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New York: Friday, April 12, 2024
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Owen MacDonnell standing beside his portrait, painted by Brooklyn artist Rusty Zimmerman, at a street-level gallery in Industry City

POLITICS: Hurray for Rusty Zimmerman as he makes NYC a warmer, weirder place

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The cure for modern urban anomie isn’t sterile, state-mandated wellness initiatives, CBD gummies or spending your time on TikTok and Instagram — it’s basic human connection powered by creativity and courage.

Just look at Brooklyn artist Rusty Zimmerman’s portraiture of his borough.

Zimmerman, after moving from Crown Heights to Kensington, made it his mission both to record the faces of his fellow Brooklynites and to foster a sense of real community while doing so. 


Owen MacDonnell of Sunset Park smiles next to his portrait. Rusty Zimmerman

Sounds old-fashioned — but it’s exactly the thing this city (and every other city, and America as a whole) needs more of. 

His method?

Trawl the borough for willing subjects by any means necessary, putting up flyers on bike rides and eventually building a waitlist of 650 eager would-be participants. 

Every painting session began with a conversational “How are you?”

With public exhibitions that his models attended, Zimmerman helped introduce his art to the wider world and the subjects to each other and their neighbors. 

In a city still recovering from the enforced loneliness of the COVID regime, amid an era when many focus more on digital life than the real thing, Zimmerman’s project might seem quixotic. 


A Brooklyn artist in her sun-soaked studio, creating an oil painting of a local resident seated in a red upholstered chair.
Over the past year, 202 Brooklynites have sipped coffee, slouched and sometimes snoozed in the red, upholstered chair that now sits perched on a wooden pedestal inside a street-level gallery at Building 8 of Industry City.
Rusty Zimmerman

But the public’s response proves it’s anything but. 

He’s been doing this work since 2015, immortalizing everyone from a cult-fave Coney Island MC to an MTA driver with dreams of making it big as a handbag designer — and showing that the Big Apple (for all our recent turbulence) is still a vital, exciting city filled with endless human diversity and passion. 

So listen up, New Yorkers (especially younger ones): Put your phone down. Go out and actually do something. 

You live in the most exciting city in the world. 

And every Gothamite should be deeply grateful for the magnificent oddballs like Zimmerman and his subjects who make it that way. 



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