Stopping into the firehouses on the side streets of Manhattan has continued to be a true joy for me and the Manhattan Sideways team. There is always an interesting story to be heard and warm, generous people to meet. When we visited the fire station on 125th, we were greeted by an apologetic fireman who told us that their trucks were out responding to a gas leak in the area. He did, however, show us the truck they had on loan, which some of the men were busy cleaning and which he called their Special Operations Command vehicle. We were immediately curious about the truck, and he explained that it is equipped with a dewatering shower unit intended for use after any kind of catastrophe that has potentially contaminated firemen or civilians. This was conceived following 9/11, but we were pleased to learn that in 2017 it had still only been used for training. It has never been needed in the real world. “It’s something we hope we never have to do, ” the fireman confessed.
Founded in 1968, the organization once known as Aaron Davis Hall, Inc. used to operate in a facility owned by City College New York. A fundraising campaign was initiated in 2000 to restore the stunning structure on the corner of 135th Street and Convent Avenue, built in 1890 as a part of the Croton Aqueduct system, and transform it into a space for performing. Six years later, the organization's efforts came to fruition when it moved into the new Gatehouse facility and officially renamed itself Harlem Stage. When the Manhattan Sideways team toured the space in the summer of 2017, we were impressed by how seamlessly the historic attributes of the building were merged with the modern needs of the renovated theater. In particular, I had to admire the door with the antique, elaborate hinges set into the wall of the staircase leading to the stage on the second floor. It came as no surprise to learn that Harlem Stage had been honored by the New York Landmarks Conservancy for the remarkable job that it did in preserving the original structure. Executive Director Patricia Cruz told us that spearheading the movement to transform the building “from a community eyesore into a community jewel” has been one of the most significant accomplishments of her tenure. Even so, she added, “It is not as important as what we do inside. ” Upon moving into the Gatehouse, Harlem Stage launched the WaterWorks series - “Our most identifiable program, and what makes us unique, ” Patricia explained. Appropriately named in homage to both the facility’s past and its current role as a conduit for culture and artistry, the program serves to find and present new work. In the ten years since its creation, it has commissioned and supported fifty artists, five of whom went on to become MacArthur “Genius” Fellows. Monique Martin, director of programming, emphasized that the WaterWorks series identifies an artist as extraordinary and encourages new, original work in the process. “Our identifying them before the rest of the world did is a sign of our curatorial excellence, ” Patricia added. The staff at Harlem Stage take pride in their ability to incubate new artists, especially artists of color, and support them through offering mentorship, frequent workshops, and plenty of available space to work. The two women stressed the importance of what they do, as “it is rare for artists of color to be given the resources they need to develop new work, which is so critical to the diversity in the field. ” Recognizing the significance of this mission, they are now embarking on a $10 million campaign to continue running WaterWorks for another ten years. While creating a platform for original work, Harlem Stage has also built an audience. Through programs such as Dig Deeper, they encourage the community to meet and interact with their artists while learning more about the process of putting on a performance through arranging open rehearsals, panel discussions, and more. Their efforts have paid off thus far, as their performances typically boast sold out audiences. “The identity of Harlem is part of the larger legacy of Harlem Stage, ” Patricia explained, which is why they place such importance on connecting with all members of the community. This focus is not limited to adults - the Frances Davis/Harlem Stage Arts Education program is centered on exposing children to the arts. The program serves 4, 000 children in the Harlem area annually and has reached over 400, 000 in total. Its goal is to try to fill the gap in public education caused by a reduction in funding for the arts. To this end, Harlem Stage sends teaching artists to schools and ask them to engage with students, upholding the philosophy that “all art is appropriate and available for young artists. ” Patricia mentioned that the question of age-appropriate subject matter is a common concern when creating youth theater programs. She maintained, “We’re selecting and curating an experience for them, but we don’t pander to our young audiences. ” Adolescents are also encouraged to participate in various high school programs that connect them with Harlem Stage’s production team, allowing them to learn the technical side of theater under the guidance of experienced mentors. These are only a small sampling of Harlem Stage's offerings, we were told, as the organization has taken pains to create “programming that has range and depth. ” Those at Harlem Stage provide opportunities within as many areas of the arts as possible, including dance, film, and music. By creating a space that is versatile and open to creative expression in all its forms, they hope to accomplish their ultimate goal - “to continue to build on the legacy that Harlem has made in our culture and that Harlem Stage has done since its inception. ”
The modern, stylish setting of Capsule is the perfect backdrop for the well-curated collection of clothing and sportswear. I was fascinated to learn that the owner, Daniel Farouk, originally from Ghana, always had a passion for fashion, but actually studied aeronautics and trained to be a commercial pilot. It was only after finishing his pilot certification that he found he missed fashion, prompting him to emigrate to the States to delve into the industry. He never received any formal training - instead, what he knows he learned “on the streets and on the job. ” For a period of a few years Daniel worked at Sammy’s Fashion in the Bronx as a buyer and then became head buyer before opening his own stunning sportswear store. Stopping by in the middle of the afternoon on a warm July day, in 2017, it became immediately apparent that many are attracted to this beautiful shop. I was surprised by the number of people from every age group that were there chatting with the friendly, knowledgeable sales staff, while browsing through the well-presented racks of men's and women's clothing. I loved that not only were there jeans, jerseys, sweatshirts, athletic shorts and baseball hats, but there were also women's handbags and an adorable pile of t-shirts for little ones. Walking towards the back of the store, and up a step, a sliding door opened automatically to reveal an eye-catching display of unisex sneakers, as well as a selection of other stylish shoes and boots. When Daniel got a moment to breath, he came over to speak with the Manhattan Sideways team. He was proud to share that he had personally designed the store and its decor, focusing on a vision of brick walls and wood pallets to display his merchandise. Daniel told us that his goal in opening the store two years prior in 2015 was to “supply customers with stuff that is rare, ” and he takes care to order clothes that are exclusive and high-end. “We’re trendy, in that we try to stay ahead of the trends, ” he explained. A big advantage in accomplishing this is the fact that he works the floor and interacts with customers on a daily basis. That way, when the time comes to order new items, he can search out things that he knows will be “hot for the customers” rather than relying on general fads. Daniel chose Harlem as the ideal neighborhood to set up shop because he felt it was the “birthplace of fashion” and has a colorful past. His particular location on 125th Street has a very rich history, as it housed the famous M& G Diner, which was used as a filming location for movies like Precious and Belly and even a James Brown shoot. To respect this legendary site, Daniel has kept the diner’s sign displayed on his storefront. Despite his fondness for their current location, Daniel is hoping to open more shops around the city and in other boroughs. He was happy to say that they have “gotten a lot of love” from their customers and the neighborhood over the past two years. This is partly because Daniel is dedicated to providing an approachable shopping experience, where anyone can feel free to peruse his high-end wares without feeling any scrutiny or pressure. As a result, people who frequent the store range from Harlem locals to well known athletes and celebrities. When asked how he attracts so many high-profile clients, Daniel stated simply, "social media. " He then went on to say, “We have the hottest brands, the hottest fashions, and we’re growing daily. ”