BY FRANCO FINO
As the Belmont Stakes draws closer, Flushing Town Hall is laying the groundwork to display a traveling exhibition that will delve into the backstretches of New York State. Stable Viewers: Life in the Backstretch of the Thoroughbred Racetrack will commence on June 5th, a day ahead of the Belmont Stakes, along with a curator’s talk and reception at 7 p.m.
The exhibition will run June 6th through 28th on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m. at the Flushing Town Hall, located at 137-35 Northern Blvd. Admission to the opening night reception, preview, and curator’s talk with Ellen McHale is set at $5, but free for members and students.
The presentation will include 25 images and objects representative of the backstretch areas that depict the community found inward of the backstretch of thoroughbred racetracks.
A “backstretch” is an area of a racetrack beyond the bounds of the public, which does not have any betting areas. There are a plethora of stables and barns situated in the area where horses are tended to during the racing season, temporary housing for individuals who manage the horses, and a number of modest outbuildings where support services and businesses reside.
Within the world of the backstretch, many are united to achieve a common goal, which is to provide care and services for the racehorses. These individuals who dwell in the backstretch – which include trainers, assistants, exercise riders, and, jockeys – are heavily relied upon by wealthy owners and racing spectators who are focused on the horses.
“This occupational community on the boundaries of the public sphere of the racetrack creates its own identity through naming practices, speech, and the use of language,” curator Ellen McHale, executive director of the New York Folklore Society, said. “Occupiers of the backstretch frequently reference other family members and prior generations as their entrée into this world. This closed world is not readily accessible to public scrutiny.”
McHale, a native New Yorker, holds a PhD in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. She has dedicated her last 17 years to folklore, working as a consultant in upstate New York and western Massachusetts, and published a plethora of insightful articles about folklore.
McHale also contributed to New York Folklore Society’s publication, Working with Folk Materials in New York State.
The exhibition will portray much of what lies behind the scenes of the backstretch area, including the Belmont Park and Saratoga Springs racetracks.
For those interested in a family friendly workshop, Flushing Town Hall will also unveil Design Your Own Racing Silks on Sunday, June 7th. Participants will be provided with fabric paint for their t-shirt. The event is $12