Troy, New York
Freedom Square is a multi-use gathering space that promotes local and international artists as well as social and environmental justice, on land that was once vacant lots and vacant buildings along the northern tip of the Hudson River Estuary in North Troy, New York.
Freedom Square features an art stage and hosts block-party style events, with free music and food, multicamera shoots, resource tables, and art activities for children.
Media Alliance, a nonprofit focused on arts and cultural development in Troy, led two major components of the project: the installation of an art stage, and the development of The Sanctuary for Independent Media. The art stage was part of the year-long Found Art in North Troy project in 2013. It now features a massive participatory art mosaic led by Philadelphia muralist Isaiah Zagar, with the help of hundreds of local volunteers over the course of several months. Project organizers worked with local schools and nonprofit organizations to assemble mosaic pieces on the concrete stage. A $50,000 grant from National Endowment for the Arts supported this work, along with settlement money from a civil-rights lawsuit against the City of Troy after officials shut down the Sanctuary without legitimate reason in an attempt to censor a visiting artist — resulting in a national controversy over freedom of expression.
Since 2005 they’ve been building people power infrastructure into an arts and environmental campus, starting with their headquarters at The Sanctuary for Independent Media, once a long-abandoned church which now doubles as a telecommunications facility and performance venue to host speakers, screenings, music, arts workshops and youth programs. It’s also home to two recording studios for their community radio station, WOOC 105.3 FM, with a volunteer-driven nightly news and public affairs show called Hudson Mohawk Magazine. Sanctuary TV, their YouTube channel, has more than 75,000 subscribers from all over the world.
In 2021, they opened their newest renovation of an abandoned building, NATURE Lab (North Troy Art, Technology and Urban Research in Ecology), adding DIY community science to the arts and culture mix. The first floor offers a biosafety level 1 biology laboratory – where youth and community members test the air, soil and water in their environmentally devastated community. In response to youth-led community design think-tanks, the second floor is home to People’s Health Sanctuary, a space to share health skills, provide basic integrative care and explore ways to build health justice networks, complete with a private practitioners room and teaching kitchen. Along the block, a series of vacant lots have been transformed into Collard City Growers gardens– green spaces with a permaculture forest of full size fruit trees and a focus on food justice.
The Sanctuary for Independent Media operates in one of the lowest-wealth neighborhoods in the state of New York, upon the ancestral homelands of Mohican people known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. The Sanctuary pays honor and respect to the ancestors, past and present, and commits to building a more inclusive and equitable space for all. It’s a place where community-engaged interdisciplinary artists use different art forms to reweave the social fabric and create a more democratic society. They connect art, science and media with participatory action to promote social and environmental justice as well as freedom of creative expression. The organization regularly gathers feedback from community members and attracts residents of all ages, races and economic strata to their events. Their work encourages community members to see their surroundings in new ways they may never have considered, and in doing so to see that the community has room for growth. Their presence has led to additional investment in vacant spaces. When the organization moved in, there were ten vacant properties on the block. As of the writing of this profile there is only one vacant building, which is in the process of being renovated.
While Media Alliance does have a small staff, they are also reliant on volunteer labor, interns, very dedicated board members, and monthly small-dollar donations from “Sanctuary Sustainers.” This model has helped them stay independent.
Property Type: Commercial Lot (no structure)
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Large Scale (e.g. Sculpture; mural), Live/Work Space, Performance
Project Purpose: Community engagement
Initial Cost: Unknown
Funding Source: Philanthropy, Public grants, Individual contributions
Organization Type: Nonprofit - Arts and Culture
Implementation Partners: Artist(s)
State: New York
Community Type: Urban
Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza