The Soul Locker Community Art Project

March  7 – March 27, 2024

Opening Reception: Thursday, March 14, 2024, 5–8pm

The Yeh Art Gallery at St. John’s University is pleased to present The Soul Locker Community Art Project, a special collaboration with the ChaShaMa artist residency program at the T-Building in Jamaica, Queens. This presentation will be on view in our front gallery from March 7–27th, and a reception will be held at the gallery on Thursday, March 14th, 5–8pm.

The exhibition features a series of collaborative paintings called "Soul lockers," created by over 60 people from the T-building community, an affordable housing complex converted from an old hospital building on the Queens Hospital campus just down the road from St. John’s University. Working in collaboration with Darryl Montgomery, ChaShaMa Space to Connect Program Manager, who has created this program for teaching artists to help generate community through creative engagement and expression, the current artists in the program— Damali Abrams, Kareem Hayes, Cody Herrmann, Mo Kong, and Julian Phillips—produce monthly workshops to empower participants to develop creative tools for self-expression and storytelling. The presentation also includes photos and art from the T-Building Creative Workshops led by the teaching artists, video testimonials from T-Building residents and staff, along with architectural and historical images of the building itself. Exploring issues at the intersection of affordable housing, community engagement, art education, and urbanism, this project highlights an experimental approach to housing that embraces arts programming as an essential component in the development of this building’s renewed life as a vibrant, thriving community.

The T-Building, built in 1941, holds a rich historical legacy as the former Triboro Hospital for Tuberculosis in Jamaica, Queens. At its inception, the structure served as a dedicated facility for the treatment and care of individuals affected by tuberculosis at a time when many New Yorkers were inflicted with the disease. Over time, as medical practices evolved and the need for specialized tuberculosis hospitals diminished, the T-Building underwent a transformation and was used as a general hospital building, but eventually became obsolete. Today, this iconic structure has been repurposed through adaptive reuse into a dynamic space and unique housing model for approximately 1,000 residents, providing a range of affordable housing options alongside on-site social services offered by Commonpoint Queens and CAMBA, and arts programming led by ChaShaMa.

ChaShaMa, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995, confronts the challenge of affordable space for artists in New York City by securing unused spaces across the five boroughs for artists to work and present exhibitions. Through the Space To Connect Program, ChaShaMa also provides free art workshops in underserved communities, connecting resident artists with diverse populations and broadening access to the arts by working with social service organizations that have limited capacity to offer arts to their members. Currently, ChaShaMa presents 150 events a year, has workspace for 120 artists, and has developed 80 workshops in underserved communities.

Top image: residents of the T-Building work on the “Soul Lockers.” Middle: Photograph of the T-Building c. 1940s. All photographs courtesy of ChaShaMa.