A look at the Audubon Mural Project, whose mission is to create murals that pay tribute to beautiful birds at risk due to climate change. Followed by a profile of Ayodele Casel, one of today’s most dynamic tap dancers and a passionate advocate for her art form. And a profile of Iain Forrest, an electric cellist known as Eyeglasses, who is participating in MTA’s Music Under New York program.

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(beeping) - [Paula Zahn] Coming up on the NYC Arts, a look at the Audubon Mural Project in upper Manhattan.

which pays tribute to birds that are at risk due to the climate crisis.

A profile (indistinct) Ayodele Casel, one of today's most dynamic tap dancers.

- Tap dancing for me is magic. It's music in motion.

- [Paula Zahn] And we'll meet up with Iain Forrest also known as Eyeglasses, a talented cellist, who is part of the MTA's Music Under New York program.

- They'll play a bass part, percussion part, a harmony part on the cello.

And then I can loop that segment over and over again.

I'm playing nine or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

- [Man Speaking] Funding for NYC Arts is made possible by: Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Lewis 'Sonny' Turner Fund for Dance, Jody and John Arnhold, Rosalind P. Walter, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Charles and Valerie Diker, The Nancy Sidewater Foundation, Elroy and Terry Krumholz Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation and Ellen and James S. Marcus.

This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the city council.

Additional funding provided by Members of 13.

NYC Arts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

- [Woman Speaking] First Republic Bank presents: First Things First.

At First Republic Bank, first refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step, recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree, be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

- [Man Speaking] And by Swann Auction Galleries.

- [Woman Speaking] Swann Auction Galleries, we have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine arts since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility, whether you're a lifelong collector, a first time buyer or looking to sell information at swanngalleries.com.

(upbeat music) - Good evening and welcome to NYC Arts.

I'm Paula Zahn.

Since March, many of us have been spending more time outside as a safe way to get some fresh air and exercise.

And during that time we've been exposed to more of the city's bird life.

Maybe you watched eggs hatch from your apartment window this spring, or enjoyed listening to birds singing in the park over the summer.

However, according to the Audubon society, these songs may disappear over the next few decades.

In a report released in 2014, the society revealed that about half of all birds on our continent will soon be threatened by climate change.

To draw attention to the plight of those birds, Avi Gitler, a Manhattan art dealer, teamed up with Mark Jannot from the Audubon society.

Together, they launched the Audubon Mural Project.

Its mission is to create murals in Hamilton and Washington Heights that pay tribute to at-risk birds and draw attention to the climate crisis.

(bright music) - I had opened the gallery and wanted to bring some attention to the gallery.

So I asked the one fine artist I knew who also did quote on quote Street Art to paint a mural on the adjacent Gates to this art gallery.

And he's from Florida.

And he said to me, I'm gonna paint a Flamingo for you because I'm from Florida, bring some Florida flavor.

And I made the connection, John James Audubon, birds, and that's how the project really got started.

- I said, 'Wow, this is a great idea.

Get, get the word out about, you know the threatened birds, beautify the neighborhood but let's, let's be a little more ambitious.

Let's not do just a dozen birds.

Let's do all 314 you know, threatened birds, do murals of all of them on gates and malls all over this neighborhood.'

And Avi crazily said, 'Sure, let's do it.'

And we've been, you know, chasing our 314 number ever since.

- So it's really nice to sort of publicize one of the great Americans and really one of the most interesting Americans to people who are familiar with the name, but unfamiliar with the actual person.

- [Mark Jannot] John James Audubon was possibly America's greatest bird and a natural world artists and an extraordinary pioneering ornithologist.

He spent the last 10 years of his life here in Washington Heights.

- The center of the project really has, has shifted to what was once the Audubon Estate between 155th and 156th street in Broadway, and it's appropriate because John James Audubon final resting place is in Trinity Cemetery on 155th.

We made the decision to paint from approximately 135th street West to 193rd street, which is the end of Audubon Avenue.

And there's no great logic to it but we sort of thought it would be nice to keep the project uptown.

