As the sound of jackhammers echoed aloud, community members protested the park renovations in Washington Square Park by scrawling their reflections on the redesign onto helium balloons.
“Our goal was to do something slightly illicit” said organizer and NYU student Ani Neeman of the event dubbed “The Washington Square Blowjob.” “We haven’t been asked what our opinion is, they’ve gone ahead without community approval” she added, referring to the city Parks Department’s decision to remodel the park.
“The lack of community involvement is inappropriate” said Alexandra, another volunteer.
Passers-by at Washington Square were asked to write their thoughts about the park’s reconstruction on helium-filled latex balloons, which were then attached to temporary fixtures throughout the park. At 8 pm, organizers planned to pop the balloons one by one, adding a display of sound to a day-long visual presence.
Many of the people who were inflating and writing on the balloons are students at NYU, an institution that has received criticism for what many call its support for an unneeded renovation. The school has reportedly donated 1 million dollars to the project, and the Tisch Family, major donors to NYU has put $2.5 million to park renovation.
After construction ends, a leveled-out, purely ornamental fountain bearing the Tisch name will replace the old ‘theater in the round’ fountain that played host to countless performances and protests.
“As an institution we have suspicions that NYU is in favor [of renovation], because a privatized park is in their favor” said Neeman. Other organizers said they would like the event to create a meaningful dialog about NYU’s community relations. “We want to send a message to the community that NYU students are not the enemy” said John Mayer.
“They’re making the park a big opaque playpen for university students” said student activist Colin Dillon. “Renovation will change the way the park functions, it’s no longer the center of life. ”Things might change “when NYU finds out its students are interested in living in the village, not on top of it” Mayer added.
The protest was a visual reminder of the frustration many feel with a renovation that has taken away a historic public space. Changing the fountain and erecting a larger fence are “steps towards privatizing the park” Neeman said. “This is a jewel that has been the community for years.