Schenectady

Hamilton Hill Arts Center’s first season of African Market winding down

Local artist Bianca DiLella holds her painting of Kalief Browder during the Oct. 3, 2021, African Market in the Hamilton Hill Arts Center’s sculpture park.
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Local artist Bianca DiLella holds her painting of Kalief Browder during the Oct. 3, 2021, African Market in the Hamilton Hill Arts Center’s sculpture park.

SCHENECTADY — As if samples of her “Lemony Lemon Zest Pound Cake” weren’t fruitful enough, Latyonia Lee squeezed fresh lemon atop samples she handed out during the Hamilton Hill Arts Center’s weekly African Market.

Lee, a master chef, owns L’s Simply Goodness baked goods on Eastern Parkway.

“It’s a great way to give back and support the neighborhood,” said Lee, who grew up in Hamilton Hill.

Lee sold snack bags that contained the lemon cake and a slice of almond banana bread and a “Chocolate Chip Ooey Gooey Brownie.”

The arts center has held the African Market every Sunday since July in the shadows of the well-attended weekly Schenectady Greenmarket downtown.

But its first season is winding down, ending later this month. 

Hamilton Hill Arts Center Executive Director Rachel Conn said vendors have been allowed to set up for free as the organization seeks to build interest in the market, which, in addition to Lee’s baked goods, has vendors selling incense and oils, beauty supplies, fresh vegetables, African cloth, artwork, and clothes and beads.

Conn said attendees are given free hot dogs and the organization collaborated with the Schenectady Greenmarket for free CDTA trolley rides to the African Market.

“It’s an economically depressed area,” Conn said, “so both having the opportunity to vend without purchasing a shop allows businesses time to grow and we have the consistency of them being here once a week.

“Also a lot of the items are relatively low cost so that the people in the neighborhood can have an opportunity to have access to things that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. And then also we’re trying to build community,” said Conn, who noted that some of the vendors have been exchanging their goods with one another each week.

The market is held in the arts center’s sculpture park that it is building, with the first sculpture to be unveiled next spring.

Another regular vendor, Bianca DiLella of “the Painting B” LLC displayed paintings of people she finds inspiring, such as Kalief Browder of the Bronx, who in 2010 at age 16 was jailed without a trail in Rikers Island for three years, including two years in solitary confinement, for allegedly stealing a backpack.

After his release, Browder sought change and reform within the criminal system prior to taking his own life in June 2015.

His death prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio to reform the jail and stop solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old inmates.

Meanwhile, DiLella, who has worked with children from the arts center on mural projects, said she’s been pleased to have made connections in the community during the African Market.

Another affiliate of the arts center, Fabayo Matlock of the Drinking Gourd Farm in Canajoharie, held up gourds she had for sale, explaining that families who celebrate Kwanzaa should have them on their table because they “represent the prosperity of that time.”

On Sunday, Matlock ran out of kale, but still had collard greens, yams, zucchini, acorn, several variations of squash, green peppers, eggplant and onions on display.

Matlock said she’s committed to organic principles — though not yet certified for organic produce — because “I want the people in the community to have access to basically organic produce for a price that’s more affordable. Sometimes it’s out of reach,” she said.

Matlock said her work with the arts center delves into healing historical trauma.

“One of those things, in dealing with that trauma, is how we interface with our food,” she said. “People don’t realize, in our community, how much that impacts them in the end, and really the palette has been designed to not be used to eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and those that are grown commercially, because they taste different.”

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