“My grandma says that I was always enthralled by dance. When I was rambunctious, she’d put on ballet videos and I’d be in awe,” says Kendra Bostock, New York City-based choreographer, educator, public arts curator and arts advocate. “My passion for dance precedes my formal training.”
Bostock saw an opportunity to bring together artists, community leaders and local residents in celebration of creativity, art and community – right in her neighborhood of “BedStuy” (Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area). So she took it, thus building the STooPS Art Crawl. The annual event features dance, other live arts, visual art, vendors and much more — right where BedStuy community members live and work. It is free of charge to all involved.
Dance Informa speaks with Bostock about the annual arts event, how it evolved and what it means for its community, what other work she has cooking, and more.
Always enthralled by dance: Coming to the work
Following that enthrallment with dance as a toddler, Bostock’s formal training started in elementary middle school, in her hometown of Detroit, MI. She took any opportunity to dance, she explains. A Folkloric dance guest teacher at her school, and Bostock’s first significant teacher, was her best friend’s stepmother.
She did a 10- to 12-week residency with that teacher, and subsequently “followed her wherever she went,” Bostock recounts. As an adult, Bostock still follows her. “That experience has continued to grow my love of dance.” At least in part because of that early and impactful teacher, Bostock kept studying dance — at a high school modern dance program and then in Ailey/Fordham’s prestigious BFA program.
With Folkloric dance as such a formative part of her dance background, her work is quite “interdisciplinary,” Bostock explains, with elements such as music and costuming playing a vital role. She also highlights how because of the context in which Folkloric dance emerged, it has strong connections to community and spirituality.
The STooPS Art Crawl is born, grows and celebrates 10 years
Bostock came to Brooklyn’s “BedStuy” (Bedford-Stuyvesant) neighborhood in 1999. Conversations on gentrification were in the air, and she wanted to be “really mindful” of how she was coming into the local community. “I wanted to be feeding the neighborhood just as much as it was feeding me,” she notes. “I wanted to create a space where I was sharing and also where other artists in the neighborhood could share.”
That on her mind, she experienced a participatory arts event called “The STooP”. She loved the concept, and also wondered: what if an event like that took place on an actual stoop? What if it could bring together a wide range of community leaders, artists, and neighborhood residents? “BedStuy has a historic role as a gathering place and informal town hall,” Bostock explains. It’s also a vibrant arts hub; “arts and culture makes BedStuy what it is.” To Bostock, such an event seemed capable of “revitalizing” that role and that energy within the neighborhood.
Such an event could also be meaningful for neighborhood artists – to share their work in their own neighborhood. For example, for her own part, Bostock noticed that she was always going to Manhattan to rehearse, perform, audition, take class, et cetera.
There would be only one requirement for participating artists: their work had to be interactive, to engage the local community in some way. Other than that, artists could bring whatever they had to bring to the table – to a community-based arts gathering in their own community. [Because it is a public, neighborhood-based event, Bostock also asks that the work be family-friendly.]
And so the STooPS Art Crawl was born. Bostock and her team presented the 10th Anniversary event on July 29th, 2023, with a theme of “What if Bed-Stuy was a Black Utopia?”. It had a true shut-down-the-streets, block party atmosphere, complete with vendors, music, dancing, and more, Bostock notes. “I’d like to think that we’ve become a pillar in the neighborhood…[the Art Crawl] makes it feel like a hub and a home.” Artists have shared how beautiful it is to share their work in their own local community and to make fruitful connections to other neighborhood players (something that’s happened for her personally, to pivotal effect in her own life), she adds.
The annual event became even more important for the BedStuy community when COVID locked the city down, and indoor arts gatherings weren’t possible. “Being outdoors, we already had a structure that was safe…with a few tweaks, we could make it work,” Bostock says. “Many artists said that STooPs had been the first time all year since the shutdown that they could present their work live.“
Artists as policy advocates and organizers: engaging in the legislative process
In addition to her work in community arts, Bostock advocates for the arts alongside her local representative; she’s led an Arts Council in the Office of Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman (NY District 56). “Because of my folkloric background, to me the people are as important as the art,” Bostock says. “I’ve taken on the charge for my work to transform people, and for me that involves civic engagement.”
Bostock believes that through such engagement, she can also bring creativity into the legislative process. Artists can help question the status-quo and expand our beliefs about what is possible, she affirms. On an even more basic, visceral level, she believes that the arts – very much including dance – can highlight obstacles to “people having their basic needs met.” Such basic awareness can be a driving force for legislative action that improves people’s lives.
Bostock believes that artists have a responsibility to engage in their community in some way – “to not only make the work but to improve the quality of life” of those who inhabit it. She acknowledges that engaging in the legislative process might not be every artist’s cup of tea, not to mention how busy most of them already are. However, “there are so many different ways for artists to be engaged,” she reminds us, “even if it’s just getting to know your neighbors and getting involved in your tenants’ association.”
Moving forward, on and off the STooPs
“This year was really big for STooPS!” Bostock shares enthusiastically; a Mellon Foundation grant allowed her and her team to receive a salary for the first time. The 10th anniversary was also of course an exciting milestone, as well as an inflection point – a time for assessment, reflection, and planning. “We’ve been thinking about our infrastructure and asking ourselves what kind of impact we want to have, where we want to go moving forward,” Bostock shares.
She also has exciting things on the horizon in her choreographic practice, most notably a work that she’s been building (since 2020-21) called Portals – as a Jerome Hill Fellow. The work looks into the past as a way to investigate how we move forward into the future, Bostock explains. “Myself and my collaborators, we’ve been looking at the history of BedStuy and how we want to move the neighborhood forward – as well as our experience of Blackness.” She hopes to present the work in 2024.
All in all, Bostock wants to underscore that what artists do is hard – so if you’re one, give yourself and those you work with grace. “I’m scared and tired all the time, but I do it anyway,” she shares. How to give grace, face fear and hang in there like that? Remember the power of taking a pause and reflecting, she says. Communicate, and stay closely connected to your values. Understand the value of what you’re doing. “It’s worth it for the impact that I can make and to be great in this world.”
Learn more about the STooPS Art Crawl here!
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.