Bowery's colorful history told in posters displayed at NYC's Cooper Union
Student project details past of each address along 1.25 mile street using words, archival images and illustrations.
An internationally famous city street is getting some welcome help promoting its venerable history, while students at Cooper Union gain some meaningful real-world experience.
Cooper students taking Professional Practice, an advanced graphic design course that gives students professional experience, helped complete 64 posters as part of the nonprofit Bowery Alliance of Neighbors’ Windows on the Bowery project made up of window placards celebrating the Bowery’s remarkable contributions to American history & culture.
The history of the 1.25 mile Bowery, which stretches from Chatham Square to Cooper Square, is extensive and includes being a Native American footpath and Dutch farm road; the site of America’s first streetcars and Manhattan’s first free black settlement. In addition, it has an unbreakable connection to vaudeville, Irving Berlin, Houdini, Beat literature and punk rock.
Each placard details the history of a particular address along the Bowery using words, archival images and illustrations. Examples include 315 Bowery aka CBGB: The birthplace of punk rock,or 146-148 Bowery, the site of the city’s oldest operating hotel.
“While the Bowery’s importance has been honored with designations to the prestigious State and National Registers of Historic Places, the city itself has failed to recognize its historical and cultural significance as NYC’s oldest street,” said David Mulkins, president of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.
Mindy Lang,Cooper’s creative directorand adjunct professor of art,who has been teaching the Professional Practice course for 20 years, called the course a “win-win,” for students and the nonprofits they assist.
“Through the course, we offer hi-quality graphic design and branding work to nonprofits throughout the tri-state area on a pro-bono basis,” explained Lang, who teaches class one semester per year.
Two students developed a template for the posters that would be used for the entire project, said Lang. “All the posters needed to have the same look and feel, to let people know they’re part of a larger project.”
Lang praised the research done by the Alliance, calling it “exhaustive.”
Sarah Nagano Purgett, a 2016 Cooper Union graduate and one of the professional practice students who worked on the project for the Alliance, said it was a great experience.
“It was the first-time I was exposed to working with a real client. The Professional Practice course was a great class because we got real-world experience.
Asked about the student’s help, Mulkins was both grateful and complimentary.
“As a bastion of free speech and America’s first free university, Cooper Union is one of the Bowery’s most important sites, and so their participation is poignant,” Mulkins said.
Discussing issues currently facing the Bowery, Mulkins said over-development and rampant real estate speculation has been a constant threat.
“As … luxury towers rise, some of our oldest buildings are being destroyed along with the Bowery’s traditional grit and cultural diversity. These sentiments are widely shared by residents, prominent Bowery business leaders and by high profile New Yorkers like Martin Scorsese and historians Luc Sante and Mike Wallace.”
Mulkins added: “We hope that this project raises consciousness, and that the greatest city in the world will do something to preserve and protect its oldest street.”
The posters will be on display at Cooper Union Foundation Building’s western windows (just south of Astor Place) through the end of July and inside the landmark HSBC Bank at 58 Bowery(formerly Citizen’s Savings Bank). For more information, visit www.boweryalliance.org.