Over the past few months, the Lab made a lot of friends. They came from the East Village and Lower East Side; they came from farther away in the city and the world. Now, as the Lab is leaving New York bound for Berlin, I couldn’t help but want to ensure that their thoughts were captured in our collective Lab memory.
Most of their assessments were positive. It’s worth noting, however, that many I interviewed upon the Lab’s closure shared this critique: that the conversations would have been richer—and more meaningful, accurate, and useful—if a more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse section of the public had been engaged.
There are notable characters missing from the interview excerpts below—like Andres Perez, for example, the most diehard visitor by far, whom, curiously, I have not yet been able to track down for an interview now that the Lab is closed. This list is by no means exhaustive.
But these are a few of the people that appeared again and again: people whose thoughts and critiques were informed and valued, people who eventually became as much a part of the Lab as any of the Team members, the staff, and the programming. Some—Andres Carter and Pebbles Russell—even became interns.
One of the things I felt from the first was the congruency with the way it looked and the way it felt: open, welcoming, different, listening, provoking, questioning; listening from the other side, and all around.
It occurred to me that, you know, I don’t know my own neighborhood all that well. I decided that I wanted to do some of the same things where I live.… I started a list of ten things, and I’m really trying to peel back the layers in my own neighborhood and put myself out there a little bit more, in terms of finding the movers and shakers in my neighborhood and knowing them better. I’ve been kind of flying under the radar, and my experience here caused me to say, wait a minute, I think I’d like to change that.—Bethene LeMahieu
It seemed to me that a large part of the demographic of the Lab, and who came to the Lab as a participant or to speak, was, yes, the public at large, but a very particular public. I would say there were a huge amount of students, [and] art, design, professional types. But to talk about community building processes and thinking about the city on that scale—of the city—I don’t know how you engage with the broader public. How you get them interested. I think that’s a challenge that’s really going to play out. It’s an easy critique to be leveled, but I don’t think it’s one that should be dismissed.
What I think was really incredible, and I didn’t really expect this to happen, was the distinct sense of community or engagement with the people who were there all the time, and building these conversations and having them carry forward from week to week. These are conversations that, even though the Lab’s closed, I can continue with these people.—Scott Brown
The feeling from everyone here has not been one of condescension, or “who are you,” or “you’re lucky to be here,” but of welcoming. Quickly I found myself welcomed. I’m very happy this has been part of the community, and at the end I felt sadness that a fireplace for the community was going to be put out. But I think you’ve started something that’s wonderful in this community, and it will go on.—Ed Morris
I think at the beginning I was very cautious about BMW, the Guggenheim, wanting to host a discussion about what is comfort, what is gentrification, in a spot that has seen massive gentrification over the last twenty years. As I moved through the experience with the Lab, I felt very happy about it, very relieved in a certain way. That this was actually an opportunity and a platform to invite in anybody to really discuss these issues in a very frank, and honest, and open way. Yes, it had these huge names that are these global institutions, the Guggenheim and BMW, but they have almost put themselves in a vulnerable spot to allow for an experience like this to happen. Anybody could come in, anybody in many of the programs I came to, were invited to give their opinion, take the microphone, say their piece, own their voice. And that to me was the phenomenal experience of what this project offered.—Naomi Seixas
Adding in the immediate element of the history of this neighborhood, and the people who live here and have lived here, and making that its sort of home team, made this project a lot more interesting, with a sort of perma-context that was always brought back around.… To celebrate that, yes, there’s a global community, and the possibility that those types of things can open up for us, but at the same time to take a step back, take a couple years back maybe, and remember that smaller communities—of face-to-face interactions, with people shaking hands, laughing, these things that you really can’t fake —that that is just as important and maybe right now more important.—Pebbles Russell
I feel sad and glad [that the Lab is leaving New York]. I’m sad because it really became something different in the community. We didn’t have anything like this before, and it really brought people together. People I would have never otherwise met. And it also shed some light on some things that were going on that I didn’t even know about in my neighborhood, and I’ve been living here for over 20 years… It made me appreciate the way people think in this neighborhood and generally how they feel.
Glad because there are going to be other neighborhoods in other cities now that are going to have the opportunity for it to affect other people’s lives in the way that it affected mine.—Andres Carter