The original idea behind The LP was to actually own and run a laundromat. “And we could kind of slip in some art,” as Ilesanmi put it. “It would be an art space, but you didn’t have to know that to engage. It would draw you in and we do a little situation on you, in the hope that art would become a necessity and part of people’s everyday lives. But it turned out no one had let’s-buy-New-York-real-estate money—key detail!”
As a result, The LP had to adapt and figure out new ways to implement its vision. “It gave us space to experiment, since we didn’t have any money. So we went citywide immediately.” The LP first established connections in Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene in Brooklyn, and later on in Harlem and eventually in Hunts Point and Longwood in the Bronx, establishing long-term relationships with the community in those areas.
The year 2020, however, was going to be a period of reenvisioning how The LP looked for the future. After many years of working throughout New York City, the organization decided to return to this idea of being anchored to one place, and establishing a permanent home. “We spent all of 2019 asking our community and Create Change fellows where we should get a space, and by the fall we narrowed that down to Harlem and Bed-Stuy. We finally landed on Fulton Street (a.k.a. Harriet Tubman Avenue) in Bed-Stuy.”
And, as happens with a lot of 2020 stories, in the final hours of the decision-making process, the pandemic hit. “First couple weeks of COVID-19 we signed the lease,” Ilesanmi said. The pandemic has made things difficult for The LP, an organization used to being physically present and active with people. It made it more difficult to plan for the future in its new home in Brooklyn. But The LP adapted, continuing its Create Change fellowships and residencies, albeit with some adjustments.
“It was all done virtually as opposed to going into the community, but it was the same fellowship,” Ilesanmi told me. “But several of [the fellows] talked about this as one of the anchors for them during this period, while everything else was falling apart. And instead of working with the community, everyone was working on their own personal project and putting a The LP process or conversion to it.”
This pivot was no easy feat for The LP, which had to shift its approach at a time of crisis for the community and renewal for the organization. Ilesanmi said it put things into focus, clarifying what it means to hold community in a time of such uncertainty, to actively listen to the folks who needed the most help and were struggling to make ends meet. The pandemic “slowed us down,” she added. “And we had to go slow in order to go fast.”