so many of them.

I found out there was Lois Bright, Louis Madison

and Jeni LeGon.

Then the Whitman Sisters, Cora LaRedd, Juanita Pits.

And then the list just grew.

Jeanine Tesori, wonderful composer and friend of mine

had asked me to create a piece

for the show called the Jamboree.

"While I Have the Floor" started out as a short piece

but is now a full length show

that includes tap dancing and acting.

(shoes tapping)

It is about my journey to reclaiming expression

and my identity, my communication,

language and the art form.

We weren't allowed to do this.

Hollywood thought that being a chorus girl

was more our speed and they thought that we lacked

the strength to perform flashy steps.

As I started just drafting,

I found myself speaking a lot about not just my experience

being one of the few women in that circle of mostly men,

but also again, I thought what a great opportunity to talk

about these women.

And the brilliant Lois Bright

who danced with the Miller Brothers

but wasn't built with her last name,

just, the Miller Brothers and Lois.

I wanted to write something that would serve

as sort of my manifesto, because I was concerned

that I would be just like the women

that nobody knew about.

(crowd cheering)

This space is The Original Tap House.

One of the reasons I created this space is

because the tap dancers have been sort of edged out out

of a lot of rehearsal spaces in Manhattan.

We also film operation tap out of here.

(shoes tapping)

Operation tap is comprised of three folks,

myself, my friend, Anthony Morigerato

and my friend Mike Minery.

We're all tap dancers,

we teach often internationally, nationally,

and we found that in our travels,

people really wanted to tap dance

but they felt that they didn't have the resources around.

They didn't have the teachers at their

at their dance studios or in many cases

their tap programs were being cut out.

And so we thought, well, if we create something

where all you need is the internet,

and you can get on and you can learn combinations

and you can learn technique exercises.

And we have a lot of engagement with young folks.

And I think that we've been really, really successful.

(shoes tapping)

One of my missions in life is to reawaken the appreciation

that people have already in them for tap dancing.

I feel like everybody loves it, even if they don't know

about it, I feel like they love it.

And I want

I want to make sure that people are open to it, that they

that there's a space for it in every arena possible.

If I die and tap dancing is regarded

as important as ballet is, you know, and as music is

then I think it would have been really worth worth it.

(shoes tapping)

- For more information on cultural events in our area,

please sign up for our free weekly email

at nyc-arts.org/email.

Top Five Picks will keep you up to date all year round

and be sure to connect

with NYC arts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

In the 1980s, the MTA was on the brink of collapse.

In order to revive the system,

they founded the Arts for Transit Program.

As part of that initiative, Music Under New York

was launched in 1985.

There are currently more than 350 musicians and groups

on MUNY's roster who were given priority access

to the best performance locations

throughout the transit system.

While performances are now suspended due to the pandemic,

we'd like to introduce you

to one of the program's musicians.

Iain Forrest, known as Eyeglasses is a medical student

at Mount Sinai.

A classically trained cellist,

he has performed both for patients at the hospital

and commuters in the subway.

His sound is instantly recognizable, thanks to his use

of an electric cello and his own unique remixes

of contemporary pop music.

We met up with Iain at one of his performances

at Herald Square back in January.

(cello playing)

- I started cello in fourth grade

when our music teacher came around for car instruments.

So I picked up the cello and I played the first note

which was a really low resonant note.

And I just love the sound of it, that bass note.

But after high school, me and a friend

we actually went out to the streets of Washington DC

and we started playing contemporary songs.

And I remember the reaction

of people walking past on the streets.

It struck me like,

"Hey, this could be really something special here."

After college, I moved up here

to New York city area for medical school at Mount Sinai.

And one of the things that drew me

to New York city was obviously the culture

that we have with the arts.

And as soon as I came here,

I saw street musician after street musician

and I immediately thought, "This could be my next home."

That's when I looked up MUNY, Music Under New York,

and I found that they had a whole audition process

sent them an application, did the audition,

and thankfully everything worked out

and now I can call myself a street musician

in New York city.

