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COHORT 2023–24

The Shape of Cities to Come Institute’s (SCCI) inaugural cohort brings together organizers, activists, thinkers, cultural workers, writers, nerds and artists from across New York City's grassroots communities and movements to work collectively as peers on shaping our cities through the STUDY. PLAY. ACT program.

SCCI peers will exchange experiences and knowledge, collectively unpack urban processes, build capacity through narrative organizing, workshop issues and nurture relationships with other committed folks. This journey will culminate in projects in communities across the city that grow on the peers’ existing work and practices.

Antoinette Martinez, Genesis Aquino,
and Rodrigo Camarena

Antoinette Martinez is a dedicated community leader and grassroots organizer with a passion for fostering collaboration, elevating community voices and advancing equitable housing/land use initiatives. Born and raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Antoinette currently serves as Chair of the Housing Committee for Brooklyn Community Board 7, where she has helped to organize impactful town halls and workshops focused on legislative policies affecting working-class tenants.

Genesis Aquino is a fierce community organizer and human rights activist. Her work has been focused on healing from the intersections that impact her experience as a Black immigrant woman and visioning new possibilities by building power to secure racial, socio-economic justice for Black & brown low-income communities. Genesis is currently the Executive Director of Tenants & Neighbors, a grassroots member-led organization that yields tenant power to preserve at-risk affordable housing and strengthen tenants’ rights in New York. 

Rodrigo Camarena is currently the Director of Justicia Lab, a nonprofit legal tech initiative whose mission is to transform immigrant justice through collaboration, creativity, and technology. Prior to that, he led public initiatives to combat economic inequality for the City of New York and was the former Executive Director of Mixteca—an immigrant rights organization in Sunset Park.

Avi Garelick
and Paloma Lara

Avi Garelick is an upper Manhattan rabblerouser, lifelong learner, and experimenter with community building and ritual. Besides his ongoing attempts at creative collectivity, he has also published essays on urban politics and other topics which can be found, for example, in Jewish Currents, New York Review of Architecture, and Jacobin. He is the director of a Hebrew School for teenagers in Morningside Heights.

Born in the Dominican Republic, raised in the LES, and awakened through her community work Uptown, Paloma Lara is a board member of Northern Manhattan Community Land Trust, a former Met Council housing board member, lead organizer at Rent Justice Coalition, and a founding member of Uptown for Community Justice. Paloma is a thought provoking community organizer who unapologetically seeks truth and justice. She believes that at the forefront of critical mass movement are tenants. She is rooted in her love for black liberation and a revolution filled with music, art, and dance.

Canal Street
Research Association

Canal Street Research Association was founded in 2020 in an empty storefront on Canal Street, New York’s counterfeit epicenter. Delving into the cultural and material ecologies of the street and its long history as a site that probes the limits of ownership and authorship, the association repurposes underused real estate as spaces for gathering ephemeral histories, mapping local lore, and tracing the flows and fissures of capital. They have occupied storefronts, empty office buildings, a storage unit, and most recently a basement under Canal Street. The fictional office entity is operated by Shanzhai Lyric (Ming Lin and Alex Tatarsky), a poetic research and roving archival unit that take inspiration from 山寨 (shanzhai or counterfeit) goods to examine how bootlegs use mimicry, hybridity, and permutation to both revel in and reveal the artifice of global hierarchies. For this project they are joined by Lucas Tatarsky, an urban geographer and educator committed to better understanding the effects of gentrification in the Lower East Side. Lucas’s work seeks solutions based on principles of participatory planning, popular education and community organizing in order to restore power to the city’s most marginalized residents in the face of development and commercial real estate interests. 


Extended Peers/Project Advisors aim to enrich the program through fostering knowledge-sharing among peers.
They will learn alongside and engage with peers, especially throughout the STUDY phase, and will provide expertise, input, and feedback as they collaborate with peers on their respective capstone project development

Arpan Somani

Brooklyn-based partnerships and business development leader sitting at the intersection of social impact, creative media and technology. Arpan currently leads technology partnerships for the Obama Foundation and previously held similar roles at the learning platform, Codecademy, and streaming service, SoundCloud. Within his work in the technology industry, Arpan has had a particular focus on inclusive and accessible tech. He also sits on the advisory board of ShowUp, a platform aiming to center activism in the music industry and until recently, served as co-chair of the development board for Education Through Music, a nonprofit that increases access to music education in NYC public schools. In an effort to dive deeper into the inner workings of NYC, Arpan also hosts and produces Don’t Sleep New York, a short podcast exploring topics ranging from bail reform to climate resiliency to composting.

