Archive for the ‘SoHo Institutions’ Category

Welcome to Year Six: The SoHo Memory Project in 2016

January 2, 2016
The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society is ready to roll!

The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society is ready to roll!

On January 1, 2011, I started writing this blog without a clue about where it would lead. I began almost grudgingly, thinking that someone ought to be preserving SoHo’s important and endlessly interesting history, but not me. Five years later, I am very happy that I took the plunge, as this project has only reinforced my conviction that preservation in all of its forms is not only important, but essential to how we situate ourselves in the present and how we envision our future.

2015 was a very busy year for The SoHo Memory Project. After a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign and a fabulous article by Kyle Spencer in The New York Times, my project expanded in leaps and bounds, keeping me busy with exciting new developments. Here’s an overview of what’s to come and nja recap of highlights from the past few months.

Many thanks to all of you for your continued support in input!


LOOKNG FORWARD

The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society

A visitor watches a film at the SMP Portable Historical Society

A visitor watches a film at the SMP Portable Historical Society

It’s finally finished and ready to hit the streets! Thanks to a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, The SoHo Memory Project Portable Historical Society will be popping up at SoHo Arts Network (SAN) member organizations throughout 2016 beginning with four dates at Judd Foundation in January and February. The Judd sessions require a reservation, and we are currently fully booked, but the mobile museum will be at The Drawing Center two weekends in February and March, open to all:

Saturday, February 20, 12-4pm
Sunday, February 21, 12-4 pm

Saturday, March 5, 12-4pm
Sunday, March 6, 12-4pm

For a full schedule of events, please click here. I hope to see you at one (or more) of these sites in 2016! (more…)

Is there art in SoHo?

October 3, 2015
Walter De Maria, The Broken Kilometer, 1979. Long-term installation, 393 West Broadway, New York City. Photo: Jon Abbott

Walter De Maria, The Broken Kilometer, 1979. Long-term installation,
393 West Broadway, New York City. Photo: Jon Abbott

Many people lament the fact that SoHo is no longer a cultural destination, that it has lost its creative soul. I beg to differ. SoHo may no longer be the center of New York’s art and gallery scene, but there is still a vibrant creative community here, though it is sometimes obscured by the more visible retail establishments. This is evidenced by the recent formation of three organizations in SoHo that work to highlight SoHo’s continuing connection to the world of art and design. The SoHo Arts Network, SoHo Strut, and the SoHo Design District have a diverse array of programming that highlight cultural sites and resources throughout our neighborhood that might otherwise be overlooked.

SANThe SoHo Arts Network (SAN) is a new partnership launched in March 2015 with a mission to support SoHo’s creative history and growing artistic community. Did you hear that? Yes, growing! According to the SAN press release:

Created in part in response to the misperception that SoHo has lost its arts community, the network provides an important platform to increase awareness of the neighborhood’s continued importance as an arts district, especially for non-profit organizations. … In addition, the network seeks to further ignite the growth of the arts in the neighborhood through public programs and events exploring SoHo’s rich cultural history. Future events being planned by the group include walking tours of SoHo’s artistic past and present, and a series of talks on SoHo in the 1970s.

The founding members of SAN include: Apex Art, Art in General, Artists Space, Center for Architecture: AIA New York Chapter, Center for Italian Modern Art, Dia Art Foundation, The Drawing Center, The Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation, HarvestWorks, Judd Foundation (101 Spring Street), Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Recess, Soho Photo Gallery, Storefront for Art and Architecture, and Swiss Institute. Click here for a map showing the locations of all member organizations.

Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art at 46 Wooster Street NYC

Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art at 46 Wooster Street NYC

SAN introduces us to relative newcomers to SoHo’s arts scene, such as The Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA, pronounced cheemaa), a nonprofit organization established in 2013 to promote public appreciation and advance the study of modern and contemporary Italian. SAN also reminds us that we are home to many long-established arts organizations, such as the Dia Art Foundation, The Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and The Drawing Center among many others. When was the last time you visited the Earth Room or The Broken Kilometer? So close to my house, yet I have not been in years! (more…)

Yes, The SoHo Historical Society!

