Holly Block (1958–2017)

Holly Block. Photo: Peter Serling.

I MET HOLLY IN 2009 OR 2010. I was leaving the museum with a cup of wine from a public program that I was attending, and she was coming down the steps, saying, “Excuse me, excuse me.” I thought, “Oh my gosh”: I knew who she was, and I was like, “I’m going to get in trouble. I better drink this wine really quickly.” I didn’t want to seem alcohol-ish—that happened later. So I thought, Let me just play it cool.

She came down and said, “Who are you? You’re always here.”

I said, “Oh, I’ve lived right next door all my life. I just quit my job, nineteen years working with a New York City agency.”

She was like, “OK, OK, here’s my card, call me.” I thought she wanted to hear about me, so I went back every day to look for her. Her assistant back then was Lauren Click. I hounded Lauren every day: “Is she there? Is she there?”

So, finally, I got to meet with Holly, and she said to me: “So you’ve been living next door all your life?” I said, “yes,” and she said, “I want you to bring the community in the museum.” I said, “OK.” And she said, “Bye-bye.”

I left, and then I started getting calls from Lynn Pono, who worked for the museum. I would get a box of fliers, and she would say to me, “Go give out these fliers.” And I would say to her, “It’s forty-seven degrees.” And then I thought of Holly, so I shivered in the subways, and I g-g-g-gave out those cards, and I did it in blizzards, in the snow, in the rain, in the heat, in the humidity, until one day an employee came up to me and said, “Our attendance has gone up 44 percent.” And then Holly said, “Now we’re going to create a community advisory council.” Which I can still say goes strong today. Holly began to send me places because she couldn’t make it, and I would get paid to go to Carnegie Hall, to a concert. I would get paid to go to the Apollo, to Lincoln Center, to Ballet Hispánico. I used to brag to all my friends—I wouldn’t be a teacher for anything in the world right now, because I was getting my experience.

Holly took me to Albany with her this one time, and I thought I would be nice and get a big hoagie sandwich for the two of us and split it, so I ripped the sandwich apart in Albany. I said, “Here’s your half.” She was like, “What is that?” I said, “It’s salami, turkey, provolone.” She said, “I am NOT eating that.” So she watched me just devour it, and she just said, “You cannot eat like that.”

There were some times at the museum I would come up with an idea, and I would be told, “It’s not in the mission of where we’re going.” And I would get upset, and I would go to Holly, and Holly would say, “Just do it—just do it.” And the person who told me no would come back to me and say, “You didn’t have to go to Holly.”

“Yes, I did, because you told me no.”

Because of Holly, I got to go to all of these different places.
So I said to her, “You need to film everything that’s happening at the museum.” You know what she told me? “Go get a television show.” So I did, I’m on my third show right now. And it’s called UPTOWN NYC, and I’m plugging it, because Holly always told me, “Do what you gotta do now, you know, plug yourself, do what you have to do.” I remember I said to Holly (and I’m fifty-one), “You’re right behind my mother in the women I admire.” And I don’t know if she understood, because when I told her that, she was like, “I’m only fifty-five.”

And you know, it’s just—thank you.

The founder and a member of the Bronx Museum of the Arts Community Advisory Council, Miriam D. Tabb is also the television host of UPTOWN NYC, which will be airing on public-access television in New York City in 2018.