ReadyMade Magazine: Majora Carter

February/March 2007

In the section O Eco Pioneers! Three urban development projects transforming modern environmentalism.

Raising the Roof

A South Bronx native brought sustainability to New York City's blighted borough, and revived it from the ground up.

Get this straight: Majora Carter is not anti-development. "I've embraced my inner capitalist," says the 40-year-old founder of Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit dedicated to improving life in the borough through green means. "I believe that sustainable, community-friendly development can also make a fortune."

Carter won a MacArthur Foundation grant in 2005 for this belief and her work, to, as she puts it, "green the ghetto." She grew up in a house that her father bought in 1948 in what was then a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood. By the mid-1960s, however, the face of the South Bronx was changing. In 1963, Robert Moses, the city's grand poobah of urban planning, plowed the Cross-Bronx Expressway through the borough, displacing more than 600,000 residents.

As a child in the '70s, Carter watched as her neighborhood became a national symbol of urban blight. Banks redlined the area, neighbors moved out, and industrial plants moved in. "I watched 50 percent of my neighborhood burn down -- blocks and blocks of structurally sound buildings were just gutted," she recalls. Soon Carter also left, to study film at Wesleyan.

In 1997, after completing an MFA at New York University, Carter moved back home. The scene was grim. Major industries had overwhelmed the neighborhood, bringing more than 60,000 diesel truck trips through the South Bronx per week and creating one of the highest asthma populations in the entire city. "No one wanted to be here, but people couldn't afford to leave," she says.

When she heard about the city's plan to build yet another waste-transfer station in the area, she fought back and contested the proposal. Three years into the battle, she won.

After leading that charge, Carter knew she had found her cause, and in 2001 she founded Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX), a nonprofit that undertakes everything from green roof installation to "green-collar" job training in sustainable development. SSBX's seven staff members launch projects like the South Bronx Greenway, a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths along the waterfront. They also prototyped the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST) program, a 12-week intensive begun in 2003, that offers instruction in natural resource management and prepares participants for living-wage jobs with growth potential. Of the 40 BEST graduates – most of whom never graduated from high school and receive some form of public assistance – more than 80 percent have gotten jobs in sustainable-development positions. "These are people who have both a financial and personal stake in the environment," says Carter.

Carter's goal is to connect environmental health, well-being, and economics in people's minds. "I’m pushing environmental justice for what it is – an extension of the civil rights movement. I'm not considered the best voice for the environmental movement, but I add color to this conversation in ways people don't expect."


Time Out New York: Eve Ensler

June 8 - 14, 2006 issue

Antiviolent femme

Eve Ensler fights domestic violence with a citywide awareness festival.

Ten years ago, Eve Ensler stormed a New York stage to demand freedom for vaginas everywhere. Since then, she's been focusing on another type of female empowerment: freeing women from the dangers of domestic violence. After the success of The Vagina Monologues, Ensler launched the V-Day Foundation in 1998, an organization that raises money and awareness by producing benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues all over the world every February. (The V stands for victory, valentine and, of course, vagina.) Next week, she's focusing her mission here at home, where V-Day started, with Until the Violence Stops: NYC, a two-week five-borough arts festival that combines celebrity power with local activism.

"We want to essentially occupy New York," says Ensler, who spoke with TONY after a May 18 City Hall press conference announcing the event. To do that, Ensler dreamed up a festival of theater, spoken word, film and performance, and then used her reputation as a both a writer and actor to attract big-name talents. Jane Fonda, Phylicia Rashad and Marcia Gay Harden will read Ensler's 2001 play about women and war, Necessary Targets which kicks off the series on Monday 12. On June 19, writers Edwidge Danticat, Edward Albee, Howard Zinn and Alice Walker are among those who'll contribute original works to "A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer," where they will be read by Cynthia Nixon, Rosario Dawson and Isabella Rossellini. And on June 21, Salma Hayek and Rosie O'Donnell perform essays written by women in federal prisons across the country. Several other "marquee" events (as they're called on the website) feature similarly star-studded casts: Marlo Thomas, Idina Menzel, Kerry Washington and Brittany Murphy.

On the grassroots side, V-Day called on dozens of local groups to participate. The result is more than 35 community events, including a self-defense class on Wednesday 15, a panel discussion with women from global conflict zones on Tuesday 13 and a domestic-violence information forum on June 17.

