Stories of Impact
When Modesto ‘Flako’ Jimenez hosted a party to celebrate the launch of his debut poetry collection in 2012, his worlds collided for the first time: His longtime, Brooklyn-born friends from Bushwick were mingling with his college classmates, who were just moving into the area. As tensions around race and gentrification stirred, Jimenez knew that these “human connection problems” wouldn’t be fixed at any one party. But he was determined to address them through his art – the reason why they had all gathered together in the first place.
“It gave me [the idea for] the first festival, which was Oye Avant Garde,” Jimenez recalled. Artists, rappers, and actors from all walks of life – who wouldn’t necessarily give themselves those titles – showcased their talents in an eclectic, diverse collaborative space. Before long, one festival gave way to three more, and Jimenez realized that he was onto something. In 2013, the nonprofit Brooklyn Gypsy was formed, later renaming itself as ¡Oye! Group.
[Because of Brooklyn Org's support], we can actually start planting really good roots at each program and get more into relationship building. We can breathe.Modesto 'Flako' Jimenez, Founder & Artistic Director
Whether it’s teaching people the basics of theater directing and staging, or helping them roll out full-on productions like the historical and deeply personal cab theater play Taxilandia, ¡Oye! Group has cemented itself as a Brooklyn arts institution with community at its heart.
Its popular “Shake on the Block” workshop breaks down barriers to arts access. Hosted in Brooklyn public schools and upstate juvenile detention centers since 2015, these classes help young people interpret Shakespeare’s words and adapt them into modern English, slang, and even their own cultures. “I love letting people adapt [Shakespeare] for their cultures and then own it so much that they make it their own version,” Jimenez explained, who now has the title of Artistic Director at ¡Oye! Group.
Unlike many organizations who saw a loss in programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, ¡Oye! Group’s offerings grew: in addition to being on the frontlines of providing food and other supplies alongside the Abrons Arts Center and Bushwick Ayuda Mutual, ¡Oye! Group began to engage children in lockdown providing coloring books, iPad access, and hands-on crafts.
“That became a really nice place online for people to let the kids work and for the parents to have a moment of peace for themselves,” Jimenez recalled. The model of engaging young people also inspired ¡Oye! Group’s programming for older adults, featuring a coloring book called Mercedes’ Healing Room – inspired by Jimenez’s grandmother who suffered from dementia – and an opportunity for older adults to experience Mercedes’ house through museum-style walkthroughs.
These days, ¡Oye! Group is in another moment of growth – one that Jimenez says wouldn’t be possible without Brooklyn Org’s unrestricted, multi-year support. “We know that we got that [money] for three years. So we don’t need to go hunting for project-based funding,” Jimenez said. “We can actually start planting really good roots at each program and get more into relationship building. We can breathe.” Part of this infrastructure work is hiring ¡Oye! Group’s first-ever executive director and full-time educational instructors.
As ¡Oye! Group invests further in its longevity, Jimenez is determined to acquire a physical building for the organization: “My mission is to create a hybrid space, to have a building like BAM that has the love and community connection of [the nonprofit] El Puente in a well funded facility.”