This piece is by one-half of the “Travelin’ Cousins, a little blog about the travel adventures of a couple of cousins.”
by Elisa Valentino
I became familiar with the Poe Park Visitor Center through an exhibit entitled The Bronx-La Villette, a photographic comparison between the neighborhoods and residents of The Bronx and those in the Paris neighborhood of La Villette, the creation of French photographer, Matteo Pellegrinuzzi.
The exhibit, which was on display through April 30th this year, was the impetus for my visit two weeks ago.
What I did not realize until my arrival, is that this multi-purpose edifice is an international culture and arts center in the heart of this historic Bronx Park.
I was joined by my 14-year-old daughter Gianna, inspired to come knowing that our visit would include a tour of Poe Cottage, located within the park. Being a fan of the American poet, her curiosity was piqued to get her out of bed and on the road with me early on a Saturday morning!
She was equally taken off guard by what we learned from our absolutely lovely meeting with Lucy Aponte, the director of the Poe Park Visitor Center.
I was pleased as punch to find an abundance of street parking, but once again not having lived in the city for a while, was taken aback by the one hour limit for metered parking and got some good walking in (and laughs), going back and forth to feed the meter every hour.
Upon entering, we encountered an exuberant group of Zumba enthusiasts moving’ and shakin’ to the energetic beat of dance music in the main hall of The Center. Lucy shared with us that the Visitor Center is the go-to place for dance classes every Saturday morning, offering Latin dance at 9am, followed by Zumba at 10am.
From the happy look on everyone’s face, and their knowledge of every intricate dance move, this was clearly a regularly, well-attended weekly program.
Not only is this park’s Visitor Center a neighborhood hub for locals to enjoy weekly exercise classes, kids’ art and after school meditation and yoga classes, as well as a plethora of other community events, but it has become a destination for international art exhibits, concerts, writers workshops and much more for locals and tourists alike.
Although Poe Park falls under the auspice of the New York City Parks Department, it is clear from where I stood, that Lucy Aponte is the hands-on guiding force behind the cultural happenings at the Visitor Center.
In the recent past, artists and photographers from around the globe have had their works exhibited at Poe Park Visitor Center. As its director, Lucy is constantly working with talent from around the world, mentoring and giving a professional, guiding hand on how to develop the best theme and positioning for showcasing new and inventive art expositions.
A few of the most recent successes included “The Bronx-La Villette” by French photographer, Matteo Pellegrinuzzi, (mentioned above), and Austrian photographer, Thomas C. Stubbings. The story of Stubbings’ exhibit, from which he later published a book featuring his works, is a perfect example of the time and effort Lucy puts into developing featured events and exhibitions.
Visiting The Bronx and Poe Park as a tourist, Mr. Stubbings was intrigued by the photos he had taken during his trip. After approaching Lucy about a possible exhibit to display his images, she brainstormed with the photographer to develop a relevant theme for his work, and the collaboration led to a photographic series comparing The Bronx to Mr. Stubbings’ native Vienna, entitled “The Bronx Meets Vienna.” This photography exhibit, featured at the Visitor Center in 2013, was to be his very first, which positioned him to do a follow-up exhibit in Vienna, entitled “Vienna Meets The Bronx.”
According to Lucy, she “works closely with all exhibitors to determine what it brings to the Bronx and how it shines positively on The Bronx.”
At the same time, the expositions featured reflect an international flair. A good example of this is the upcoming “Immigrantes” Exhibit, from May 1 through 26, 2018, showcasing the artwork of Dominican artist, Persio Minier.
I was able to see the end result of one of the Visitor Center’s projects first-hand. As Lucy, Gianna and I were outside, chatting, away from the music inside, the Zumba class was coming to an end, and attendees were arriving for the next item on the day’s agenda, Poetry Town Hall.
This event features local poets and writers to share their writings with guests, and is sponsored by The Bronx Council on the Arts.
As it turns out, three of the women arriving to listen to the day’s featured poet, Heather Archibald, had been part of another exciting creative initiative, also through the Bronx Council on the Arts, called the Bronx Memoir Project. From all the submissions received from individuals detailing their unique life story and experiences, fifty-one were chosen to be included in the anthology currently being assembled.
I was fortunate enough to meet these female authors, Pauline Binder, Anneros Valensi and Willy Martin, who, were among those selected as featured authors in The Bronx Memoir Project.
One of these talented writers, Ms. Valensi, arrived on the scene, full of exuberance and elation as she proudly showed off the new edition of her best-selling, published book, entitled, Where is Home? How A Childhood in East Germany During World War II Shaped My Adult Life, currently available on Amazon.
The shared pride among her fellow writers was palpable and infected both me and Gianna. What I was particularly struck by was the impact Ms. Valensi’s excitement had on my teenager. Chatting one-on-one with the author, Gianna got a different cultural perspective and life experience from that of her own affluent, suburban upbringing, which left her feeling joyous about the author’s happiness and success. This made her mom very happy as well!
For a list of ongoing and upcoming events at The Poe Park Visitor Center, check out their website.
For Your Reference:
Poe Park Visitor’s Center
2640 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10458
Elisa is co-founder of Travelin’ Cousins travel blog, A native New Yorker, Fordham graduate, and world traveler, she is passionate about The Bronx as a travel destination for locals and tourists.
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