And UTVS won't ignore the fellas. V-Day Men (a committee made up of male leaders in domestic-violence prevention, such as Jackson Katz, author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help) has developed "V-Day Men @ Work," a symposium that explores the roots of violence toward women The June 24 workshop also includes a creative session during which the guys will be encouraged to express their feelings about domestic violence and male gender roles. Then some of these works will be presented at It's Hard Out Here for a Girl" on June 25.

"V-Day was born in New York City, and Until the Violence Stops: NYC takes our message directly to the people of New York," Ensler told the crowd assembled at the press conference, which also featured Mayor Bloomberg. The city itself is helping to spread that message through its own subway and bus ad campaign that graphically depicts abused women. The statistics are even worse than the photos: One out of every eight homicides in New York City is due to domestic violence. "We can't hide from the brutality of these crimes," said Bloomberg.

V-Day's efforts are helping, though. Ensler noted that rates of rape went down in areas where V-Day has presented programs, and that the organization has also raised funds for community-abased antiviolence programs and safe houses in places as far-ranging as Kenya, Egypt, Iraq and South Dakota. "It's clear that we're having an enormous impact," she told the crowd. "But [violence against women] is still the issue that people get to later, when they're done with the other issues." Across the globe, Ensler has been inspired by thousands of women who have been victimized. "Instead of picking up AK-47s or machetes, they dedicate themselves to eradicating violence," she explains. "They're full of a wild, extraordinary energy. It's contagious." She's hoping this festival will fire up a similar ardor here at home.

Time Out New York: Tara Bracco

April 27-May 3, 2006 issue

Words Up

Politic and poetry collide at Tara Bracco's annual reading bash

Ten years ago, Tara Bracco, then a recent college grad, was miserable. She'd just been dumped by her first love, she was sleeping on her friend's floor, and she had no clue what to do with her life. But instead of taking a shitty temp job, she decided to figure things out on a cross-country tour: Armed with $600 and an Amtrak pass, she traveled through upstate New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, writing and performing new poems about gender equality and love. "I felt cradled by coffeehouses," she said recently when she met with TONY – appropriately enough at Mudspot café in the East Village.

Outspoken and politically-minded since her days as a self-declared high-school drama freak on Long Island, Bracco got hooked on performance poetry while she was a student at Marymount Manhattan College. Her countrywide journey allowed her to fuse her budding activism with her love of performance – and inspired her to work in the nonprofit sector when she finally settled back in NYC. She even spent a week at the Center for Popular Economics last summer – for fun.

And for the past four years, the self-proclaimed punk poetry princess has been returning the love she found in the nation's coffeehouses by nurturing local talent. On Thursday 27, she presents her fourth annual "Poetic People Power" event at the Nuyorican Poets Café, a project that combines literary performance and political activism in honor of National Poetry Month. Each year, Bracco chooses eight poets to write new works on a single issue (This year's theme is "Raise the Wage"). She acts as director, producer and host, structuring the poems into "sets." The readings draw a mixed crowd, from hard-core political activists to poetry-reading circuit regulars.

Bracco, 30, produced her first reading in 2003, in support of Poets Against the War. It went well, but she worried that the antiwar community would disperse when the war got off to a smooth start, so she decided to diversify into other causes. "Had I known how long [the war] would last, I might have kept organizing those events," she says. Instead, she used that first reading as a springboard to an annual series. Since then, while working various day jobs, she's produced two more "Poetic People Power" evenings dealing with, respectively, voting and democracy, and the environment.

To spark ideas for her poets' assignments, she compiles a resource list of websites, articles and other media. "You can't be truly enraged if you're not informed about the extent of the problem," she says. "Two-time participant Erica DeLaRosa says she appreciates the help. "It's a great motivator… . The commission pushes me to learn more about how these issues affect the world that I speak for."

Bracco says she chose the "Raise the Wage" theme because the working poor are among America's most disenfranchised – and least outspoken. "When people's basic needs aren't cared for, you won't hear voices speaking out. If I'm only eating a bagel a day, how does that make me feel empowered to change things?"

The Puffin Foundation recently gave Bracco a grant in support of this year's event. "The prestige and funding passes on to these new artists," she says. "It's not a 'me' project." This attests to the warm and respectful atmosphere she strives to create for her poets. Chris Martin, a recent winner of the prestigious Hayden Carruth Award and a participant in Bracco's readings since 2004, says, "Before Tara, I'd never done a reading where I hung out in a green room."

