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A ‘Little Push’ for Artists in Challenging Times

Lourdes Correa-Carlo’s inspiration comes from her surroundings.

When she moved from Puerto Rico to Connecticut in 2007 to pursue a master’s in fine arts at Yale, she began to explore in her work the ways that politics affects architecture and how communities are built.

“My starting point is to see what are the politics of those areas,” she said, “how they reflect visually in the landscape.”

Ms. Correa-Carlo, who has worked in a variety of media including sculpture, photography and collages, found herself reflecting deeply on the evolution of her art after the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the United States last year.

She had been working part-time as a guide at an art foundation in Manhattan, as well as advising students in New York and commuting to Rhode Island twice a week to teach. When the foundation temporarily closed amid the March 2020 lockdown and her teaching job ended a few months later, Ms. Correa-Carlo suddenly found herself with extra time.

The abrupt halt made her realize how hard she had been pushing herself. Since completing her master’s, Ms. Correa-Carlo had exhibited her work at museums and galleries across the country, including the Knockdown Center in Queens, the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. When working as an educator, Ms. Correa-Carlo said, she missed only one day of her classes after her mother died in 2019.

“I had time to think about it and reflect when Covid came,” said Ms. Correa-Carlo, 51. “I’m still processing it. Sometimes I’m here, I’m alone, I live alone, and sometimes I want to call her.”

Before her mother’s death, Ms. Correa-Carlo was helping to support her and had recently moved into a new apartment without roommates, which was a strain on her finances. In November 2018, she began receiving financial counseling from Urban Upbound, a Queens-based organization. With the group’s help, Ms. Correa-Carlo made and stuck to a strict budget, enabling her in March 2020 to pay off her credit card debt.

“That was like a saving grace for me,” Ms. Correa-Carlo said.

During the pandemic, Ms. Correa-Carlo used her savings and unemployment assistance to try to make ends meet. But at times, some basic purchases fell by the wayside. If buying more laundry detergent meant she would go over her budget, Ms. Correa-Carlo said, she would wait until the next month to clean her clothes.

Six months ago, Urban Upbound helped connect Ms. Correa-Carlo with Community Service Society, one of the nine organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Community Service Society provided her with $177.25 in September to help cover the cost of necessities, like food and cleaning supplies. She described the help as “that little push that sometimes you need just to keep moving.”

Recently, Ms. Correa-Carlo has resumed her work as a guide and as a student adviser, and she’s looking ahead with her own art. With the unexpected time alone last year, she began a thorough archiving of her work, a process that has taken her back to the sculptures she made while an undergraduate student in San Juan.

“It’s helping me a lot for the future,” Ms. Correa-Carlo said, “because once you see all the things you have done and written and everything, you can think more about what you want to do next.”

It was the work of people like Ms. Correa-Carlo, whose art is influenced by their surroundings, that inspired Aaron Cooper to invite children in Brooklyn to explore civic and community concerns through art this summer.

Mr. Cooper is the deputy director and an education specialist at Cornerstone Programs, which are held at New York City Housing Authority community centers and are operated by Brooklyn Community Services, another beneficiary agency of The Neediest Cases Fund. His eight-week program culminated in a series of student-led murals in four community centers.

The project was part of the Cornerstone Programs’ summer camp and open to rising kindergarten through eighth-grade students. They learned to use Photoshop and make stencils.

Chyanne Cooper, a group leader at O’Dwyer Gardens Community Center and no relation to Mr. Cooper, helped lead her site’s mural. She said her students loved working on it and would ask if they could spend the whole summer making art.

“They were ecstatic about it,” Ms. Cooper said. “We did it a couple of times a week, but they were looking forward to doing it every day.”

Students worked together on each mural, and the students at the O’Dwyer center re-created a block party, which included life-size stencils of students and staff members doing activities like throwing water balloons and playing hide-and-seek.

Ms. Cooper’s brother, D’Andre, 10, was among the artists and said that he still liked spending time in the room with his group’s mural.

“I like seeing what me and my friends painted and drew on the wall,” D’Andre said. “I’ve never painted anything on a wall like that. I feel proud.”

Donations to The Neediest Cases Fund may be made online or with a check.

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