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‘Storytell & Sway’ public art transforms Chinatown’s Hudson Street

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Storytell & Sway’ public art transforms Chinatown’s Hudson Street
“Storytell & Sway” swinging benches in Chinatown. PHOTO: AARON JOHN BOURQUE PHOTOGRAPHY

A new piece of public art has arrived at Chinatown’s historic Hudson Street. Developed by Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) and artist Gianna Stewart, “Storytell & Sway” provides usable space for the Chinatown community while acknowledging the area’s rich immigrant history.

The site-specific work features a circular yellow swinging bench construction with community stories inscribed on it in the various languages heard around Hudson Street. At a community meeting, locals expressed the desire for an artwork to make the space usable for the neighborhood and for an element of sound to be incorporated.

“Storytell & Sway” swinging benches in Chinatown, the first installation in the “Hudson Street Stoop” public art series. PHOTO: AARON JOHN BOURQUE PHOTOGRAPHY

The “Storytell & Sway” idea clicked for Stewart as she researched the neighborhood’s history.  “I was reading about Hudson Street being like the ‘front porch’ of Chinatown … and I had this memory of sitting on the porch swing as a kid and seeing the neighborhood,” she says. Stewart was connected by ACDC to Cynthia Yee, a writer, educator and Chinatown native. Yee has pioneered the “Hudson Street Chronicles,” a collection of stories told by Chinatown residents to preserve the neighborhood’s dynamic and tumultuous history.

Yee and Stewart engaged the community in an evening of storytelling, from which they sourced the stories that would later be imprinted on each “Storytell & Sway” swing. “During those events, the room was full of stories, different languages, different timelines, and I wanted the seats to reflect that,” says Stewart. In the installation’s printed stories, each new language on the swings represents a new speaker.

Stewart also used the community meeting to get feedback on the installation’s sound. She sourced bells from shops around Chinatown and had the group vote on which sounds they preferred. The top three are the bells that gently chime at the top of each swing in the installation.

PHOTO: AARON JOHN BOURQUE PHOTOGRAPHY

“Storytell & Sway” is the inaugural installation for ACDC’s “Hudson Street Stoop” series, a program that will install new artworks in the space every 18 months. Hudson Street was once home to many immigrant households and supported a thriving stoop culture where neighbors connected outside their homes. Many of those residents were displaced during the highway construction of the 1960s. Now, with the development of affordable housing and creation of public art installations like this one, ACDC hopes to bring that sense of community back to Hudson Street.

The swing installation will be up through fall 2022, and the community has already adopted it. “It’s so nice when you go by off-hours and there are neighbors just hanging out,” says Stewart. “I think our overall goal is that it will bring a sense of belonging in the space.”

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