In the future, Bracco plans to produce a "Poetic People Power" CD, website, book and documentary – projects that will build toward her goal of creating an international community of political poets. "What we're doing is real and impactful. I have people writer me after the event and say, 'I went home and wrote a poem.' " She pauses, then lifts her hands and says, "Remember in seventh-grade chorus class, when we all hummed one note? I envision an activism that's a sustained hum. When one person drops out, you don't notice, because everyone else continues."

BUST: Majora Carter

April/May 2006


For Majora Carter it's not easy being green

When Majora Carter got the call telling her she'd received the prestigious 2005 MacArthur Foundation Prize, she couldn't believe it--literally. "I thought I recognized the phone number as a friend of mine," she says, laughing, "so I gave him some attitude." Carter's attitude, however, is exactly what earned her the so-called "genius grant" in the first place. Relentlessly committed to initiating to environmental improvements in her native South Bronx, Carter has been slowly realizing her vision to "green the ghetto," an endeavor she hopes will one day transform her smokestack surroundings into an Emerald City of parks.

The 38-year-old's path to activism was a rocky one. In the '70s, Carter watched her tight-knit urban neighborhood deteriorate into a smoldering wasteland. "The whole block smelled like burning," she recalls. Industrial plants moved in, people moved out, and when she graduated from high school, Carter jumped at the chance to jet. After studying film at Wesleyan, however, she moved back home in the late '90s and soon heard about the city's proposal to build a major waste-transfer station in the South Bronx, an area already handling 40 percent of NYC's trash. It was then that she and her friends decided enough was enough, so they fought the plan—and won. "Suddenly, it was attitude city," she says of her political emergence. "No one ever asked residents what they didn't want, but no one asked them what they did want, either."

To address these issues, Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001. Through this community organization, she has planned a "greenway" where residents can work out and helped to open the neighborhood's first waterfront park in 60 years—a project that began after her dog, Xena, led her to the hidden Bronx shoreline through an illegal junkyard. Giving pointers for young activists, Carter advises, "Use the energy that you have, and recognize that you get a lot of crap for being younger. No matter how small you are, you have to act like you're enormous."

BUST Magazine: Emily Lazar

February/March 2006

GIGS: Mastering Engineer

Emily Lazar plays with some expensive techno-toys as a mastering engineer, but her most valuable tools are priceless. "I mostly rely on my ears and aesthetic sense," she explains. Lazar knows what she's talking about-- from Bowie to Beyoncé, hundreds of recording artists have sought her finesse for their albums. "I get to work side by side with some of the most talented creative minds around," she says.

Emily LazarUsing a mix of analog tools and software programs like Sonic Solutions, a mastering engineer polishes raw mixed tracks from the recording studio and enhances their flavor. "In a nutshell, mastering engineers make albums sound better," she explains. Lazar, who grew up in a musical household, first got hooked on engineering while playing in her own band after college. In 1997, after getting her master's degree at NYU, Lazar founded The Lodge, a state-of-the-art mastering house in New York City. Her current projects include Garbage's “Bleed Like Me” and Mates of State's “Like U Crazy.”

When she wakes up in the morning, she never knows where her workday will take her. "I work on hundreds of albums every year--rock one day and hip-hop the next." The hours are intense and unpredictable: "When I’m in the middle of making an album, I pretty much leave the studio only to sleep." Lazar not only balances audio tracks, but artists themselves. Working on a new album can be an emotional process, says Lazar. "I often joke that a degree in psychology would have been even more useful than a degree in music technology!"

Lazar recommends three steps for breaking into the biz. First, "expand your musical mind" by listening to everything you can get your hands on. Second, learn everything about equalization, conversion, and compression processes. Last, find a mentor to help you synthesize your technical and aesthetic skills. "What you learn in academia is the technical theory, but how it's applied in practice is truly an art form," she says. Like other art forms, salaries are strongly based on your experience and talents--the more passion you prove, the more money you can make.

"Making music takes an unusual amount of dedication, intensity, focus, and passion," she says. But at the end of the day, Lazar loves the challenge. "Making a record is an amazing personal journey for recording artists. It’s such an incredible honor to play a creative role in shaping their body of work."

Theo Wargo, Photographer