May 1, 2015

So here it is—my big plan. Drumroll please….. I plan to design and build a portable historical society that can navigate the bustling urban environment of today’s SoHo while showing a glimpse of its past. and today I am kickstarting a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform for creative projects. Kickstarter-Logo- (more…)

Archivism as Activism: The Preservation of SoHo

August 1, 2014
 SoHo Newsletter

SoHo Newsletter

Keeping Watch, last month’s post on The SoHo Alliance and their mission to maintain, in the words of director Sean Sweeney, “controlled and appropriate development – a balance between residential and retail, seeking a quality-of-life that benefits everyone who visits, lives or works in SoHo” was inspired by another, equally laudable organization, The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), that is, according to its mission statement, “a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community.”  In fact, GVSHP advocates on behalf of not only Greenwich Village proper, but the East Village and NoHo as well.  The work of these two organizations thus helps ensure that our historic roots are preserved and that the residents of these communities are protected.

The Village Voice - April 9, 1964 issue about artists rallying for loft rights, back when you had to pay (10 cents!) for the paper.

The Village Voice – April 9, 1964 issue about artists rallying for loft rights, back when you had to pay (10 cents!) for the paper.

This past June I attended an event hosted by GVSHP, where host and long-time Village resident Calvin Trillin presented its annual Village Awards to local individuals and businesses that had contributed in some way to the preservation of Greenwich Village and its environs.  Among the award recipients were LaMaMa in the East Village, Unopressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books on Carmine Street, and Kathy Donaldson, an activist who has spent the last forty years working to preserve the heritage of her neighborhood.  Board members also reviewed GVSHP’s work during 2013-2014 to protect architectural heritage and cultural history.

I found this event inspiring for a number of reasons.  I was impressed by the awardees’ passionate dedication to the GVSHP’s mission and with the breadth and depth of GVSHP’s reach in its communities.  But most of all, I was inspired to find a way that I could do something to help preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of SoHo. (more…)

Keeping Watch: The SoHo Alliance and the Preservation of SoHo

July 1, 2014
An architect’s rendering of proposed plans for new facilities.Photo: AP Photo/New York University (via NY Post)

NYU 2031–An architect’s rendering of proposed plans for new facilities.Photo: AP Photo/New York University (via NY Post) The SoHo Alliance and other community groups lobbied against NYU’s expansion plan.

In a recent email regarding community opposition to NYU’s 2031 plan, Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo Alliance, announced:

In a stunning victory for our community, a State Supreme Court justice ruled that the City acted illegally in giving away parkland on Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place to NYU to be used as a construction staging-area for the university’s planned 20-year expansion program.  NYU had planned to squeeze 1.9 million square feet of high-rise buildings into the two super-blocks above Houston Street. (Read more about the plan here.)

Sean Sweeney on the cover of SoHo Life magazine

Sean Sweeney on the cover of SoHo Life magazine

The SoHo Alliance, with the tireless and fearless Sweeney at its helm, was instrumental in this victory. As a matter of fact, Sweeney and his associates who form the all-volunteer SoHo Alliance have been working for decades to preserve SoHo’s quality of life by actively monitoring proposed development and opposing developers who attempt to overreach the boundaries of regulatory laws.

In a profile of Sweeney in the now-defunct SoHo Life magazine, he states, “The SoHo Alliance strives for controlled and appropriate development – a balance between residential and retail, seeking a quality-of-life that benefits everyone who visits, lives or works in SoHo.” Without the SoHo Alliance, our neighborhood, believe it or not, would most certainly be far more commercially developed than it is today, with bars and nightclubs on every corner late-night revelers disturbing our peace at every hour.

Alliance members serve in key leadership positions on Community Board #2, providing our neighborhood a direct voice in City government. A few of their many accomplishments this past year (click here to see more) include: (more…)

Reading SoHo: Recent Books

February 1, 2014
Babette Mangolte, Roof Piece (Trisha Brown), 1973, photograph of Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece performed from 53 Wooster to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City, 1973. Courtesy Babette Mangolte via Flavorwire.com

Babette Mangolte, Roof Piece (Trisha Brown), 1973, photograph of Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece performed from 53 Wooster to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City, 1973. Courtesy Babette Mangolte via Flavorwire.com.  From Art on the Block by Ann Fensterstock.

