As tens of thousands crossed into the Spanish Harlem stretch of the New York City Marathon in 2008, runners and onlookers alike witnessed for the first time a new canyon of heroes. Images of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Rosa Parks, Pedro Albizu Campos, Julia de Burgos, Malcolm X, Vito Marcantonio and Emiliano Zapata were seen on banners measuring 8 feet high by 3 feet across hung across dozens of lamp poles.
The mounting of those banners, a month before the Marathon, marked the first campaign and product out of the Uptown Works program, created by Rafael Merino Cortés, and developed under a joint agreement with EHBCC to create a unique marketing operation that would use arts and education in local tourism efforts; to promote local businesses, community based organizations, and special events; and to build and promote a new image for the organization itself.
As executive director, Nelson Garcia, Jr. was able to allocate funds for development with the help of Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the first advocates of the program.
The “El Barrio Means…” banner campaign went on to become actual tapestry of Spanish Harlem history in its inherent effort to help counter the effects of gentrification. The banner program was part of the greater Uptown Works marketing and media development portfolio that included the Uptown Calendar (2009 — 2013), and the El Barrio Guide and Journal publication (2010 — 2011), among other products and services.
This bold program spoke to both the old and new generations of our community, as well as to visitors with a positive voice. We could have created a ‘safe,’ bland and generic campaign. But we wanted people to take note, ask questions, and hopefully, be inspired. This was an audacious visual testament of what this community is about.
What makes New York City the greatest city in the world is its cultural diversity, entrepreneurial spirit, and fortitude. This city is the epitome of the immigrant experience; it is the gold standard of what a global community means, and how beautiful coexistence among different people can be . And this is not the result of some absurd ‘melting pot’ idea, but rather the preservation and nurturing of our respective cultures, different histories and aspirations, moving in one place.
The “El Barrio Means…” banner campaign invited people to explore what moves us, what powers us, what inspires us, what we lost and need to return to, and what we look forward to. The initiative was embraced as an engaging opportunity to display the history, arts, culture, aspirations, and hope of this wonderfully diverse neighborhood.
In 2013, the Uptown Works program was split from EHBCC in order to explore further growth. During the program’s restructuring, the banners continue to be available as a low-cost marketing solution for artists, educational institutions, local businesses, and non-profit entities throughout this iconic, Manhattan, New York City neighborhood. The program continues to operate under Mr. Merino, and is open to sponsorship proposals. For further information, please contact him at 646-593-6770, or rmerino@UptownWorks.com