While the Bronx is a New York City borough with a rich cultural history, it’s hardly recognized as a place to visit for events or resources.
Enter Project X, a grassroots arts organization founded by Bronx native Noel Quiñones. Growing up in the New York slam scene, Quiñones told CASSIUS he was excited to get back into it after a four-year break in Philly for college. But unfortunately, he said he was met with pushback from the city’s slam community due to the subject nature of his work.
“I’d been told a handful of times when I was slamming in my first year back in New York that I didn’t get a good score because I used Spanish in my poems,” Quiñones said. “All of that bothered me. I was like, ‘Why don’t we have a space in New York that allows Latinx poetry to thrive and to have a home?'”
Around this time, he also realized that the Bronx never actually had a consistent poetry slam series native to the borough. So with the help of a group of his closest friends, also Bronx natives, Project X was born. Their first show — which took place at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx packed the entire house — exceeded the team’s expectations and demonstrated the desire and necessity for this type of space. But after the first season of Project X events ended in July, the board went back to the drawing board realizing the Bronx needed more than just poetry and open mics — they needed resources to survive.
“One thing I had been told that happens a lot in the Bronx is that people work in silos,” Quiñones said. “Our vision was perpetuating that by doing our own thing. We want to redefine what the movement can look like and partner with other organizers to demonstrate how the art can go hand in hand with activism.”
After taking a short hiatus, the bi-monthly events came back bigger and better in October. Other than the poetry slam, they now host another event every month that focuses on partnering with other groups within the community. In October, they collaborated with the Bronx Natives to hold a healing space for those in the community who were having their lives uprooted by the repeal of DACA and the natural disasters that affected their homelands. November’s event focused on clean eating and how to eat healthy in the most hungry borough where 1 in 3 residents are food insecure.
“For so long, as someone who had grown up in the Bronx I was instilled with this anger towards other boroughs for being forgotten,” he said. “You always hear, ‘The Bronx is dirty, it’s worthless, no one goes there.’ We’re in a stage right now where we’re starting to make stronger bonds with the community and find what the actual issues are.”
Even though the Bronx comes out to support their own, Quiñones does have one request: that activists and organizers from all boroughs come through and show face. While gentrification hasn’t hit the borough as hard as other pockets of the city yet, recent developments such as the new high-rise complexes being built as well as a push to rename the South Bronx the “Piano District.”
“A lot of Bronx organizers are looking to activists in other boroughs for support because we haven’t been hit as powerfully as other neighborhoods have yet,” Quiñones said. “We want to show people that the Bronx will not be taken over and redefine what the movement can look like and how the art can go hand in hand with activism.”
Another major part of the impending gentrification is the construction of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, which is set to be completed by 2022. However, Project X hopes they’ll be interested in collaborating with them as the Bronx Museum of the Arts has for this season.
“We want to share our resources and not just come in and create this shiny new thing for people to just leave,” he said. “We would want to consult with them … we hope they’re open to it.”
As far as Project X’s ultimate goal? They hope to eventually get their own brick and mortar multimedia space with a black box, recording studio, and artist studios to rent out and host events — something that doesn’t exist in the Bronx currently.
“We’re not doing anything new, but we’re trying to raise the platform on art and activism in the Bronx,” Quiñones said. “We want to give that shine to people who haven’t gotten that support yet and haven’t been able to access those platforms. We want to show people that the Bronx will not be taken over without a fight.”