Have you heard? There have been several bear sightings in Central Park this past week.
Snow bears, that is.
Behind these sculptures is Heide Hatry, aka “Snow Banksy.”
An artist for 17 years, Hatry came up with this idea by chance. She was walking around the Central Park reservoir when she came across a large snow pile. Her initial idea was to form it into a cat sculpture for her daughter. “I started to make it, and it looked rather like a bear. I thought ‘Oh, ice and bear, snow and bear — that’s just like a polar bear!’ That’s much better than a cat!” Heide said. “Then I continued and made another one, and another one, and another one and that was the start.”
As Hatry continued to build snow bears, she realized they were garnering a lot of attention — and smiles — from passersby.
“I really missed the smiles of people in the last months, and I appreciated it so much that everyone was happy with this tiny, tiny little thing,” she said. “I thought I could make a few more cubs, even sweeter and that might make them even more happy.”
Snow Banksy is not just cutesy, either. The polar bear sculptures are intended to spread awareness about climate change. Signs next to the bears say: “Let us Chill,” and “Mommy, what is a carbon footprint?”
The latter is one of the phrases Hatry hears most frequently when people stop to admire the bears. Most children, she said, end up asking their parents about carbon footprints, which turns into a conversation on climate change. Knowing the impact these bears have on the next generation, Hatry restores the bears nightly.
“I thought they were really cool because it literally looks like a polar bear,” said Audra, age 9. “That one is like a kid polar bear asking his mom something, it’s a question about a carbon footprint.”
Paul Mathews stopped by to watch Hatry at work and take pictures; the bears have gotten around on Instagram lately. “I knew the species of polar bears were endangered,” said Mathews “Anything that’s beautiful and attractive can convey the message way better than the negativity we sometimes have.”
Hatry’s work usually leans into shock value to get people’s attention. In one project, she dumped meat and intestines from a slaughterhouse in front of a bookstore she owned in her native Germany. The goal: Get people to think about their meat consumption. “It stank. It was disgusting, but I wanted to show that we are also doing something disgusting,” she said.
The polar bears could have had a similar fate. At one point Hatry considered dousing them in pig’s blood to make them more eye-catching. However, after seeing people’s reactions, Hatry changed her mind.
“Nobody wants to see that, and in a situation like this, with the virus and and everybody is having different problems, either financial problems, relationship problems or loneliness problems or whatever,” she said. “I don’t want to remind them of the brutality of life. Everybody knows that life is brutal.”
New Yorkers’ happy reactions to the Hatry’s bears have also given the artist a reason to smile.
“In my entire life, I have not heard so often the words ‘thank you,’ or ‘you made me smile’ as I did in the last 14 days.” she said. “I wouldn’t have expected that to touch me, but it totally, deeply touched me. I found it feels good, really good to give people a moment of relaxation, joy or at least a smile on their face”
While the polar bears crafted by Hatry are temporary — this week’s warmer weather may well wipe them out — that’s kind of the point. If climate change continues at its current pace, polar bears are just one of many species that could become nearly extinct by the end of the century.
DEAR READERS, please help us grow our community by hitting forward on this newsletter, spreading word about its existence in your networks and asking folks to subscribe. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We also seek donations to pay our vendors and freelancers.
GIVE & GET HELP
Need a vaccine? If you or someone you know needs help making an appointment, fill out this form, and the Epicenter team will do our best to help you navigate.
Wanna help us? If you would like to volunteer to help us get people signed up for vaccines, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with “VOLUNTEER” in the subject line.
Croissant for a cause: Did you know that South Brooklyn Mutual Aid spends more than $400 per week on diapers? One member of its team is selling homemade croissants, with all proceeds going to the diaper fund. Choose from original, chocolate, ham and cheese and za’atar twist. Order yours here.
SafeWalks: This initiative was born in January after multiple women were assaulted at the Morgan subway stop in Brooklyn. It recently expanded into Manhattan’s Chinatown following the uptick in anti-Asian attacks, and organizers are working to set up SafeWalks in Harlem and Queens as well. You can donate to the cause here, or sign up to be a volunteer. You can also request a SafeWalk escort.
Racks on racks on racks: The city is adding 10,000 new bike rack locations, and officials want you to help them decide where.
OUT & ABOUT
Uptown eats: Harlem Restaurant Week is underway, and in celebration of the recent return of indoor dining at 25% capacity, restaurants are offering $25 meal deals now through the end of the month. Participating restaurants include favorites like Sylvia’s and Red Rooster. Not ready to dine in yet but want to support them? Outdoor and delivery options are available as well. Check out the full list of restaurants here.
The life of Frederick Douglass: Flushing Town Hall’s Black History Trilogy concludes this Friday, Feb. 26, with a virtual performance from Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award winner André De Shields. He will be performing an excerpt from “Frederick Douglass: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” a one-man show that explores the life and achievements of the activist and abolitionist. Learn more and RSVP.
Happy hour in Italy: Sounds dreamy, right? Almost as good is the class being hosted by the 92nd Street Y this Thursday, Feb. 25, which dives into the history of the country’s beloved aperitivo. Italian food expert Francine Segan will share the stories behind Italy’s most iconic cocktails (negroni anyone?) and regional appetizer specialties. Participants will receive recipes for cocktails and snacks in advance. Register here, $20.
