NY Daily News, 06/29/12
New 'piazza' to debut at the Mott Haven Library

By Tanyanika Samuels | web link

The new Piazza Gratissima is set to open at the Mott Haven Library.

The small plaza - a 250-square foot lot outfitted with a deck, wooden benches and elevated gardens - will be a multi-use space for the library and residents.

“It’s looking good,” cheered library manager Jeanine Thomas-Cross. “We’re very happy to have this here because before it was just this empty space that wasn’t being used.”

This latest addition to the Mott Haven landscape comes courtesy of the artist group, BroLab.

The collective of five artists dreamed up the idea last fall as part of the Shifting Communities art series at the Bronx River Arts Center.

The unveiling on Saturday is the culmination of a year of careful planning.

“It’s been such a great experience all around,” said BroLab artist Ryan Roa. “We really wanted to take this unused space and revitalize it. We’re really happy with it. I think it looks great.”

The artists met repeatedly with community members who provided input on the piazza’s design.

“We wanted the design to fit into the existing architecture,” Roa said. “The library has a lot of history, so in the design, we want to accentuate that and give it a little contemporary twist.”

After a successful $5,000 fund-raising campaign, the artists went to work securing community board approval and hiring local workers.

BroLab artist Adam Brent said the group really got “wrapped up” in the project.

“You can’t help but feel invested or responsible,” he said. “With a project like this, you’re not just an artist in a studio working by yourself. You’re doing something that affects how people enjoy that area in that community.”

The artist group is also partnering with the library and nearby Brook Park to use the elevated gardens as a teaching tool for local youth.

"The whole project is about getting as many people involved in the space as possible," Roa said. "Having an educational component will help the kids connect more to the space and have ownership of it."

The piazza's deck is made of cedar, and its planters and benching are built out of about 30, 10-foot boards of scaffolding lumber donated by Queens-based non profit Build It Green. The group already included some annuals and perennials as "starter plants" but will leave it up to the community to further develop the gardens.

The opening coincides with the library’s annual summer reading program, which encourages youth to pick up books while school is out.

Library staffers are eager to host the summer reading program and other special events in their new piazza.

“It’s going to be so nice. We can have our programs out there and people can just come and sit there with their laptops,” Thomas-Cross said. “(The piazza) will be open to the community when we’re open, so it will give them someplace to go so they don’t have to stay inside.”

The opening celebration, with live performances, food and children’s activities, will run from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Mott Haven Public Library, 321 E. 140th St.

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