VERA LIST CENTER FOR ART AND POLITICS AT THE NEW SCHOOL PRESENTS ballast flora gardens at sites across new york city

Three gardens at the High Line, Pioneer Works, and Weeksville Heritage Centerthat are a part of Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York—A Botany of Colonization exhibition

Gardens explore colonialism, slavery, and global commerce through the lens of displaced plants in ballast — the waste material historically used to balance ships in maritime trade

A culminating conversation with Alves will be held at Weeksville Heritage Center June 23

High Line at 12 Ave & 32 St, April 19, 2018-March 2019
Pioneer Works, 159 Pioneer St, Brooklyn, May 12– October, 2018
Weeksville Heritage Center 158 Buffalo Ave, Brooklyn, May 12– October, 2018

Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York — A Botany of Colonization; installation view Vera List Center/Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, The New School, November 2017; photo: David Sundberg, courtesy of Vera List Center for Art and Politics / The High Line. 

NEW YORK, NY, APRIL 18, 2018 — The High Line, Pioneer Works and Weeksville Heritage Center come together for A Ballast Flora Garden, a project exploring colonialism, slavery, and global commerce through the lens of displaced plants in ballast, the waste material historically used to balance ships in maritime trade.

The High Line, Pioneer Works, and Weeksville Heritage Center will each launch one of Berlin-based, Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves’s A Ballast Flora Garden, exploring the distinct and fraught histories of colonial trade and forced migration and their repercussions in today’s flora.

The presentations grew out of the exhibition Maria Thereza Alves, Seeds of Change: New York—A Botany of Colonization, developed by the Vera List for Art and Politics at The New School this past November in honor Alves, the recipient of the Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics 2016-2018.

Collected at one port at the start of a voyage and transported to another between shipments, ballast often carried seeds that resulted in the introduction of non-native plant species to coastal cities around the globe. Remarkably, ballast seeds can remain dormant in the soil for hundreds of years before germinating and growing. Alves identifies such seeds and traces the displacement of lands and people by the transatlantic slave trades through local flora.

Each of the three partner sites provides a unique context for exploring this history, which is embedded in the land of New York City and its estuaries and port areas. Historically, the elevated railway of the High Line received and became a catalog of numerous seeds arriving in New York from the West on the underside of freight trains. Pioneer Works became an index of such botanical history, as it is a site built entirely on ballast dumped by ships travelling through the Erie Basin. The gardens at Weeksville Heritage Center are also connected to maritime trade: as the second largest independent African-American community in pre-Civil War America, Weeksville was founded in 1838 by James Weeks, a stevedore who worked on the Brooklyn docks, along with a group of African American investors and landholders.

Alves will join us for a public conversation and celebration on June 23 at Weeksville that will consider the relationship between the network of sites and their vibrant mosaic of events that animate the spring and summer months. Each organization curates their own series of related programs that introduce and support alternative ways of understanding the land we live on through the stories plants tell us. The gardens and programs lay out tools and stakes for visitors as active listeners and activators to take up, inviting participation and engagement with the artist’s work, colonial history and present, and the city. The community-driven programs include elementary school curricula offered by Weeksville Heritage Center in April and May; a Lunchtime Reading Series organized by High Line over the course of the spring, summer and fall; and Red Hook Ecology Roundtables at Pioneer Works in June and July.

For details and up-to-date information, please refer to the calendar of events, openings and programs at each site, listed below, and at


A Ballast Flora Garden: High Line
On the High Line at the Western Rail Yards, at 12th Avenue and 32nd Street
April 19, 2018 – March 2019
Part of Agora

Lunchtime Reading Sessions
On the High Line at the Tiffany Overlook at Gansevoort St
May 23, 2018, 12:30 – 2:00 pm
July 25 12:30 – 2:00 pm
September 19 12:30 – 2:00 pm
The High Line hosts a series of three brown-bag lunchtime reading sessions, the texts for which are each inspired by Maria Thereza Alves’s project. The readings for each session are selected and presented by Friends of the High Line staff from different departments, including Horticulture, Education, and the High Line Network.

