Rikers Island: Territorial Empathy and Reimagining Civic Engagement

The People’s Festival was officially launched by the NYC Civic Engagement Commission, Department of Cultural Affairs and Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The outdoor series featured live performances, interactive workshops and community information and resource. The People’s Bus was the festival’s anchor, a former city bus that used to transport Rikers Island detainees.

Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives
Courtesy of Territorial Empathy

From 2009 to 2021, the People’s Bus was used to transport Rikers Island residents. The mural of beaded beads on the ceiling was created by Mujeres en Movimiento in collaboration with local community members. It is based on drawings made during “We Color Our Future”, a rank-choice voting tour of The People’s Bus. Graffiti left on the bus by its former owners was included in the mural in gold. Mujeres en Movimiento women noted that there were 8.8 million recycled beads. One for every New York City resident.

Courtesy of Territorial Empathy
Courtesy of Territorial Empathy

Territorial Empathy was the architect of the People’s Bus’ transformation. This transformation was inspired by an inter-sectional engagement process with People’s Fellows. It was designed to be adaptive, sustainable, inclusive, and suspend the disbelief of the former oppressive state. The exterior “Rainbow Chrome”, is a tribute to Mierle Ukeles, NYC’s first artist in residence. She created the mirrored garbage truck “The Social Mirror” in 1983.

Courtesy of Territorial Empathy
Courtesy of Territorial Empathy
Courtesy of Territorial Empathy