At four miles long and 180 feet wide, the Bronx's Grand Concourse is larger and more modern than its European model and counterpart, Paris's Champs-Élysées. This year marks the Concourse's centennial, and to honor it, the Bronx Museum of the Arts has established a year-long exhibit that looks at the Concourse's significance in relation to the Bronx. The Grand Concourse was designed in 1909 by Louis Risse, who took inspiration from the Champs-Élysées. But the purposes behind these two famous avenues were entirely different. While the Champs-Élysées was built to help modernize Paris and bring it into the 20th century, the Concourse was built at a time when the Bronx was little more than farmland as a pathway to connect the borough to Manhattan. This magnificent thoroughfare has witnessed the development of the Bronx into what we know today. "Grand Concourse is like the Times Square of Manhattan," said Bronx native Ernesto Jacobs, SEAS '12. "It is the mainstream, commerce location of the Bronx." In the early 1970s, when the Bronx was struggling with gang violence and economic troubles, the Bronx Museum of Art was established to promote borough pride and understanding. "The whole mission when the museum was created was to, through the arts, affect some sort of change in the community," said Sergio Bessa, Director of Education for the museum. The museum now proudly stands at the corner of the Grand Concourse and 165th Street. In commemoration of the Concourse's centennial, museum organizers wanted to create an exhibit that would draw attention to the avenue's monumental significance in Bronx history. "We are using the centennial as a way to inspire the residents to look at this really amazing treasure which is the concourse. I think a lot of people take it for granted, but it's one of the most beautiful avenues in New York," said Bessa. "The Grand Concourse at 100" is currently on display as the first in a three-part exhibit. Following in August will be "The Grand Concourse Commissions," and in November, "The Grand Concourse Beyond 100." Each part will include different artists using a wide variety of materials. The second installment, for example, will include an outdoor piece by Irish artist Katie Holten that will explore the ecology of trees along the Grand Concourse. With a wide variety of contributing artists and styles, all united by a love for the Bronx, this exhibit depicts the variety that characterizes this often overlooked borough. "There is a huge emphasis on diversity [in this exhibit] because the collection of the museum reflects the diversity of the community. The Bronx is a big quilt of ethnicities and we wanted to show that," said Bessa. With this exhibit, the Bronx Museum of Arts hopes to reach out to teachers and motivate them to use this rich history as material in the classroom. In the spirit of the museum's mission, the exhibit continues to work to instill both knowledge and pride in members of the Bronx community. The first of the three-part exhibit, The Grand Concourse at 100, runs through July 20, 2009 at the Bronx Museum, 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th Street. Tickets are $3 for students and free on Fridays.
Columbia Spectator Staff