Bronx River Art Center

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 17 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Samantha Holmes’s piece for Starlight Park, made of carousel horses rising out of the earth, like a zombie amusement ride or the merry-go-round of the apocalypse.  

Bronx River Art Center
Samantha Holmes, “Starlight Ride,” design for Starlight Park

The model is sort of slapdash charming, I trust the real one will be more impressive.

Bronx River Art Center

Founded in 1987, the Bronx River Art Center (BRAC for short) occupies a building indeed located right next to the Bronx River. It just reopened after a thorough renovation, with a distinctive paint job that features terrific branding and makes it very easy to spot from the West Farms Square elevated station.

Bronx River Art Center
BRAC from the elevated platform

BRAC serves its community as a performance, exhibition, and studio space, and includes a small art gallery in its lobby.

The gallery at the Bronx River Art Center is fairly plain. I have no idea what it looked like pre-renovation, but post-renovation it’s a neutral, nondescript space. Big windows look out onto busy East Tremont Street.

Bronx River Art Center

Starlight Park

The re-inaugural exhibition at the Bronx River Art Center celebrates one of New York’s many lost attractions. From 1918 to 1932, the Bronx hosted a mini-Coney Island, which went by the poetic name Starlight Park.

Bronx River Art Center

Starlight Park was born out of the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries of 1918. It included a swimming pool, rides, carnival games, and a 15,000-seat pro soccer stadium (!), and seems to have been quite popular, right up until the Great Depression drove it out of business.

The place was eventually torn down and forgotten, except (as happens in New York) for the name. A bit south of BRAC along the Bronx River, and close to the site of the original, the New York City Parks Department recently inaugurated a new 13-acre park that bears its name.

BRAC’s Starlight Park Exhibit

The BRAC exhibit divides in two. Part of it features a wall of reproduced photos showing Starlight Park in its glory days, lots of happy young parkgoers in period-appropriate bathing suits (so, semi-formal attire by today’s standards), a moment out of time from a Bronx very different from today’s.

Bronx River Art Center (BRAC)
Starlight Park Photos

the other part of the exhibit features models and plans for a series of outdoor art installations that BRAC is preparing to install in today’s Starlight Park, to invoke, evoke, or convoke the spirit of the original.

Bronx River Art CenterThe plans for the park installations are a mixed bag, with some being much more fun than others.  

Unfortunately, the exhibition itself is at best so-so. It took me a while to comprehend what was up with the old photos. I wanted far more about Starlight Park’s history, rise, and fall. The models of the park installations are tiny — like they were intended for a much smaller space. And the wall text descriptions are awfully text heavy.

Bronx River Art Center
Tiny models, big space

For me, the most interesting thing about this installation is the idea that today’s multicultural and generally low income Bronx cares to recall and celebrate something from the older, richer, whiter Bronx past. I’m not at all critical of that — I applaud remembering the past even as you embrace the present. And I’m sure that most of BRAC’s time and effort rightly goes to Bronx residents of today rather than yesterday. It’s the same challenge the Museum of Bronx History faces: both serve a borough whose history has an almost discontinuous break between its past and its present.

Should You Visit the Bronx River Art Center?

Like many of the other community-focused arts spaces I’ve reviewed (like the Clemente Center and the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning), BRAC’s gallery space is just a part of a larger program, and a relatively small part at that. BRAC includes studio spaces for artists, a new performance space, and classrooms for teaching art.

I feel confident that BRAC serves a valuable purpose in its community. But, like those other community-focused arts spaces, I’m not sure that there’s reason for people from other parts of the city (or other places) to seek it out. It’s a really small space, and not especially near any other museums that would help justify the trip.

That said, the Bronx River Art Center is only a 10-minute walk from the Bronx Zoo. I stand by my decision to exclude the city’s zoos from my list of museums.  However, if you happen to be planning a trip to the vast, terrific Bronx Zoo, you could drop by BRAC after the acres and acres of amazing animals.

Bronx River Art Center
The Bronx River

For Reference:

Address 1087 East Tremont Avenue, Bronx
Cost  General Admission:  Free
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