…art and artists can be catalysts in defining and creating the future.

Artist and Harlem resident Edward Hillel started thinking about a community-based biennial in 2007 when a new zoning plan was proposed for 125th street, “Walking on 125th one day I noticed flyers about meetings regarding the proposed changes. As an artist my work has always dealt with history, cultural memory and the urban landscape. And I had worked as a community organizer attending public meetings with people in my neighborhood and we listened to presentations and discussed the changes that the development would bring.”

Having participated in large festivals and biennials, Hillel understood the impact they could have on a community. He felt strongly that art and artists can be catalysts in defining and creating the future. Hillel soon realized that he didn't want to sit in his studio and make art but go out into the community to address the issues the zoning brought up. He started sitting in Leah Abraham's cafe, Settepani, and doodling his ideas with neighborhood friends. On Fridays members of the community and artists would gather at Hillel's studio and talk about the possibilities of a community based festival in Harlem. A group of international curators experienced in the biennial model gathered around as a sounding board. The circle of supporters kept growing as did the energy and excitement. The Harlem Biennale was born.