Crossing the BLVD: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - 11:00am to Saturday, March 26, 2011 - 6:00pm
Urban Arts Space


Friday | January 28 | 5 to 7pm

As immigration is hotly debated throughout the country, the OSU Urban Arts Space brings an exhibition about the most ethnically diverse locality in the United States—Queens, New York—to Columbus, the city with the largest university in the United States. Created by EarSay documentary artists Warren Lehrer and Judith Sloan, Crossing the BLVD: strangers, neighbors, aliens in a new America intimately reveals the lives of new immigrants and refugees through images, stories and sounds.

"Immigrant life in Queens, as told in the intimate, rich, comic, ironic and sad stories so often seen but not heard in America's big cities." Lynne Duke, The Washington Post

The artists started the project in 1999 when they began conducting workshops for new immigrants to recount their experiences. Eleven years later, Crossing the BLVD has grown into a multifaceted documentation, consisting of an award-winning book, CD, website, performances, public radio documentaries, and a traveling exhibition.

The traveling museum exhibition uses photographs, sound stations, and a story booth to speculate the changing faces and narratives that comprise the American story. Lehrer presents ninety photographic portraits that exhibit the beauty, as well as struggle, of the new immigrants. The portraits are paired with excerpted passages of oral histories, maps that overlay Queens neighborhoods with countries of origin, and important objects that the individuals have carried, or even still carry, with them.

Visitors of the exhibition are also able to hear the voices and music that is represented in Crossing the BLVD through audio sound stations. Working with composer Scott Johnson and other musicians, including members of Gogol Bordello, Sloan and Lehrer cross the lines separating "journalism and expressionism" when blending the participant's speech with composed music. Many of the Crossing the BLVD audio stories have aired on National Public Radio as a project of EarSay.

Lehrer and Sloan collaborated with artists Mark Shepard and Carlos Tejada to create the Mobile Story Booth, which not only allows access to the story archive, but also allows visitors to contribute to the project by providing photographs and recollecting their migration stories or those of their parents or grandparents.

The Crossing the BLVD exhibition premiered at the Queens Museum of Art in 2004 and has since traveled to over 11 locations in the United States including MICA in Baltimore Maryland, Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase New York, The Hudson Museum in Orono Maine, Art Museum of the University of Memphis Tennessee, and Weber State University in Utah.

Awards and Recognition

"Crossing the BLVD is a powerful social record… Most of the subjects live in Queens, but their stories resonate far beyond the borders of this multicultural New York borough. What often gets lost in the national debate on immigration is the human dimension, an understanding of the lives of those people who give up everything to come here... Extraordinary people, extraordinary lives… A living work of art." - Benjamin Genocchio, The New York Times

"Crossing the BLVD—a multi-media installation of photography, text and sounds is more akin to watching a movie, because the narratives take time to unfold, and there is an inherent drama in the real life personal accounts… Crossing the BLVD offers an object lesson in the new aesthetic—how it looks, how it generates its meanings—as well as a window on the lives of people who, mostly unnoticed by the rest of us, are steadily enlarging the concept of what it means to be an American." - Glenn McNatt, The Baltimore Sun

Crossing the BLVD, Winner 2004 Brendan Gill Prize. The Brendan Gill Prize is awarded annually to the creator of a book, essay, poem, lyric, song, composition, play, painting, sculpture, landscape or any other work of art which best captures the energy and spirit of New York.

"A celebratory chronicle of the immigrant experience in New York, Crossing the BLVD is a Whitmanesque book that reveals a staggering array of humanity… [it] chronicles life in Gotham in both its despair and boundless promise. The first-person narratives are drawn from audio-taped interviews, while the book's ever-changing graphics and typefaces mirror the rich pastiche of religion, language and tradition that coexists in the borough… chosen for its ability to convey the inspired resiliency of the myriad communities that contribute to the city's dynamism." - The Municipal Art Society of New York

Please feel free to view our exhibition videos. For more information, visit the EarSay website.