Gallery Director Aims to Bolster Lehman’s Contemporary Arts

By Abrian De Luna 

 

Bartholomew F. Bland, director of the Lehman College Art Gallery. Photo by Abrian De Luna.

Bartholomew Bland, the new director of the Lehman College Art Gallery, plans to make it more accessible to the Lehman and Bronx communities by keeping it open in the summer---a first since its founding in 1984--- and by creating new events such as the Bronx Borough Arts Festival. Bland took over the position from Susan Hoeltzel in May of 2016, and says he really loves the gallery’s mission of mixing new, aspiring artists with established ones and everyone in between.

Bland was attracted to Lehman, he said, because “I had admired a lot of the work that [Hoeltzel] had done. She had done some great shows here and I like Lehman very much, I think it’s a beautiful campus.” He also praised the Fine Arts building where the gallery is located as a “very striking space.”

Bland’s love of art started when he was eight years old and visited the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida. Bland likens entering the Flagler to “stepping into another world... back into time and history. It was this beautiful sort of palace and I really loved the aesthetics of that. It was so different from everything that was this modern suburbia in South Florida and so I used to go there all the time and I think that got me started being more interested in art, architecture and the decorative arts.” Bland kept visiting the Flagler Museum throughout his teenage years, saying the experience and memories gave him “such an awareness of how the arts can really transform the lives of others, particularly at a young age.”

Bland has a B.A. from Florida Atlantic University and graduated from the Getty Leadership Institute at the Claremont Graduate University in 2011. He also holds two master’s degrees: one in arts and U.S. history from Hunter College and one in museum studies from George Washington University. Prior to coming to Lehman, Bland became an assistant curator of the Flagler Museum in 1993 and since then he has curated exhibitions at the Staten Island Museum and the Hudson Museum, even serving as a director in both of them. Bland also wrote exhibition books and catalogs, many in collaboration with Fordham University Press.

Mary Ann Siano, grants associate of the Lehman College Art Gallery and a member of the search committee for the position of its executive director, recalled that Bland “always came out on top” when compared to the others for his “amazing” knowledge of contemporary art. “Meeting Bart in person solidi ed my feelings about choosing him for the position,” she explained. “I have been working with Bart for the past year---a year filled with camaraderie as we work together---and I look forward to working with him on new and exciting projects for the Art Gallery.”

Bland says balancing the needs of the college with the professors using the space for their classes and the community outside of it can be “tricky,” as he wants to get the general public more involved. However, Bland is drawn by the chance to work with the “incredible” team at the Lehman College Art Gallery. “Being the director of this gallery is a wonderful opportunity to bring together the college community, people in the Bronx, and gives me a chance to work directly with emerging artists, which is a very exciting thing.”

Bronx Native Addresses Nation with New Album

By Eileen Sepulveda

Alynda Lee Segarra and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, performing live. Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Born and raised in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra electrifies the ears with her Nuyorican poetic lyrics on the band’s eighth album. “The Navigator” explores the effects of the gentrification that is occurring throughout New York City. Segarra combines her Latin roots and folk music to generate a powerful message, and the band’s performance is vibrant and alive with spirit. With a combination of old-school salsa, acoustic guitar, and Segarra’s velvety voice, the album takes you on a soul-searching journey.

In the title song, Segarra shares memories of being “raised by the street.” She asks with a melancholy tone and a sense of tremendous pride, “where will all my people go?” referring to entire communities being displaced by gentrification. This song can speak, not only to a lot of native New Yorkers, but to many immigrants who currently feel unwanted in America.

Segarra told the Meridian, “I know that right now, especially in the South [Bronx], gentrification is creeping in. Lots of people are in danger of losing their homes. This album touches on that. Cities all over the country are changing for the sake of profit, not people.”

Segarra also emphasized the importance of her Bronx roots. “Everywhere I go I tell people specifically---I am from the Bronx, a borough that has soul! It’s the people of the Bronx that made me who I am. I had to leave to know what I had, and now I pray the borough does not lose the very people who made it a historic place.”

In the song “Rican Beach,” the cries of the people speak through her lyrics. “Now all the politicians/They just squawk their mouths/They say we’ll build a wall to keep them out,” she sings. “You can take my life/But don’t take my home.” Here Segarra addresses America’s new leadership, the many struggles of immigrants that want to come to America, and the reality of gentrification happening within our own communities.

The song also has a strong Latin vibe; the heaviness of the timbales and the bluesy sound of the bass guitar spark memories of legends like Willie Colón and Tito Puente. At the same time, “RicanBeach” is an example of true Americana folk music.

“Pa’lante” is powerful and upbeat. It was also the name of the newspaper of the Puerto Rican nationalist group of the 1970s, the Young Lords. Segarra includes lines from the famous poem “Puerto Rican Obituary” by Pedro Pietri, “where the mice live like millionaires/and the people do not live at all.”This blends well with Segarra’s assertion that we must “pa’lante,” or move forward.

Unlike the country folk southern feel of their last seven albums, “The Navigator” is funky, and the honest grittiness of Segarra’s voice is definitely a breath of fresh air. The album appeals to both a broader audience and the hearts of her New Orleans fans.

Following up a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan on April 20, the band will soon be touring nationwide to promote the “The Navigator.”