Open Exchange: Belonging SoART Lecture

By Pratt Institute (other events)

Tuesday, April 9 2019 7:00 PM 9:00 PM

Open Exchange: Belonging
SoART Lecture | April 9 | 7-9PM | Pratt Student Union

Pratt’s School of Art (SoArt) and the Fine Arts department are proud to present an evening of open exchange for the third annual School of Art Lecture Series event. 

This year’s event will bring together five thought leaders to share the ways that they have approached notions of safety in their practice. Participants include Ana M. Bermúdez, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation; Jammal Lemy, creative director for March for Our Lives; Hank Willis Thomas, conceptual artist and activist; niv Acosta, multimedia artist and activist; and Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA). The discussion will be moderated by Pratt Visiting Fellow and multidisciplinary artist and activist Shaun Leonardo

Prompted to consider a single word – ‘Belonging’ – each panelist will address one related, critical question that drives their work. The audience will be invited to participate and further distill and respond to these questions, engaging guest speakers in an open exchange.

RSVP is strongly encouraged. Seating is limited and is first come first serve. The standby line will be admitted at 6:50pm. Doors close strictly at 6:55 PM. Guests are asked to stay for the entire program. Refreshments will be served throughout the event. 


Ana M. Bermúdez is the NYC Department of Probation’s (DOP’s) first openly gay person, first Latina and second woman to be appointed Commissioner. A graduate of Brown University and Yale Law School, Commissioner Bermúdez began her professional career representing children in family court cases at the Legal Aid Society. For over twenty years, she has been a tireless advocate for children and teenagers involved in the justice system through the development and implementation of strengths-based interventions, the application of restorative and youth development practices and the designing of programs that ensure successful re-integration for adjudicated juveniles. During her tenure as DOP’s Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Operations from 2010 through 2014, she successfully led city-wide initiatives that focused on improving outcomes for court-involved youth through interdisciplinary collaborations. With her appointment to Commissioner in March 2014, she continues to lead the Department in its mission to enhance public safety through appropriate and individualized and community-based interventions in the lives of people on probation to enable them to permanently exit the justice system. 

Prior to joining the DOP in 2010, she was the Director of Juvenile Justice Programs at the Children’s Aid Society. She has also worked at CASES (The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services) holding progressively responsible positions: Director of Training and Technical Assistance; Co-Director of Community Prep High School: a transitional school for court-involved students; and Deputy Director for Court Services and Case Management at CASES’ Court Employment Project, an alternative to incarceration program for adolescent felony offenders.


Jammal Lemy graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL in 2016 and went onto Florida Atlantic University to double major in political science and film. Lemy then started a production company, Mal3Times, and began using his creative talent to design apparel. He was on his way to completing his first clothing line when the shooting at MSD occurred, February 14th, 2018. He and his best friend, Joaquin Oliver, had already made plans to model and film the line on February 16th. Instead, Joaquin was killed. Turning grief into action is always easier said than done—but it is possible, especially when surrounded by others doing the same. Since March of 2018, Lemy has served as Creative Director for March for Our Lives. Through design and art, he has helped build the largest youth movement in history.

His creative approach—no matter the medium—is to build art that amplifies voices that are often unheard – voices like his own. Activism comes in many forms, and Lemy feels art is one of the strongest tools to empower change. Whether trying to combat disenfranchisement by making voting easier or traveling to 60 cities in less than three months to create a national dialogue on gun violence prevention, Lemy considers it his duty to leave the world a better place than he found it. For Jammal Lemy, that is all it is ever about.


Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. His work is included in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. His collaborative projects include Question Bridge: Black Males,In Search Of The Truth (The Truth Booth), and For Freedoms, an artist-run initiative for art and civic engagement. In 2017, For Freedomswas awarded the ICP Infinity Award for New Media and Online Platform. Thomas is also a recipient of the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2018), Guggenheim Fellowship (2018), the AIMIA | AGO Photography Prize (2017), the Soros Equality Fellowship (2017), and is a member of the New York City Public Design Commission.


niv Acosta is a multimedia artist and activist based in Brooklyn, NY, whose intersectional identities as transgender, queer, and black-dominican have continuously inspired his community-based work. niv’s current projects, including Black Power Naps, are devised in collaboration with Black artists as propositions for how reparative economies can better hold communities of color. niv’s work examines the intersection of race and performance through the creation of iterative works that distill large concepts into greater clarity.

niv’s work has been featured in many publications including Performance Journal, VICE, Brooklyn Magazine, Apogee Journal, BOMB Magazine and more. His performance work has debuted in various programs around the world including Tate Modern, Tanz Im August & Kunst-Werke Institut, MOMA PS1, Studio Museum, New Museum, and McGill University. niv has collaborated with artists Alicia Keys, Fannie sosa, Bearcat, TYGAPAW, Jay Boogie, Monstah Black, Lyle Ashton-Harris, Ralph Lemon, Ishmael Houston-Jones, My Barbarian, Deborah Hay, Sabian Baumann and Andrea Geyer. Acosta also received the 2017 Louis Comfort Tiffany Artist Award.


Tom Finkelpearl is the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA). In this role he oversees City funding for nonprofit arts organizations across the five boroughs and directs the cultural policy for the City of New York. Under his leadership, DCLA has embarked on major new efforts to advance equity in the cultural sector, including the launch of a cultural workforce diversity initiative to promote a more inclusive arts sector; inviting the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project to examine the effects of culture on New York’s communities; and, alongside Mayor de Blasio, releasing CreateNYC, NYC’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan. Building on feedback from nearly 200,000 New Yorkers, CreateNYC lays out a blueprint for expanding on the unparalleled strengths of the city’s cultural sector, while targeting investments to address historically underserved communities across all five boroughs.

Prior to his appointment by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, Commissioner Finkelpearl served as Executive Director of the Queens Museum starting in 2002, overseeing an expansion that doubled the museum’s size and positioning the organization as a vibrant center for social engagement in nearby communities. He also held positions at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA PS1), and served as Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program. Based on his public art experience and additional research, he published a book, Dialogues in Public Art (MIT Press), in 2000. His second book, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (Duke University Press, 2013) examines the activist, participatory, coauthored aesthetic experiences being created in contemporary art. He received a BA from Princeton University (1979) and an MFA from Hunter College (1983).


Shaun Leonardo’s multidisciplinary work negotiates societal expectations of manhood, namely definitions surrounding black and brown masculinities, along with its notions of achievement, collective identity, and experience of failure. His performance practice, anchored by his work inAssembly – a diversion program for court-court-involved youth, is participatory in nature and invested in a process of embodiment, promoting the political potential of attention and discomfort as a means to disrupt meaning and shift perspective.

Leonardo is a Brooklyn-based artist from Queens, New York City. He received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, is a recipient of support from Creative Capital and Guggenheim Social Practice and was recently profiled in the New York Times. His work has been presented in galleries and institutions, nationally and internationally, and featured at The Guggenheim Museum, the High Line, Recess, and VOLTA NY. Leonardo joined Pratt Institute as the School of Art, Visiting Fellow, in fall 2018 and will remain on campus as the 2019 Project Third artist in residence.