Artist and educator Modesto Jimenez, a.k.a Flako, is raising awareness of gentrification in Bushwick with unlikely tools: a cab and some humor.
In his cab-theater show (yes, it's just what it sounds like) Taxilandia, running from now until May 30, Jimenez immerses a backseat audience in a theatrical confrontation of the harsh realities facing Bushwick's communities of color.
For a small audience in his vintage Lincoln Town Car -- with a separator installed for COVID-19 precautions -- Jimenez shares the triumphant, and at times tragic history of Bushwick, while nimbly navigating the neighborhood's streets and making stops at important landmarks, viewpoints and, of course, a local deli for snacks.
During the piece, Jimenez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Bushwick, shares his views on gentrification, waxes poetic about his upbringing and bumps classic Brooklyn tunes.
He is an award-winning artist and educator who teaches poetry and acting in New York City public schools. Taxilandia is his company, Oye Group's latest production.
He said a goal for the show was to show the harsh realities of gentrification and use it to create capital for long-standing businesses in his neighborhood. To that end, he buys each audience snacks at a deli as part of a scene.
But his contributions to the neighborhood don't stop there. As part of Taxilandia, he pays local businesses that double as storefront gallery stops. His team also distributes free Brooklyn-themed activity books and art supplies for children, and is creating a mural at the corner of Stockholm and Irving.
"As artists, we have a responsibility," Jimenez said. "We have to reallocate some of this funding because right now people are hurt, while still providing what we know how to do--the art."
It's no secret that Bushwick is one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn. According to data gathered by NYU's Furman Center, the median income in Bushwick rocketed from $31,780 to $51,620 from 2009 to 2017. And as the white population more than doubled, the Latino population shrunk from 70 percent to 54 percent.
"People gentrifying neighborhoods, it is colonization," Jimenez said. "Let's get with it and accept that this s--- is real. Right now neighborhoods are being lost and people are being displaced."
Jimenez was a cab driver for nine years to supplement his income as a thespian. To encourage creativity and connection, he used to give passengers a discount if they would write a poem with him on the spot.
One of Jimenez's priorities for the show is that it is accessible at many different low cost options.
For $25, audience members can hop into Jimenez's cab for about an hour-long ride, depending on traffic. Due to high demand, there is a lottery to get tickets for the cab experience.
For those wanting to travel the show by foot, Jimenez created Textilandia -- a text-guided walk of Bushwick, available for $3. And Jimenez's no cost option is a free map of the storefront galleries he has set up all across Bushwick, which can be visited in any order at any time. People can also stream the Zoom salons about gentrification in the five boroughs archived on the Taxilandia website.
"This is the place that gave me everything I have," Jimenez said. "So how dare I not give back and bring awareness to the damaging situation going on right now?"