CMA Stories

Meet Jen Chantrtanapichate and Our Neighbors at Sixth Street Community Center

On the other side of Manhattan, directly east of CMA, you’ll find Sixth Street Community Center. Alongside their after school programming in the arts, mindfulness, creative writing, social justice and cooking, they’ve partnered with Fifth Street Farm on the rooftop of the Earth School to maintain an organic urban farm. Weekly during the school year and twice a week over the summer, the Sixth Street kids are some of the main caretakers of the farm.

Many of these kids have never set foot on a farm before and learn firsthand that food comes from the Earth— not the grocery store! They cultivate the crops from seed to harvest and use the fresh vegetables and herbs in their cooking workshops and give back to their community in a CSA program. Urban sustainability education is worked into the programming, so these young community leaders can tackle the big issues like reducing their carbon footprints and confronting climate change.

We asked Program Director Jen Chantrtanapichate a few questions about learning and growing through programming the Sixth Street Youth Program (SSYP). Find her thoughts below!

What’s your definition of Environmentalism?

I define environmentalism as the general concern for the earth and our environment— including the advocacy and action of caring for planet Earth as a whole and our immediate environments. I feel it is important to approach advocacy and action with values of sustainability.

What’s one simple way you can practice Environmentalism?

There are so many simple ways to practice environmentalism that it’s hard for me to choose just one! I compost at home— did you know food waste makes up nearly 30% of our waste stream in NYC? When food waste ends up in our landfills, it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. I also think reducing our personal use of plastic bags and the non-purchasing of bottled water is a simple practice. It’s so easy to bring your own reusable bag or water bottle!

What do you learn from working with young artists?

Young people always have curious and new perspectives to offer. By working with young artists, I’m continuously reminded how we can approach things more playfully and with curiosity. I also love how nonjudgemental kids can be when creating art. In my own studio practice (when painting, making jewelry or making any kind of art), I try to approach my own work without judgment as well.

What impact do you think kids will have on the future?

Kids are the future! What we teach them and the imprints that we leave with them will help inform how they operate and function in the future. They will be our future artists, scientists, policymakers, activists (etc.)! I’m hoping they do a much better job in caring for Earth than we currently do.

What are the benefits of working together?

Wow, there are so many benefits to collaboration and working together. I think it is important to consider who is being invited to collaborate and approach that process in a fully inclusive way. (Maybe that’s the community based urban planner in me!) In my opinion, having a diversity of voices at the table working together brings a fuller perspective when approaching anything.

What advice do you have for young artists?

My advice for young artists is to work from your heart. Create what feels right and feels good, but also consider the impact that art can potentially have as a voice. At Sixth Street, lots of the art that we do is inspired by our environment and the community or current events. I remember after Trump was elected, many of our students felt compelled to express how they were feeling. The arts project that evolved from that moment, were centered around the idea of “What We Stand For.” Our young artists wrote poetry and created visual arts pieces to accompany their writing. It was powerful to witness that collection come together.  

Jen Chantrtanapichate is a mixed media artist, community arts educator and activist from New York City. She is the Program Director for the community-based youth and adult programs at the Sixth Street Community Center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Learn more about their programming at sixthstreetcenter.org.  

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