Fighting white supremacy: Join New York Times op-ed writer Charles M. Blow and Hilton Als, a staff writer at the New Yorker, tonight as they discuss Blow’s book, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto.” The book serves as a call to action for Black Americans to gain political power and fight white supremacy. The discussion, which is part of the New York Public Library’s Harry Belafonte Black Liberation Speaker Series, runs from from 8 to 9 p.m. Register here.
Meditate at the museum: Fotografiska museum is hosting a live, guided meditation every Friday at 6 p.m. through March 19. The project aims to create community healing through sound and stillness. Mediation will be accompanied by a short film, “Visualizer,” directed by Andrew Morrow, known for his work on Beyonce’s “Black is King.” Learn more and purchase tickets here ($20 for members, $40 for nonmembers, includes full museum access).
SMALL BIZ SPOTLIGHT
Every other week we feature small business owners in Jackson Heights, Queens, to learn how they are managing through the pandemic and how they are preparing for coming months. If you live in or visit Jackson Heights, we hope you will consider showing these businesses some love — they are working hard to survive.
This community reporting project is produced in partnership with the New York University Studio 20 graduate program. Each business owner profiled will then refer another small business owner in the area, creating a chain of connections throughout the community.
This week we are highlighting Sona Mandi Jewelers. Owner Kamal Kumar opened up his first jewelry store in Queens when he was just 19 years old. Prior to the pandemic, business was thriving, with customers spending between $15,000 and $50,000 on gold jewelry for weddings and other celebrations. But now, many celebrations are on hold, foot traffic into the store is down and the unstable global economy has caused the price of gold to rise. Yet Kumar remains optimistic. Read his story here.
Student suicides: Five New York City public school students have committed suicide this year. Mayor Bill de Blasio attributed the deaths to the isolation inherent in remote learning, stressing the importance of reopening schools ASAP. If you, your child or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, ThriveNYC, the city’s mental health initiative, has free resources you can access here.
Covid testing at charter schools: The Department of Education is now being forced to provide testing in NYC charter schools. New York County Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo made the ruling on Friday in response to a December lawsuit by a group of charter schools, claiming they were required to go remote due to lack of testing.
Pre-K admissions lotto: This year only, NYC is changing how children enter its gifted and talented programs. Families will be enrolled in a random lottery come May at the recommendation of their child’s preschool teacher. Interest forms go live on March 8. If you were eyeing the program for your little one, but they aren’t enrolled in pre-K, you’ll be contacted for a virtual interview with an education specialist.
It’s getting hot in here. The mayoral election is crowded with big names and personalities (so many many), including former presidential contender Andrew Yang, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation Kathryn Garcia, among many others. The primaries will take place on June 22, in the style of ranked-choice voting. (Need a refresher on what that means? Check out our explainer.) What kind of election coverage would you like to see here? Let us know!
Maya Wiley scores a major endorsement: Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union threw its support behind Wiley on Friday, giving her a boost in a crowded mayoral election. The union was an early supporter of de Blasio when he first ran for mayor in 2013. Wiley is a lawyer, professor and civil rights activist who formerly worked as legal counsel to de Blasio. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as mayor of New York City.
Andrew Yang’s fundraising blitz: The entrepreneur’s mayoral campaign became the fastest in the city’s history to reach 11,000 donors; he will likely receive $2 million in matching funds from the city.
Big bucks from big biz: Super PACs are set to play a major role in the city’s mayoral race, with business-friendly organizations already having raised millions. One candidate, former Wall Street exec Raymond J. McGuire has his own super PAC, and it looks like progressive organizations will follow suite.
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us. If your work is selected, you will receive a $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.
This week we welcome Karen Marston, a painter living and working in Brooklyn. Her work is on view now through March 20 at the Owen James Gallery in SoHo in a solo exhibition titled “Fire Season.” Other recent solos include: 2017’s “To Embrace the Whole Sky with the Mind,” at Station Independent Projects on the Lower East Side, and “Demeter’s Wrath” in 2016 at Owen James Gallery.
Marston served as President of the Board of Trustees of NURTUREart Non-Profit for over ten years, where she was instrumental in the opening of the NURTUREart Gallery in Brooklyn, project managed the development of the online Registry for Artists and Curators, and hosted eleven seasons of Muse Fuse, an informal monthly art salon with many notable guest speakers from the forefront of the art world.
Originally from California, she earned her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and participated in the A.I.C.A. New York Studio Program.
Marston says, “For the past several years I have been painting natural and not so natural disasters, triggered by the near simultaneous explosions of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the volcano in Iceland. These images became an external manifestation of an apprehensive mood fed by a growing litany of frightening catastrophes, a conflation of many destructive crises consuming the world. The scope of this continuing exploration broadened to include more volcanos, raging forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. All larger and more frightening than ever, amplified rather than tamed by modernity, I have been mesmerized by the power of these elemental threats.”
See more of Marsten’s work on her website, Instagram and at Owen James Gallery.