Picking the locations is a bit of a challenge but one of the things we decided from the beginning was we weren't just going to paint anywhere, we were looking to beautify.

So we're seeking out spaces that are in need of some sort of fix some sort of improvement.

So, you know the big walls that we've painted all had crumbling paint and really we're in a state of disrepair.

We've worked with landlords to secure spaces like empty alcoves that are boarded up.

And we can work with studio artists who were painting paddles that we then install into the building.

We're mostly working with artists who are from the neighborhood or from the greater New York area.

We work with them to choose a bird.

We try not to paint the same birds twice.

We really ask them to do what they want within reason.

(bright music continues) Some of the murals contain more than one bird.

So we've painted about 70 birds so far.

There are challenges to painting outside but there are also benefits of painting outside.

So there are people who come while an artist paints and they're engaging the artist and it's a little bit distracting but the positive is that they're engaging the artist and they're learning about the project and they're learning not just about global warming, they're learning about art.

I'm from the neighborhood originally and I wanted people uptown to be able to see the sort of art that you would normally have to go to Chelsea or the lower East side, or maybe parts of Brooklyn for.

- One of the things I love about coming up here to look at and for the murals is that you can't be sure on any given visit, which ones you're going to see or you're going to see them all.

In that way it's sort of like going out for a birding expedition.

You can't know which birds you're going to see.

When you're talking about half of all North American birds being threatened, you're going to see some birds there that you wouldn't expect to see.

They will shift, they will move.

The Baltimore Oriole is predicted to no longer be able to be seen in Baltimore.

The Common Loon, which is the state bird of Minnesota is projected not to be able to be found in Minnesota.

I think that the sort of seeing these murals of birds in this urban environments, in a particularly urban sort of art form is something that gets people's attention.

And I hope they will sort of investigate and see, like, 'What is this? Why are these murals all here?'

And really learn about these threats to the birds that we are used to seeing around us, even in an urban environment.

I hope that it inspires people to think about that and to, and to kind of be inspired to do something about it - On 163rd we've one of my favorite murals, it's by the artist Cruz, he's a New York based artist and it's a painting of three tri-color herons.

In the mural, the polar ice caps have melted and sea levels are rising.

And the three herons are fighting for the last food, in this case, a snake.

There's so many things I'd love for people to take away from the murals and understanding of the threats that the environment faces, more neighborhood pride for uptown Manhattan, a sense that art is accessible.

- [Mark Jannot] I strongly encourage people to get up here because it's really an extraordinary experience.

(soft music) - Next on our program we'll meet Ayodele Casel, one of today's most dynamic tap dancers.

Born in The Bronx and raised in Puerto Rico, she fell in love with tap.

After watching films from the 1930s, starring Ginger Rogers.

Casel began taking tap lessons while studying acting at NYU and it wasn't long before she found herself in the spotlight.

Her mentor Gregory Hines described her as one of the top young tap dancers in the world.

In the 1990s, she became the only female member of Savion Glover's 'Not Your Ordinary Tappers', a supergroup of tap dancers.

In 2017, she received the Hoofer Award from the American Tap Dance Foundation.

Today, she continues to be a tireless advocate for tap.

(upbeat music) NYC Art spoke with her at The Original Tap House in The Bronx in 2018.

(shoes tapping) - Tap dancing for me is magic.

Technical definition of precursive American art form.

(shoes tapping) It's music and motion.

(shoes tapping) I would say that I am mostly concerned with being as musical and as expressive as I can be when I tap dance.

(shoes tapping) Who you are and like how you came, how you are here is what informs and influences the sound that you make, and the musical patterns that you make.

So I feel like you're like a conglomerate of all of the things you've experienced.

I started tap dancing when I was 19 years old.

And for me as a black Puerto Rican girl from The Bronx who idolized Ginger Rogers to know that this was an African American art form and that it had such a rich history and such a great legacy, it just, it really completely changed my life.

(upbeat music) I love Latin music.

I grew up listening to it.

I grew up in Puerto Rico for about six years.