I wanted to conjure New York as an environment of energies, sounds, sensations. Not as a backdrop, a place that could resolve into history and sociology and urbanism, but rather as an entity that could not be reduced because it had become a character, in the manner that a fully complex character in fiction isn’t reducible to cause, reasons, event.

—Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers,
in The Paris Review

While recently re-revisiting my SoHo book idea that seems forever stuck in Neverland, I was thinking about books of note have recently been written about SoHo.  There is, of course, Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of Soho (2010) by Roslyn Bernstein and Shael Shapiro, a history of the evolution of SoHo as told through the history of 80 Wooster Street and the people who lived there, as well as Soho: The Rise and Fall of an Artists’ Colony (2003) by Richard Kostelanetz, which is soon to be out in a revised edition, among other excellent books that have come out over the years (see list below).

There are two brand spankin’ new books, however, published within the last year, that merit particular attention in case they’ve been overlooked by my fellow SoHo memoriticians.  The first is Ann Fensterstock’s Art on the Block: Tracking the New York Art World from Soho to the Bowery, Bushwick and Beyond that follows the evolution of New York’s arts hubs over the past fifty years.  There is also the novel The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, about a young artist who moves to New York from Nevada and then finds her way to Italy where she becomes involved in a radical movement.  Although neither of these books focus solely on SoHo, the sections that do are quite compelling and each do their part in shaping our collective memory of SoHo in the 1970’s. (more…)

All the News That’s Fit to Print, SoHo Style

February 9, 2013

SWN headThe other day, I was given a treasure trove of SoHo memory in the form of two boxes full of issues of The SoHo Weekly News from 1974 and 1975 (thanks, J and C!).  I remember seeing the paper lying around the house and probably used it for more than one paper mache project, but I cannot say that I was a regular reader.  I’m sure you older folk read it religiously for local news and listings, in the way that I read the Village Voice in the mid-1980’s when I was a young, single person looking for culture, high and low.

According to the SoHo Weekly News Online, “From October 1973 until March 1982 the SoHo Weekly News was New York City’s hippest paper and guide to what was happening in Fun City.”  (more…)

Ephemeral SoHo

January 26, 2013
Crosby Street, 1969

Crosby Street, 1969

This May, I will be traveling in Japan with my family, and while I am there, I will be having a SoHo Memory Project exhibition at my father’s gallery in his hometown of Okazaki.  I will display of photos and artifacts related to this blog and the story it tells about the SoHo experience as lived by its pioneers.  I think that the people of Okazaki, so far removed from The United States, New York, and certainly SoHo, will find the story of what my mom and dad, who disappeared 45 years ago only to reappear this year and build a house right back where they started, fascinating, if not incredible.  I will be putting together a catalog for the show that I will share with you, and I will most certainly be posting observations from the gallery in May.

The show will feature an essay by my mother about her memory of the early SoHo days that I translated and posted here a while back, and I will display related photographs printed on several media including paper, canvas, metal and wood.  I would also like to include pieces of ephemera, such as newspapers, letters, flyers.  Basically, anything that would materially illustrate what life was like back then.  I’ve posted images of some of the items I have gathered below. (more…)

Peanut Butter and Matchsticks

September 8, 2012

West Broadway between Prince & Broome Streets, 1986 (source: wikipedia)

On January 20, 1971, the City Planning Commission voted 4 to 0 to recommend to the Board of Estimate that artists be permitted to reside in the manufacturing buildings of SoHo.  On January 28, the Board of Estimate made that recommendation law.  This law was ultimately passed due to the SoHo Artists’ Association’s two-year battle with the city for the legalization of loft living in SoHo and set a precedent for how other neighborhoods and cities would approach adaptive reuse of non-residential urban areas.  Then, on January 29, the question on everyone’s mind was, what is an artist?  What are the criteria to qualify as an artist?  Who will decide who is an artist and who is not?  Parameters had to be drawn around an amorphous, murky area that defied confinement.

