When she’s not making music as Deb Manso, the Brooklyn artist and activist is running her media company, creating art for awareness and helping Bushwick clean up its act
Off the Record is an interview series exploring the creative endeavors that our favorite artists are pursuing outside of their music, the results of which don’t end up ON a record, so… (get it?!).
For this edition, we caught up with Debora Rivas (aka Deb Manso), who discussed her program Awareness Art, community involvement in the time of COVID and some past, present and future projects you should keep an eye out for—including a new piece being unveiled this Saturday at Maria Hernandez Park.
Through your company Bheardd Media, you’ve developed a program called Awareness Art, which is “dedicated to inspiring change through art.” Can you elaborate on this program—more about your mission and how it got started?
Bushwick is a creative community filled with amazing artwork. I want to use art as a way to expand on both social and environmental issues. The Awareness Art program was developed a few years ago in a conversation with a friend of mine who happens to be a muralist.
Your first unveiling was the Jason Naylor “Keep Bushwick Litter Free” mural on Troutman for the Clean Bushwick Initiative. Can you tell us a little about the process—the idea, the artist, and the implementation?
I was doing community work with the Clean Bushwick Initiative picking up litter on the weekends. That’s when I came up with the idea of a “Litter Free” mural. I felt like a direct message to the public would be a strong one. I chose Jason Naylor because of his bold esthetics and because he’s also a Bushwick resident. That mural was a success as the group did get a lot of media attention for it.
This weekend, you’re unveiling a new piece of work—Timberwolf by Alex “Roco” Rupert—in Maria Hernandez Park. (Congrats!) What’s the story behind this new piece and what can people expect from this event?
Alex “Roco” Rupert was the best choice for this project! He is amazing and patient. This project went through a two-year approval process with the Department of Art for Parks. This project is all about repurposing material. The unveiling will be a lowkey event for the kids. We are hosting a planting workshop with Plants for The People BK and LIVIN. We will do a second big unveiling for Earth Day when the flowers blossom.
A lot of your projects are tied to green initiatives. This is clearly a passion of yours. Is there anything in particular that sparked it?
I don’t want to sell myself as an environmentalist because people get really fanatical over that. My mission has always been the right to live in a cleaner city. It has since expanded from there because now I understand how garbage is a bigger issue. I love Bushwick, but it real dirty. With my second project, I wanted to address the garbage issue from an educational standpoint.
Are there any resources in Brooklyn that you would recommend to people trying to live a more green lifestyle?
It starts with small habits. I do live a lot more sustainable than ever have. It started with not buying bottled water to bringing my own coffee cup to just being a more conscious consumer. I still have a ways to go. I would recommend doing your research there are groups like Zero Waste that offer workshops on how to be more sustainable. I would follow them on Instagram.
How do you tie artists, causes and locations together for Awareness for Art? Would love to know more about how these come together.
I scout for artists. What I’m looking for is someone that fits into the idea. With the next mural project, I was required to provide three different art concepts for the wall. Those concepts got reviewed by a board.
You’re currently working on a BLM mural for the Diana H Jones Senior Center, set to start mid-November. Would you like to tell us more about this? What about any other projects you have in the works?
I cross my finger on this one. If it doesn’t start now then it will get pushed back to the spring of 2021. The artist created the most beautiful and deep rendering. I’m working on rolling out more initiatives that involve education through art for 2021. I also have two confirmed wall spaces for next spring.
2020 has been a wild ride to say the least, but it seems like one silver lining is more people are getting engaged and involved and trying to make a difference. Have you seen any changes in community mobilization and participation with your endeavors? Are more people getting involved?
Absolutely! I see a lot more people volunteering. Whether it’s a cleanup event or food pantry. People are coming out to help each other.
If time and money were no object, and any location was up for grabs, what would your dream project be?
My dream project would be a visual album. If the location we’re up for grabs I would want to live in Brindisi, Italy, never been there before but it sounds so lovely.
This is a music blog, so we’d love to know—does your music tie into these projects at all? Do your interests and passions inform each other (and how)?
It does in a sense that I want to put out content that has strong dialogue. I feel expressed when an art project is complete. I want to get back to music and finish it! I do have funding set aside for a film project next year. I’m working on a visual EP. (Side note: If you know of any local film & music production companies, please share.)
If someone wants to get involved—as an artist or a volunteer—for any of your initiatives, or support them, how can they get in contact and how can they help?
Feature image provided by the artist.