(shoes tapping) (upbeat music) Latin music is something that I enjoy listening to.

I dance it socially, but I tap dance to it all the time.

I am a champion for tap dancing and I will speak about it everywhere I go and try to put my energy in all kinds of directions.

I'm performing with Arturo O'Farrill, a wonderful Latin jazz composer conductor.

I was collaborating on a few pieces there.

(upbeat music continues) You're a musician, you're pretty stationary, right?

You're a pianist, you sit at the piano.

We have the awesome ability to really be as musical and as melodic, but we get to move throughout space.

And that's actually one of the most fun things about being a tap dancer, is being able to cover space and create music while you're doing it.

People will say or have said that tap is a male dominated art form.

I believe now that that is shifting a bit.

I can tell you that most of my influences were men.

At a certain point in my career I started thinking, well, where are the women?

What it prompted in me was this need to search for them because there's so many of them.

I found out there was Lois Bright, Louis Madison and Jeni LeGon.

Then the Whitman Sisters, Cora LaRedd, Juanita Pits.

And then the list just grew.

Jeanine Tesori, wonderful composer and friend of mine had asked me to create a piece for the show called the Jamboree.

'While I Have the Floor' started out as a short piece but is now a full length show that includes tap dancing and acting.

(shoes tapping) It is about my journey to reclaiming expression and my identity, my communication, language and the art form.

We weren't allowed to do this.

Hollywood thought that being a chorus girl was more our speed and they thought that we lacked the strength to perform flashy steps.

As I started just drafting, I found myself speaking a lot about not just my experience being one of the few women in that circle of mostly men, but also again, I thought what a great opportunity to talk about these women.

And the brilliant Lois Bright who danced with the Miller Brothers but wasn't built with her last name, just, the Miller Brothers and Lois.

I wanted to write something that would serve as sort of my manifesto, because I was concerned that I would be just like the women that nobody knew about.

(crowd cheering) This space is The Original Tap House.

One of the reasons I created this space is because the tap dancers have been sort of edged out out of a lot of rehearsal spaces in Manhattan.

We also film operation tap out of here.

(shoes tapping) Operation tap is comprised of three folks, myself, my friend, Anthony Morigerato and my friend Mike Minery.

We're all tap dancers, we teach often internationally, nationally, and we found that in our travels, people really wanted to tap dance but they felt that they didn't have the resources around.

They didn't have the teachers at their at their dance studios or in many cases their tap programs were being cut out.

And so we thought, well, if we create something where all you need is the internet, and you can get on and you can learn combinations and you can learn technique exercises.

And we have a lot of engagement with young folks.

And I think that we've been really, really successful.

(shoes tapping) One of my missions in life is to reawaken the appreciation that people have already in them for tap dancing.

I feel like everybody loves it, even if they don't know about it, I feel like they love it.

And I want I want to make sure that people are open to it, that they that there's a space for it in every arena possible.

If I die and tap dancing is regarded as important as ballet is, you know, and as music is then I think it would have been really worth worth it.

(shoes tapping) - For more information on cultural events in our area, please sign up for our free weekly email at nyc-arts.org/email.

Top Five Picks will keep you up to date all year round and be sure to connect with NYC arts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

In the 1980s, the MTA was on the brink of collapse.

In order to revive the system, they founded the Arts for Transit Program.

As part of that initiative, Music Under New York was launched in 1985.

There are currently more than 350 musicians and groups on MUNY's roster who were given priority access to the best performance locations throughout the transit system.

While performances are now suspended due to the pandemic, we'd like to introduce you to one of the program's musicians.

Iain Forrest, known as Eyeglasses is a medical student at Mount Sinai.

A classically trained cellist, he has performed both for patients at the hospital and commuters in the subway.

His sound is instantly recognizable, thanks to his use of an electric cello and his own unique remixes of contemporary pop music.

We met up with Iain at one of his performances at Herald Square back in January.

(cello playing) - I started cello in fourth grade when our music teacher came around for car instruments.

So I picked up the cello and I played the first note which was a really low resonant note.

