Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Irondale Ensemble to Participate in Abolitionist Project

Irondale, Brooklyn Historical Society and Weeksville Heritage Center Proposals For Abolitionism Commemoration Project Selected by NYC Economic Development Corp

Irondale Ensemble Project (Terry Greiss, Executive Director, Jim Niesen, Artistic Director, Maria Knapp, Managing Director) is delighted to announce that it, in association with the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Weeksville Heritage Center, has been selected to create In Pursuit of Freedom, a multi-faceted project to memorialize the history of abolitionism, the anti-slavery movement, and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn.

The project will provide new resources for understanding Brooklyn’s important role in the abolitionist movement through exhibitions, marked walking tours, a theater project and a website. The City of New York is providing initial funding of $2 million for project implementation, with additional private funding to be raised.

Irondale, the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Weeksville Heritage Center created a proposal for In Pursuit of Freedom in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by NYC Economic Development Corp (NYCEDC), in cooperation with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and in partnership with a Commemoration Advisory Panel.

“Irondale is truly honored to be working with two such distinguished organizations. We are tremendously excited to turn this exciting chapter in history into exciting theater,” says Terry Greiss, Irondale’s Executive Director.

Last year, a panel of noted historians, community leaders and academics were selected to assist with the creation of the RFP and the selection of a local cultural organization to develop and manage a commemoration project to memorialize anti-slavery activity in Brooklyn.

“When we supported the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn, we recognized the rich culture and historical significance of Downtown Brooklyn,” said Councilmember Letitia James. “I was happy to have played a role in championing this commemorative effort. I proudly congratulate the awardees, who will do honor to this project in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner.”

Councilmember David Yassky said, “The selection of these organizations to commemorate the abolitionist history of Downtown Brooklyn is outstanding news. The Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project have each demonstrated unique sensitivity and commitment to honoring the historic contribution of the Downtown Brooklyn community. I am confident the resulting project will be terrific.”

In Pursuit of Freedom contains four inter-related components:

1. A commemorative artistic installation in Downtown Brooklyn will be the starting point for visitors to follow a series of historical markers at key sites around the borough. A self-guided walking tour of these sites will also be created and distributed at key locations in Brooklyn.

2. Interpretative exhibits, with images, maps and primary source documents will be installed at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Center at Lafayette Avenue Church. Each will include images, maps and primary source documents, and each will be focused on facilitating use by educators and students.

3. An original theater piece will draw upon the story of abolitionism in Brooklyn as it relates to important issues that continue to challenge contemporary society.

4. An interactive website will connect all of the components to make the project available to a national and international audience.

“The history of abolition is complex and powerful,” said Deborah Schwartz, President, Brooklyn Historical Society. “The struggle for freedom was not only fought on battle fields, but also in churches, schools, newspapers and local communities all over America. Leaders and activists who lived and worked in Brooklyn were vital to the outcome; their stories need to be told and understood. With this project we hope to invigorate a lively civic discourse about the relationship of history to our present lives. On behalf of my colleagues from Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project, I extend our thanks to EDC, DCA, the Partnership, and the Advisory Panel for selecting us to carry out this hugely important task.”

The program will be developed in partnership with a group of scholars with expertise in Brooklyn’s abolitionist history, including Dr. Craig Steven Wilder, Professor of History, MIT; Cynthia Copeland, historian and educational curator, New York Historical Society’s New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War; Dr. Michael Wallace, Pulitzer Prize winning author; Dr. Bret Eynon, academic dean, LaGuardia Community College; and Dr. Clarence Taylor, Professor of History, Baruch College. Two scholars from the Weeksville Heritage Center will also participate in the project, Dr. Elissa Blount-Moorhead, a professor at Pratt Institute and Exhibit Designer, and Jennifer Scott, a professor at the Pratt Institute and the New School with a background in Anthropology, Preservation and History. The Scholars Council of the Brooklyn Historical Society will review exhibits and other materials throughout the development and implementation of the project.

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