Since Hanne Tierney opened the Crown Heights art gallery FiveMyles in 1999, the neighborhood has gone through major shifts. It was a “tight community of people who grew up together, knew each other very well, and then saw their kids grow up,” she said.
Neighbors did weekend gallery sittings and helped her with maintenance work; kids would come check out the art after school. “Now six kids stop in compared to the 15 or 20 some years ago,” she said. “That just about tells you what happened to the neighborhood.”
But despite the changes, Tierney says she still feels connected to the neighborhood’s artists and the gallery’s original mission. A performance artist and puppeteer who has exhibited at the Whitney, Guggenheim, Public Theater and St. Ann’s Warehouse, among other venues, and won an OBIE Award in 2000, Tierney named the gallery after her son, a journalist who passed away in Sierra Leone that same year it opened.
Since then, there has been a steady stream of activity at 558 St. Johns Place, including, to name a few: exhibitions of contemporary artists from Kenya, South Africa, North and South Korea, and the Caribbean; a showcase for Crown Heights-based fashion designers; and an annual end-of-summer festival and art performance that resembles a block party and spills onto the sidewalk. Local bands have used the space for practice after hours, and performance groups can use the gallery for rehearsal or performances at no cost.
The idea has always been to bring the community to the art and the art to the community.
After two decades, that work continues. “I basically feel FiveMyles is doing a job that is needed right now in this neighborhood in bringing the old time residents who are left and new residents together,” said Tierney. “Art and performances will do that; they are public activities and create a neutral meeting place where people can become acquainted with each other.”
Time has also taken its toll on FiveMyles. A new eight-story building has risen next door and takes up the rest of the block, while the building that houses the gallery, an early 20th century garage, is starting to fall apart.
But that doesn’t mean Tierney has any plans to close down the gallery. “I certainly know how I would improve it if, perchance, we won the lottery,” she said. “Sometimes our neighbors play the numbers for us.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Brownstoner magazine.
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