The reason why I chose Eyeglasses is

because of two reasons.

So I wanted to be an ophthalmologist.

I want to help people see better,

specifically kids who had lost their vision at a young age.

The second reason, which is a bit more lighthearted

is that Beethoven, he wrote a piece called,

"Eyeglasses Duet".

When musicians sat down and read the sheet music

in front of them, there were so many notes on it.

It was such a tricky, difficult piece to play

that the only way musicians could read the music

is if they wore really, really strong glasses.

So absolutely loved the story behind that.

I took inspiration from that.

So I played the electric cello and it's made by Yamaha.

And it's the exact same four strings as an acoustic cello.

The only difference is they stuck a little pickup

inside the electric cello, so it can be amplified

so it's louder.

What I love to do is also use a Looper.

So essentially what I do is I'll play a bass part,

percussion part, a harmony part on the cello

and then I can loop that segment over and over again.

So it essentially comes down to I'm playing nine

or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

So it just opens up a lot of doors

as to what I can do musically.

(cello playing)

I've had people come down, they come off their subway

they come up to me like, "Where's the orchestra?"

And I'm like "No, it's just,

it's just me one electric cello."

(cello playing continues)

So, unfortunately there's not much sheet music out there

for like nine cellos to play like pop songs or rock songs.

So yeah

oftentimes I'll just hear a song on the radio or on Spotify.

And then once I've listened to it a couple of times,

I kind of extrapolate it out and try to create,

you know, a cello rendition of it.

(cello playing continues)

Amongst all that kind of like chaotic energy

with people you know, bustling and the crowds moving,

I think the best part of that

is just seeing how the music impacts these people who

you know, are either have their headphones on,

just watching their phone, trying to get

from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

And then just seeing them being able to stop

just enjoy the moment for what it is.

In medicine and music, you really have to connect

with the human being sitting in front of you,

helping to up with them with music,

I find it actually makes me a better medical student

and hopefully a better doctor down the road too.

(cello playing)

(crowd claps)

Thank you guys, thank you so much.

- I hope you've enjoyed our program this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thank you so much for watching.

Have a good night.

Next week on NYC arts, a behind the scenes visit

with the Martha Graham Dance Company

which carries on the innovative spirit

of one of the most influential artists

of the 20th century.

- Graham's work requires sort of the perfect marriage

of the physical and the emotional.

Her movement is designed to reveal the inner landscape

and really finding that balance

between the physicality and the emotional journey

without becoming melodramatic is the constant battle.

- [Paula Zahn] And a visit to the metropolitan museum

of art for a look at painting and sculpture

from its collection of post-war and contemporary art.

- The painting serves as a kind of inventory or catalog

of painter strokes, some thick, some thin, some stable,

some strong, others fluid, others weak.

(bright music)

- [Man Speaking] Funding for NYC Arts is made possible

by Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation,

The Lewis "Sonny" Turner Fund for Dance,

Jody and John Arnhold,

Rosalind P Walter, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown,

Charles and Valerie Diker,

The Nancy Sidewater Foundation,

Elroy and Terry Krumholtz Foundation,

The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation

and Ellen and James S. Marcus.

This program is supported in part

by public funds from the New York city department

of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the city council.

Additional funding provided by Members of 13.

NYC Arts is made possible

in part by First Republic Bank.

- [Woman Speaking] First Republic Bank presents:

First Things First.

At First Republic Bank, first refers to our first priority,

the clients who walk through our doors,

the first step, recognize that every client

is an individual with unique needs.

First decree, be a bank whose currency is service

in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

- [Man Speaking] And by Swann Auction Galleries.

- [Woman Speaking] Swann Auction Galleries,

we have a different way of looking at auctions,

offering vintage books and fine arts since 1941,

working to combine knowledge with accessibility,

whether you're a lifelong collector, a first time buyer

or looking to sell information at swanngalleries.com.

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