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Down These Mean Streets

June 27, 2017
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derelict urban site
Manuel Acevedo, Altered Sites #7, 1998, printed 2016, inkjet print, 40 3/8 x 59 7/8 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center © 1998, Manuel Acevedo

Down These Mean Streets

A “DO NOT ENTER” sign appears on a run-down street corner in Newark, N.J. The artist, Manuel Acevedo, has drawn a structure that rises up towards the heavens, welcoming passing birds. Through it, he shows the potential of this derelict space, transforming “the bleakness of underutilized landscapes into visionary architectural proposals.”

Born in Newark just a few years before the unrest that befell the city in 1967, Acevedo had grown accustomed to seeing new building projects begun and then abandoned in his hometown. His photograph recalls the frustrated potential of these efforts and suggests the possibility of revitalizing abandoned urban space. Acevedo’s altered image parallels the activism of urban residents who transformed empty lots into gardens and other sites of community life.

This photograph is one of 93 featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibition “Down These Mean Streets: Community and Place in Urban Photography.” The exhibition features 10 Latino photographers whose work reflects on the decline of urban neighborhoods in American cities since the late 1950s.