Kemi Ilesanmi

The Laundromat Project (NY)

From its new home on Fulton Street in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, The Laundromat Project (LP) is commemorating its fifteenth year with the same dexterity, creativity and collaborative spirit that has informed the non-profit’s work from the start. Even though the move to Bed-Stuy was planned before 2020, the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice underscored the vital importance of the organization to the artists and communities it serves.

Combining the arts and creative expression with community empowerment, The LP has directly invested over $1M in 180+ multiracial, multigenerational, and multidisciplinary artists; 80 innovative public art projects; and engaged more than 44,000 New Yorkers across the city since its inception. And it belongs to a vibrant network of local, regional and international community-based organizations that support and learn from one another.

“In April of 2020, we established a Creative Action Fund to provide direct grants to artists in our Create Change network,” says Kemi Ilesanmi, The LP’s executive director. “These artists are our neighbors, and many of them lost jobs. This is a way to support them so that they can continue to work in communities across the five boroughs while also being able to pay rent. We also help artists with information about mutual aid and government programs that they might be eligible for.”

Ilesanmi says that The LP’s move to Bed-Stuy meant that it was near the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement in Brooklyn, where the giant BLM street mural painted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder became a central gathering place during the summer months. Throughout the summer, when the two-block stretch was closed to traffic, residents and visitors used the space to express not only anger and calls for change, but also joy, solidarity and a celebration of Bed-Stuy’s legacy as a resilient, historically Black community.

 “People of color have been part of the fabric of America from day one, but historically we haven’t been recognized and respected,” says Ilesanmi. “The LP is part of a larger movement to strengthen these communities, and even though we had to rethink how we did some of our work, we continue to gain momentum.”