–Artist Judith Sloan spent several years researching the stories of her neighbors in Queens, N.Y. Their tales are documented in “Crossing the BLVD” a multimedia project that includes a stage-show, book and exhibition. She collaborated with her husband Warren Lehrer, a Queens native. The project is a collection of stories taken from immigrants in Queens about their life and migration experiences. Sloan’s work is on display in Tyler Art Gallery until Oct. 10.
Q: How did it feel when your book was published by a major publishing company?
A: It’s not necessarily an art book. It was at a time before people were doing multimedia books and CD projects. You wouldn’t think of that as odd now, but you would not expect that back in 2003. That was a huge deal to get the concept of both of those together. We were really happy; I think it was one of the first books really designed like that. We were thrilled.
Q: Why is this project something you have devoted so much time to?
A: I live in Queens; my husband was born in Queens. I’ve been living in Queens for 20 years. When we started it I was already doing a lot of work in Queens and I think part of what happened was that we were on the cusp of a couple of things that converged. In 1999, Queens was the most diverse place in the United States. We didn’t need the 2000 census to tell us that. Our research was 1999 to 2001. It’s probably the only project in the United States that is a comprehensive project on immigration done since 1965 that started before 9/11 and continued after 9/11. So we get both sides of this critical moment in history. Things really shifted after 9/11 in our country.
Q: What were the changes after 2001?
A: If you look at immigration law, it went from the Justice Department to Homeland Security. That’s a big change in how the law is and who is kept out of the country. We went to an immigration argument that wasn’t as much about cultural divides or economics, but much more about threats to security. I think that’s just a huge change. You can see the repercussions of that now. The immigration has become much more of a hot potato than when we started. Whatever we have experienced in Queens with so much cultural diversity, other places in the country are just experiencing that now—that kind of immigration and migration where cultures are bumping against each other. We [in Queens] have more practice at that existence.
Q: What sort of strategies would you suggest for a community dealing with diversity?
A: I think the strategy would be a little bit of patience and a desire to communicate. One of the other things is to be a little open-minded about the possibility of having your eyes opened by other cultures. I felt like we were traveling around the world through the eyes of our neighbors. We were journalists on the road for three years getting all these deep conversations.
Q: What advice would you give to 21-year-old you, if you could go back and do that?
A: That’s a tough question. Every 21-year-old is different. When I was 21, I was starting my theatrical career. I would tell 21-year-old me to be less afraid of criticism from people who were actually trying to make me better and had my best interest at heart. Instead of feeling so threatened by that and afraid I would tell myself to have confidence about my voice but also to allow people to help me craft things in a way that would make things less vulnerable. If I had a little bit more guidance I may have been able to hear things more easily. It’s the hardest thing as an artist to take in critiques, listen to your own voice, but also figure how to continue to work in community that allows you to grow. Maybe you just have to go through some of that stuff.