And I just love the sound of it, that bass note.

But after high school, me and a friend we actually went out to the streets of Washington DC and we started playing contemporary songs.

And I remember the reaction of people walking past on the streets.

It struck me like, 'Hey, this could be really something special here.'

After college, I moved up here to New York city area for medical school at Mount Sinai.

And one of the things that drew me to New York city was obviously the culture that we have with the arts.

And as soon as I came here, I saw street musician after street musician and I immediately thought, 'This could be my next home.'

That's when I looked up MUNY, Music Under New York, and I found that they had a whole audition process sent them an application, did the audition, and thankfully everything worked out and now I can call myself a street musician in New York city.

The reason why I chose Eyeglasses is because of two reasons.

So I wanted to be an ophthalmologist.

I want to help people see better, specifically kids who had lost their vision at a young age.

The second reason, which is a bit more lighthearted is that Beethoven, he wrote a piece called, 'Eyeglasses Duet'. When musicians sat down and read the sheet music in front of them, there were so many notes on it.

It was such a tricky, difficult piece to play that the only way musicians could read the music is if they wore really, really strong glasses.

So absolutely loved the story behind that.

I took inspiration from that.

So I played the electric cello and it's made by Yamaha.

And it's the exact same four strings as an acoustic cello.

The only difference is they stuck a little pickup inside the electric cello, so it can be amplified so it's louder.

What I love to do is also use a Looper.

So essentially what I do is I'll play a bass part, percussion part, a harmony part on the cello and then I can loop that segment over and over again.

So it essentially comes down to I'm playing nine or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

So it just opens up a lot of doors as to what I can do musically.

(cello playing) I've had people come down, they come off their subway they come up to me like, 'Where's the orchestra?'

And I'm like 'No, it's just, it's just me one electric cello.'

(cello playing continues) So, unfortunately there's not much sheet music out there for like nine cellos to play like pop songs or rock songs.

So yeah oftentimes I'll just hear a song on the radio or on Spotify.

And then once I've listened to it a couple of times, I kind of extrapolate it out and try to create, you know, a cello rendition of it.

(cello playing continues) Amongst all that kind of like chaotic energy with people you know, bustling and the crowds moving, I think the best part of that is just seeing how the music impacts these people who you know, are either have their headphones on, just watching their phone, trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

And then just seeing them being able to stop just enjoy the moment for what it is.

In medicine and music, you really have to connect with the human being sitting in front of you, helping to up with them with music, I find it actually makes me a better medical student and hopefully a better doctor down the road too.

(cello playing) (crowd claps) Thank you guys, thank you so much.

- I hope you've enjoyed our program this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thank you so much for watching.

Have a good night.

Next week on NYC arts, a behind the scenes visit with the Martha Graham Dance Company which carries on the innovative spirit of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

- Graham's work requires sort of the perfect marriage of the physical and the emotional.

Her movement is designed to reveal the inner landscape and really finding that balance between the physicality and the emotional journey without becoming melodramatic is the constant battle.

- [Paula Zahn] And a visit to the metropolitan museum of art for a look at painting and sculpture from its collection of post-war and contemporary art.

- The painting serves as a kind of inventory or catalog of painter strokes, some thick, some thin, some stable, some strong, others fluid, others weak.

(bright music) - [Man Speaking] Funding for NYC Arts is made possible by Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Lewis 'Sonny' Turner Fund for Dance, Jody and John Arnhold, Rosalind P Walter, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Charles and Valerie Diker, The Nancy Sidewater Foundation, Elroy and Terry Krumholtz Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation and Ellen and James S. Marcus.

This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York city department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the city council.

Additional funding provided by Members of 13.

NYC Arts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

- [Woman Speaking] First Republic Bank presents: First Things First.

At First Republic Bank, first refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors, the first step, recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree, be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

- [Man Speaking] And by Swann Auction Galleries.

- [Woman Speaking] Swann Auction Galleries, we have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine arts since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility, whether you're a lifelong collector, a first time buyer or looking to sell information at swanngalleries.com.