Is Yes art? Councilman says no way

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By Tommy Hallissey

Alec Diacou's proposal to brand his home borough with a three-story high "installation" along the waterfront near the confluence of the Harlem and East rivers is getting Bronx cheers from his own elected officials.

Mr. Diacou, a Riverdalian, and his partner Dan Smith got positive feedback for their "Yes the Bronx" campaign when they launched it a year ago. But when they unveiled a rendering of its latest extension, Councilman Oliver Koppell gave it the same welcome a Yankee Stadium bleacher bum shows a Red Sox relief pitcher.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Diacou are convinced that giant red letters spelling out "Yes the Bronx" will be a prominent reminder of the way the borough has bounced back from its troubled recent past and Mr. Diacou takes offense at Mr. Koppell's charge that it's nothing more than a garish sign. "It's an installation; it's a sculpture; it's a piece of art," he said. "It's anything but a sign. It's supposed to be iconographic."

The installation will be hard to miss: it will be three stories tall and a block long in bright red. The cost is estimated to be between $2 and $3 million, depending on material used. The creators haven't decided yet if it will be double-faced, to be read from both the Bronx and Manhattan sides, but Mr. Smith is certain it needs to be visible at the top of the Triboro Bridge. A prototype is still in the works.

"It's going to have all the connotations and aesthetics of a great sculpture," said Mr. Smith, a branding expert.

But Mr. Koppell stands firm in his opposition to the sign based on his viewing of a rendering. "You want something to have elegance not just be an advertisement," he said.

He cited a topiary hedge in Great Barrington, Mass., which is clipped in the shape of the town's initials — GB. He called the hedge "refined" and "elegant." For the councilman the Yes the Bronx rendering conjured up images of the infamous Hollywood sign in California. "I don't know if Hollywood is the image we want to exude," he said, adding the Bronx rendering looked "brassy" and "bold."

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said the Bronx should be bigger in the sign and the Yes smaller. "What you see is Hollywood, you don't see Yes," said Mr. Dinowitz of the famous sign.

"The main point is they are trying to do something positive for the Bronx and that is a good thing," said the assemblyman.

Yes the Bronx is a campaign pushed by Mr. Diacou and Mr. Smith to turn the image of the borough upside down. "You can't say no to yes," said Mr. Smith. "Whatever shape it is in it can't be negative."

The pair hopes the campaign will be the antithesis of the Bronx is Burning of the 1970s. "The purpose of the Yes the Bronx campaign is to provide a unifying, iconic rallying point that will replace outmoded negative stereotypes with a universally understood positive image and message," reads the Yes the Bronx brochure.

Mr. Diacou wears a Yes the Bronx red button on his lapel everywhere he goes. He says it often sparks interesting 30-minute conversations in bars in Manhattan. People gawk; then they inquire. "It triggers conversation," he said.

But Mr. Diacou, a former investment banker, is working to make Yes the Bronx more than a conversation starter. He has recently applied for non-profit status for Yes the Bronx. The next step is meeting with Bronx delegations to raise money. So far at least one politician is saying no, at least to the "sign."

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