Because the law was meant to keep fine artists in affordable spaces in SoHo and to keep others, including commercial artists who could afford market rents, out, the definition of an artist for loft law purposes had to take this into account.  First of all, unlike in the art world in general, artist certification in SoHo was not based on the quality of work, but on commitment to work, on the seriousness and duration of one’s involvement, no matter what medium.  Certification was also determined by a need for space.  According to the February 10, 1971 SoHo Newsletter, one’s status as an artist was to be determined by the following:

  1. A description of the artist’s work.
  2. A description of the artist’s need for space.
  3. A biographical sketch including data the artist feels is pertinent; education, professional training, public exhibitions or performances, reviews, or grants.
  4. Other data.  If the artist does not feel properly represented by 1, 2, or 3, above, he can: a) present documentation of his work n the form of slides, photographs or other data which will back up his commitment and space needs—but not his aesthetics, or b) ask a few members of the Committee to visit his studio or working space to discuss his situation.
  5. The names of two people who are familiar with the artist’s work and who can testify to his commitment and his need for loft space.

The Criteria Committee that judged applications consisted of 20 people, 10 artists and 10 non-artists who have been active in an arts-related organization.   The non-artists were included to prevent decisions biased toward aesthetic considerations.  There was also an appeals committee, a de-certification procedure to “defrock” applicants who were wrongly certified, and a re-certification process, where artists needed to renew their status, as attrition in their line of work was (and still is) quite high.

These criteria were carefully developed to ensure that SoHo lofts were reserved for committed artists, including those whose work was not well-known, well-liked, or well-bought.  As the film and theater director Joellen Johnson, who was very active in drawing up the guidelines for artists, stated, “If you work big in peanut butter and matchsticks, you’ll be ok.”

No system, no matter how well-intentioned, is perfect, however. My friend, a SoHo resident since 1977 and lifelong composer and musician in multiple musical genres, applied for certification when the Loft Law was passed.   In the first go-around, his application was rejected because being a rock and roll musician was considered the equivalent of being a commercial graphic artist and rock music was not considered a fine art for the purposes of the application.  So my friend resubmitted his application, this time removing all references to his gigs in rock clubs, and asked a couple of established musicians to write letters on his behalf.  He played up the fact that he composed music for dancers and played jazz, which was considered a fine art.  And, lo and behold, he was accepted and has lived in the same loft for 35 years now.

Until the Loft Law was made permanent two years ago, however, my friend, like many others in his situation, was living in a kind of limbo  because there was a chance that, once expired, the Loft Law might not be renewed.   As a result, he and other long-time SoHo residents living under the Law never felt that they could invest much into their lofts because they could possibly lose them at any time.  Once the law was made permanent, they were able to breathe a sign of relief and finally begin settling in (after 33 years!).

Even in the beginning, there were non-artists who slipped in through the cracks and legitimate artists who were rejected, and as time went on, things began to get more and more loosey goosey until the present day, when the Loft Law is still in effect, but there are only a few hundred artists remaining in SoHo, at best.  Every non-artist who moves into SoHo could still be told to move out unless he or she can prove artistic legitimacy, but the probability of that aspect of the law being enforced is close to nil.  And what IS an artist these days anyway?  An investment banker could also describe himself as a financial expressionist, a book editor could say she is a literary choreographer, and a rock guitarist could claim to be a musician.  What has this world come to?

The SAA: Trash Talkin’ and Beat Walkin’

July 14, 2012

A flyer for a meeting of the SoHo Artists Association (click to enlarge)

Before 1971, SoHo artists, almost all of whom also lived in their work spaces, were living here illegally.  For a while, no one seemed to notice or care, the city pretty much looked the other way, but when non-artists looking for investment opportunities began noticing the profit potential of such spaces, artists, who, until then, chose to remain anonymous and hidden, came together to form the SoHo Tenants’ Association and then incorporated as The SoHo Artists Association (SAA), initially in order to legalize loft dwellings and fight to keep SoHo an affordable place for artists to work.  Without the community organization and activism of residents, SoHo most certainly would not have evolved as it did.  It would most likely have been taken over by either real estate developers looking to make a quick buck or the city looking to build new housing projects, or both. Luckily, the SAA and other groups willing to put in time and labor stepped up and fought for what they felt was rightly theirs.

On January 20, 1971, the City Planning Commission voted 4 to 0 to recommend to the Board of Estimate that artists be permitted to reside in the manufacturing buildings of SoHo.  On January 28, the Board of Estimate made that recommendation law.  This law was ultimately passed due to the SAA’s two-year battle with the city for the legalization of loft living in SoHo and set a precedent for how other neighborhoods and cities would approach adaptive reuse of non-residential urban areas. (more…)


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