Ballast Flora Garden: Pioneer Works 
159 Pioneer St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
May 12, 2018 – Fall 2018 

Second Sundays Family Program
Drop-in family workshops engaging with the Ballast Flora Garden
May 13  4:00 – 7:00pm
June 10 4:00 – 7:00pm

Red Hook Ecology Walks
Summer - Fall 2018

Red Hook Ecology Roundtable 
June, July and August 2018 

​For more information and to register, please visit ​

A Ballast Flora Garden: Weeksville Heritage Center
158 Buffalo Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11213
May 12, 2018 – October, 2018

Weeksville Heritage Center’s 50th Anniversary and Exhibition Opening Event 
May 12, 2018 

Weeksville's Ballast Flora Student Workshop
April 3 – May 29, 2018 2:00-4:00pm on Tuesdays 
Age group 8-12
Curriculum outline: Plant Science; Hands-on Art Making; Experiments; Weeksville's History and Ballast Flora; Ecology of Red Hook; and Gentrification, Race, Politics.

High Line, Pioneer Works, Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Weeksville Heritage Center with Maria Thereza Alves
June 23, 2018
Weeksville Heritage Center158 Buffalo Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11213


Maria Thereza Alves (1961, Brazil, lives in Germany) is an artist. Alves was co-founder of the Partido Verde of São Paulo, Brazil in 1987 and in 1981 served as representative to the U.S. for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party) of Brazil. In 1979, as a member of the International Indian Treaty Council, based in New York, she made an official presentation on the human rights abuses of the indigenous population of Brazil at the U.N. Human Rights Conference in Geneva. In 2012, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Union, asked Alves to be part of his special committee to formulate a New Narrative for Europe. Alves’ art work has been seen in many international exhibitions and biennials, among them the 29th São Paulo Biennale (2016, 2010), the Moscow Biennale (2015), the Berlin Biennial (2014), and dOCUMENTA13 (2012), and the Sharjah Art Biennial 13.

The Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics is a scholarly research center and public forum for art, culture, and politics. It was established at The New School in 1992—a time of rousing debates about freedom of speech, identity politics, and society's investment in the arts. A pioneer in the field, the Center is a nonprofit that serves a critical mission: to foster a vibrant and diverse community of artists, scholars, and policy makers who take creative, intellectual, and political risks to bring about positive change. 

Founded in 1919, The New School was born out of principles of academic freedom, tolerance, and experimentation. Committed to social engagement, The New School today remains in the vanguard of innovation in higher education, with more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students challenging the status quo in design and the social sciences, liberal arts, management, the arts, and media. The New School welcomes thousands of adult learners annually for continuing education courses and calendar of lectures, screenings, readings, and concerts. Through its online learning portals, research institutes, and international partnerships, The New School maintains a global presence.

Presented by Friends of the High Line, High Line Art commissions and produces public art projects on and around the High Line. Founded in 2009, High Line Art presents a wide array of artwork including site-specific commissions, exhibitions, performances, video programs, and a series of billboard interventions. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art, and produced by Friends of the High Line, High Line Art invites artists to think of creative ways to engage with the uniqueness of the architecture, history, and design of the High Line and to foster a productive dialogue with the surrounding neighborhood and urban landscape.

Pioneer Works is a cultural center dedicated to experimentation, education and production across disciplines. Through a broad range of educational programs, performances, residencies and exhibitions, Pioneer Works transcends disciplinary boundaries to foster a community where alternative modes of thought are activated and supported. We strive to make culture accessible to all.

Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC) is a 21st century arts & cultural institution with a 180-year history. Its mission is “to document, preserve and interpret the history of free African American communities in Weeksville, presently Crown Heights, Brooklyn and beyond, and to create and inspire innovative, contemporary uses of African American history through education, the arts, and civic engagement.” Historic Weeksville was part of a larger movement of free African American communities that existed from around 1838 through the 1930s. A deeply engaged community, Weeksville residents sustained one of the first African American newspapers, advocated for abolition, and provided safe haven during the violent draft riots of the Civil War era. All but forgotten, in the late 1960s a small group of community activists rediscovered the remaining Historic Hunterfly Road Houses that have since been restored and designated as New York City landmarks since 1970, and in 1972 were listed in the National Register of Historic Places with Local and National significance. In 2018, WHC celebrates the 50th anniversary of the rediscovery of the Houses and the organization is focusing on the “rediscovery” of this historic site.


79 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003


Media Contacts:

Scott Gargan,
The New School
212-229-5667 x 3794
[email protected]

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