2021 Press Coverage

Freedom Square Installation Bringing Community Together

By Erika Leigh Troy

The Emerging From Darkness Art Installation has been in Freedom Square in Troy since Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, but many members of the community are just starting to learn about it.

“I do a lot of baking and we’re not going to parties or anything right now, so this is a way to kind of indulge in the craft but do good at the same time,” said Chris Severance of Watervliet.

“So we decided to start putting food in there,” said Mia Nilo of Watervliet.

Severance and Nilo say when they first saw the installation had free food boxes, they wanted to get involved.

“During this time helping out your neighbors, being a resource for your neighbors has been the most rewarding thing and the thing that you’re really starting to pay attention to and appreciate,” Nilo said.

So a few weeks ago they went into action, baking and delivering different treats and they’re not just for people facing food insecurity.

“Even the distribution boxes will hit all of the nutrition but it leaves out a treat which is the kind of thing that makes life worth living,” Nilo said. “[It’s] the thing people look forward to. So what it doesn’t have any nutritional value? It’s the thing you remember at the end of a meal, so we want to make sure those are in there and available for people, regardless of need.”

On this week’s menu? “Sweet cornbread, knishes; I have a pack of frozen waffles and the applesauce cakes,” Nilo said.

Nilo and Severance package up all the goodies with ingredient labels. Milo said a lot of their friends have food allergies or intolerances, so they’re used to baking carefully.

“I’ve done vegan, I’ve done gluten-free, so it doesn’t intimidate me,” Severance said.

Then it’s time for the money shot. A perfect photo is what Nilo needs to post on social media. She regularly posts about what they’ve made in multiple garage sale groups and other local groups on Facebook.

“You eat with your eyes first,” she said.

Then, it’s time to drop off. The pair pack up Nilo’s truck and head to Freedom Square. While they’re filling the food boxes, a passer-by stops.

“What are you guys doing?” he asked.

“We’re filling the free food box,” Nilo said.

“Is that what this is?” he said.

“Yeah!” Nilo said.

The altar and installation in Freedom Square are sponsored by a number of community groups, but was organized initially by the Sanctuary for Independent Media.

Nancy Weber, an environmental artist, says the weather hindered the launch a few times.

“In November, I first had this vision of a community altar where people could express their grief for this year of unprecedented losses,” Weber said.

“It’s not just about grieving, it’s also about resilience,” said Aileen Javier, of Media Sanctuary.

In the spring, they hope to create a permanent memorial in Freedom Square for the community. Javier says it’s important to have a space to come together as a community when people can’t be together right now.

“Coming here you can say, ‘OK, other people are experiencing the same thing and we will survive together,’ ” Javier said.

“The best thing about these is, I think that the altar is meant to be a space for people to grieve, and I think the free food boxes and the treats inside are a reprieve,” Nilo said.

Nilo and Severance say they usually drop off their goodies each Sunday around 1 p.m., but you can look for their posts with details and drop times in the Troy Garage Sale group on Facebook. Nilo says she hears from people who stop by, and the treats are typically gone by the end of the day on Monday.

The space is open to anyone in the community throughout the week, to stop by and enjoy what’s left in the food boxes, to grieve, to add to the altar and more. There are often free books and art supplies at the installation as well.

For more information about the installation or to find out how you can get involved, visit

2021 Press Coverage

Vigils mark grim Covid milestone


Dan Levy
Updated: January 19, 2021 11:39 PM
Created: January 19, 2021 11:34 PM

TROY – At Freedom Circle in North Central Troy, there was an alter built by youth in the community to shine a light, not just on the loss of 400,000 lives from Covid-19, but also for those who have died as a result of gun violence, or other social injustices.

“This community is mainly composed of low income and people of color and so this is the community, as are other communities in the Capital Region, who are most impacted by this pandemic,” said Branda Miller, Professor of Media Arts at RPI, and advisor to the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy.

The belief in the Collar City is that at this moment in time, if people could show compassion, if they could feel what it’s like to be in a community that is suffering loss, maybe that sentiment can become the impetus for healing the nation.

“Until you lost somebody, maybe you don’t have that compassion,” Miller suggests, “Until you hear somebody’s story, maybe you don’t understand, but we need to come together as a human family.”

“The only way to really make a difference is to show people and to have people learn about what’s going on around them,” said Shansanique Pollack, a 15-year old community volunteer who helped to build the Freedom Square alter.

On the streets of Troy that encircle Freedom Square, 14-year old Genesis Cooper says gun violence is more concerning to her than the threat posed by Covid-19.

“Where ever you live you should feel safe,” she asserts, “I shouldn’t walk down the street thinking I’m going to get shot by a cop or someone who has a gun that they shouldn’t have.”

Gabby Espada, 14, another community volunteer, says her goal is to bring awareness to as many people as she can.

“Having your voice heard, especially when you’re so young is very important,” Espada states, “So that way I could impact people of my age and around my age and around my school to do the same.”

Meanwhile, outside Niskayuna Town Hall, several dozen gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor the lives of people who were living in their community at the beginning of 2020, but who no longer live there because of Covid-19.

“It’s amazing to think about it really that today is the first time we’ve ever as a nation acknowledged the loss (of 400,000 Covid) lives, the loss of our economy, and to come together. I think it really says a lot about what we expect from this new president.”

Creators of the Troy alter are hoping people stop by on their own time to reflect on the loss of life of so many of their neighbors and friends.