"Holding Court" A Re-imagination of Neighborhood Commons

In 2020, we awarded the Photo Urbanism Fellowship to Barnabas Crosby to document the ingenuity of small businesses during the pandemic in tandem with the Neighborhood Commons project.

Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks & Beyond, explored opportunities to improve the current model of public space governance and programming. Through his work, Barnabas tells human, personal narratives about small businesses during this challenging time.  Limited by costs and social distancing requirements, COVID-19 proposed a challenge to Barnabas and fellow business owners. In response to this challenge, many entrepreneurs created innovative uses of public space to continue operating their businesses and serve their communities. Over the course of the fellowship, Barnabas repurposed his neighborhood handball court as a photography studio. He invited local business owners to sit and join him in this exercise of “re-imagination.” The images in the series portray Black entrepreneurs making room for play through reimagined settings and reimagined identities.

The "Holding Court" exhibition was showcased in Times Square Over New Year’s Eve 2022 on the NASDAQ building on Broadway and 43rd Street. From May 1st – May 29th, the exhibition was exhibited at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch.

Barnabas Crosby

2021-2022: Holding Court, A Community Portrait Series

Barnabas Crosby is a Brooklyn-based educator, visual storyteller, and native of Cleveland. In 2010, Barnabas started Whiskey Boys Ent., a storytelling vehicle to share stories of Everyday Black Living through black and white stills and moving pictures. In 2015 while working alongside the BKLYN Combine and Humanities NY, Barnabas created the annual reading and conversation platform Baldwin + Friends. Trained as a playwright and dramaturg, Barnabas uses education, art, and media to teach young people how to craft their individual and cultural narratives.

Exhibition Gallery

Holding Court

Barnabas Crosby


This year, the Photo Urbanism fellowship was expanded in partnership with the NeOn Photography Network, a resource group created to provide both professional and creative opportunities for communities where large concentrations of people on probation reside. The Photo Urbanism Youth Fellowship provides mentorship and professional development for young people ages 16-24, offering three intensive fellowships and a public youth photography skills workshop led by our PU Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York. See their work below:

Napolean Bond

Napolean first began to pursue photography in order to connect and meet others. Many of those first connections have now led to great friendships. Napolean enjoys the art of photography because it has allowed him to capture moments in his own life that he doesn't want to forget. One of his favorite parts of going out on photo shoots is exploring his surroundings by going to different parks, sitting by the water and capturing special moments.

Elizabeth Michael

Elizabeth is a rising senior at Uncommon Leadership Charter High School. In 9th grade, as part of her school requirements, she took her first photography class. Although at first she had no interest in continuing to pursue photography, the more she familiarized herself with a camera, she began to understand that photography was a form of storytelling. To capture moments translated into her letting others view the world through her eyes. When she is not out photographing, she sings at her church, dances, and loves school. She also likes being of assistance to anyone who needs it and she attributes her character development to this.

Jadalynn Millington

Jadalynn is currently a photography major in her junior year at St. John’s University. She has always had an interest in the visual art world and knew she would go far. Jadalynn uses photography to show the world what she sees through her eyes and is continuously experimenting with new techniques to make her photographs reach new and wide audiences.

Artist Statement

Barnabas’ Artist Statement

I grew up in the Rustbelt. I walked alongside my family to the candy stores, the mom-and-pop dry cleaners, and the family-owned groceries. Before I graduated high school many of those businesses would disappear and the neighborhoods would begin to decline. As the businesses began to fail, so did the memory and stories the businesses facilitated. The few memories which did survive were old polaroids scotch-taped to the countertops and walls; sunbleached and discolored.

There are records of chocolate cities with thriving black businesses completely overtaken by corporations and urban renewal. Memories of the shop clerks feeding hungry kids, the short-order cook who knew your entire family would be bleached away by outdoor seating, coffee bars, and beer gardens. The pandemic has made me witness to the fragility and necessity of small businesses. Beyond goods and services, small businesses offer a central meeting place, a rally point, and a hub of connectedness. Without small business; the mortar of community, neighborhoods in which they occupy become only mountains of bricks with strangers living inside.

This project will capture portraits and stories of small business owners who use their establishments to support the softer aspects of the community: education and personal development, food injustice, and employment opportunities for youth and young people.
As a child who frequented and was nurtured by small businesses, I recognize the connection it has to youth impact. Through my work with the New York City Department of Education, NYC Men Teach, and BKLYN Combine, I have encouraged young people to craft their narratives using the written word, video production, and photography to tell their stories.

“In fall of 2012, I had contemplated leaving the Department of Education to pursue a career in the arts. I sat alone in my Flatbush apartment eating Trader Joes in the middle of Hurricane Sandy.

Meanwhile, down in Coney Island, nine-year-old Jadalynn Millington was stuck in her high-rise apartment where the lobby had flooded to the ceiling. I learned this as she took us from the boardwalk into the neighborhood where generators still vibrate the streets.

Growing up in the arts, I learned that everyone has a story. Each time I met up with the Neighborhood Narrative Fellows, I learned a new story or gained a new way to approach photography. One of the most important things I learned and was reminded of was seeing the world as a young artist.”

Breakpoint: small Breakpoint: medium Breakpoint: large
Container Padding:
Column width: