of the Folks Who Make Roosevelt Tick
not difficult to find diversity in New York City. But while
a subway train may at any time look and sound as a United Nations
General Assembly meeting, contact and interaction in the city normally
tends toward the fleeting. This is what makes Roosevelt Island's
human diversity unique and challenging: people of all nationalities,
races and faiths are not only forced to tolerate each other here,
but they must learn to live with each other on tight public spaces.
In doing so, an island subculture is emerging. These are but a few
of Roosevelt Island's cultural players.
Sudol spells his first name with an "i" because that's
how Jeremy is spelled in Polish.
still remains Polish," he said.
is an example of what sociologists call the "1.5 Generation"
of immigrants. He was raised in Poznan until he came to New York
at age 1, and at 23, Jeremi's life is still not far from being precisely
50 percent Polish and 50 percent American. But more importantly,
this mix of nationalities has given birth to an even greater mix
of ideas, talents and concerns.
two architects for parents, Jeremi started thinking about lines,
form, color and meaning at an early age. Yet it was not until college
that he became genuinely interested in art. While majoring in computer
science and psychology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New
York, he was also taken by the Dada ideas that came out of the Cabaret
Voltaire in Zurich.
mixed his technical know-how and artistic awareness with an interest
in the visual culture of the electronic music scene of the 1990s.
The result: cyberpunkish projects like DJ
iRobot, where he colaborated with Chris Csikszentmihalyi and
Jonathan Girroir, and the drive to pursue a master's degree in computer
science at New York University.
recently, he has worked on Roosevelt Island with the RIVAA Gallery
on projects such as Analogic Sensations, a festival of electronic
media art, and Windows on Main, a set of vacant shop windows temporarily
transformed into public art spaces. Or, as Jeremi likes to think
of them, "little things like flowers in the entrance as you
also muses on the cultural impact of new information technologies
on sound. In compositions like Gucci
My Cucci readings from T.S. Eliot get looped with muffled beats
and ever-morphing sonic atmospheres.
Jeremi acknowledges that the art world generates an array of different
hierarchies and types of audiences, he refuses to be limited to
a particular kind of audience.
interested in exploring many ideas, so I just work with what keeps
my interest," he said. "I like to experiment a lot."
Jhons and Sunderam Srinivasan:
Heartbeats on air
is not uncommon to see young men in wheelchairs along Roosevelt
of them, like Adolph Jhons, came to Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital
and Nursing Facility to receive rehabilitation therapy after suffering
violent accidents. Jhons said he was shot at a friend's apartment
in Philadelphia, where one of the neighbors broke in and ignited
a heated argument. Moments later, Jhons said he had the intruder
down in a headlock. "But when I let go of the alleged shooter,
I heard firecracker pop," Jhons said. "Seconds later,
my legs gave out on me. I felt my back and it was wet with cherry-red
a result, Jhons became a patient at Coler-Goldwater in 1997. He
was discharged in 2000. He came back two years later, but this time
as one of the hospital's 3,200 employees. After receiving a $25,000
grant from the United Hospital Fund, William Jones, a senior associate
director at Coler-Goldwater, hired Jhons to manage a new hospital
radio station. On Valentine's Day 2002, WCGH 88.1 FM aired their
slogan for the first time, "Listen to the beat of the heart."
have many stories like this," said Sunderam Srinivasan, who
has been a patient here for 13 years and is president of the hospital's
Resident's Council, an internal advocacy group for patients. "People
come here with life frustrations, but such opportunities provide
a chance to turn their lives around."
is also the president of the hospital's auxiliary, a nonprofit body
that has raised funds for the radio station. Additionally, he puts
the journalistic experience he gained in India to good use during
Searchlight, the radio talk show he hosts on WCGH.
a soft voice and a lulling Indian accent, Srinivasan said that living
in this institution "is not only about physical uplifting but
also about mental and spiritual upliftment." This "upliftment,"
Srinvasan said, is the outcome of not only hospital services like
the art and creative writing programs, but also the result of living
here. "The island, with its natural environment apart from
the hustle and bustle of the city but not too far away either
provides balance and solace," he said. "Sitting
on a summer day in front of the East River, which brings freshness
and a sense of healing" is the type of thing which, according
to Srinivasan, feeds the spirit.
what really fed Jhon's spirit during his stay at Coler-Goldwater
were the hospital's excursion to NBA games. "It's the type
of thing that keeps you in touch and in tune with the community,"
he said. The games "gave me the motivation to get well and
better and to get back to the community." Not surprisingly,
he claims that the Sports Talk in the Hall is the radio station's
number-one rated show at the hospital.
dreams of even higher ratings, however. "I want to get a [Federal
Communications Commission] license for this radio station and help
it become one of the top radio stations in the country."
Srinivasan has more immediate goals. "My dream is to create
a radio internship program with Columbia's School of Journalism,
just like the creative writing program we have with NYU."
Lutz: The man with the news
As the editor of The
Main Street WIRE, the island's only journalistic enterprise,
Dick Lutz stands as the product of a deep American tradition: the
community newspaper. After working for several broadcasting companies
including the Pennsylvania Public Television Network, NBC and the
BBC, Lutz started editing the WIRE in 1996. He does it without
suppose I'm the first career journalist to run the WIRE,"
he said. The WIRE has been published for 23 years.
also voices another, very American tradition: "No Taxation
without Representation." Since 1984, the island has been administered
by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, a nine-member board
of directors appointed by the governor (the state signed a 99-year
lease on the island in 1969). However, after a series of confrontations
between former RIOC President Jerome Blue and community organizations
like the Roosevelt Island Resident's Association, the WIRE
invited all islanders to a series of discussions and seminars exploring
the possibilities of a more representative form of government. With
the first meeting taking place under a maple tree in Blackwell House,
one of the island's historical landmarks, the Maple Tree Group was
born on July 7, 1997.
with other community organizations, the Maple Tree Group has been
pushing for an RIOC board made up of locally elected directors.
They haven't gotten very far, but they have managed to persuade
Albany to guarantee that the majority of appointed directors will
consist of island residents.
the fact that in two separate referendum residents have voted at
least 80 percent in favor of self-governance, some islanders pointed
out that this is really the concern of a few.
this has Lutz undisturbed. "On the outset, causes like this
are advanced by only a small group of people," he said.
does concern him, though, is the WIRE's financial health.
In a place where mouth-to-mouth news travels fast and local business
hardly needs to advertise, Lutz's only hope is to break even this
people who care about this island do something for it. So this is
what I can do to help it," he said.