Cynthia Tobar

Cynthia Tobar is an artist, activist-scholar, filmmaker and oral historian passionate about creating participatory stories documenting social change. A first-generation Ecuadorian American born and raised in NYC, she strives to blend rigorous research with diverse artistic mediums to shed light on marginalized narratives and forgotten histories. She is the founder of Cities for People, Not for Profit, an oral history project documenting gentrification and displacement in Bushwick. Cynthia is Associate Professor/Head of Archives at Bronx Community College, where she creates socially-engaged art programming, community-based archiving/ storytelling projects and Visiting Associate Professor at Queens College where she teaches oral history. Learn more about her work at

Cheryl Rivera

Cheryl Rivera is an editor, writer, and organizer in Brooklyn, but she’s a Southerner forever at heart. She edits Lux, a magazine of socialist politics and culture, and is their local abolitionist and anti-work man around town. She is a founder of the Crown Heights CARE Collective, a hyper-local abolitionist group seeking black liberation and collective power through public forums, mutual aid, protest, direct action and crisis support. Previously she worked on the NYC Democratic Socialists of America’s Defund NYPD campaign, a COVID-19 mutual aid fund, and another abolitionist collective called Abolition Action. Cheryl is a 2023 Community Response Works fellow, a former Blue Ridge Labs fellow, and previously worked on preschool data and teacher development for the NYC Department of Education. She loves cities, walking, cows, and working on her mystery adventure text game.

Chinatown Art Brigade

Anna Ozbek is a multimedia journalist, filmmaker, activist, and educator. She is a member of the cultural organizing collective Chinatown Art Brigade and the artist-activist collective The Illuminator. Her work has appeared in CNN, NY1, National Geographic, Global Post, and Democracy Now!. She has an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and is an Assistant Professor of Visual Journalism at Purchase College.

Betty Yu is an award-winning socially engaged multimedia artist, photographer, filmmaker and activist born and raised in New York City to Chinese immigrant parents. Betty’s art emerges from collective struggle, and she places it in the service of building collective power. As a cultural worker, she remains deeply connected to grassroots organizing and has over twenty five years of community, media justice, and labor organizing experience. 

Tomie Arai is a public artist, born and raised in NYC. The stories of displaced and dislocated communities across the globe form the basis for her collaborations with historians, activists and cultural organizations. Through the framework of community-led collaborations, Arai uses public art, mixed media installations, and large-scale light projections as platforms to amplify issues of race, gender and social justice.

Maansi Shah

Maansi Shah is a tenant organizer with Chhaya CDC working primarily in Jamaica and Flushing, Queens. Their educational background is in urban studies and policy, with a focus on land and housing struggles in the United States and South Asia. They also organize with SALAM, a South Asian left organization. 

Quito Ziegler

Quito Ziegler is a Brooklyn-based artist, visionary organizer and professor with 25 years involvement in a variety of movements, queer/trans collectives, nonprofit boards, and other communities of humans. They teach at SVA and are active in efforts to protect the People’s Beach, a beloved queer beach in the Rockaways threatened by displacement. Recent years have included deeper engagement with indigenous women leaders across Abya Yala—the Ecuadorian Amazon in particular—who Quito supports in their global climate advocacy & movement building work. Their current collective, Dandelions NYC, organizes an annual gathering parallel to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to facilitate connections between local movements here and indigenous movements globally.

Rodrigo Brandão

Rodrigo Brandão is a filmmaker and Senior Director, Communications and Strategy at The Intercept. Previously, he oversaw media strategy for Kino Lorber’s feature film releases and established Cinema Slate, a label focused on Latin American cinema. In 2021, Brandão was the recipient of a New York City Arts Grant in support of a two-channel video installation designed as a reflection on queerness, immigration, and a speech President Theodore Roosevelt gave at Station Square in Forest Hills, on July 4, 1917. Also in 2021, he presented a paper inspired by Michel Franco's "New Order" (with Karen Sztajnberg) at "Fascist Imaginaries," a conference focused on psychoanalytical and politics in Berlin. He is currently producing and directing a short documentary focused on the LGBTQ nonprofit "Queers for Economic Justice." Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brandão earned degrees from Ithaca College in Cinema and Photography (B.S.) and Art History (B.A.).

Tania Mattos

Tania Mattos is an Aymara descendant, Bolivian-born, Queens, NY-based organizer, activist, and policy advocate with over 13 years of experience. She is a founding member of the Abolish ICE NY NJ Coalition which was started in 2018 to support ongoing organizing to end ICE detention in both states. Tania is also a founder member of Queens Neighborhoods United, a grassroots anti-gentrification collective that fights against gentrification, police abuse, and ICE in Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst, Queens. Tania’s extensive background includes working with the Plurinational State of Bolivia at the United Nations, focusing on environmental and indigenous issues. She has also served as the Legislative Coordinator for the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the first undocumented-led organization in New York State. During her time there, she worked on participatory defense campaigns that successfully halted the deportation of numerous undocumented youth in 2011. She was a DACA recipient from 2012 to 2019. Tania draws inspiration from her cultural heritage and Queens upbringing, fueling her unwavering commitment to organizing, fostering leadership, and striving for freedom within all impacted communities. 

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