156 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, NYC
New York City
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type of use
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ABC No Rio
time frame: Start Date: 1980
End Date: continuing
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ABC No Rio is an arts center in a New York City-owned abandoned building on Manhattan's Lower East Side, in existence since 1980. Founded by artists committed to political and social activism, ABC No Rio is known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture, punk music and avant-garde art. In 1997, after paying rent on and off for years, the City promised to sell the building to the No Rio collective for $1 in exchange for programatic expansion and fundraising to renovate the building.
TYPE OF USE
Community center and gallery for alternative art, activism, concerts and performances
New York City artists, associated with Colab, an alternative arts collective of the 1970-80s
Abandoned building devovled to City of New York ownership
NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development promised to sell building to ABC No Rio for $1 USD in 1997, but has yet to complete the sale
Local community groups, fringe youth, artists, activists
ROLE OF MUNICIPALITY
City owns building, in 1997 agreed to sell building to ABC No Rio for $1USD contingent upon capital fundraising and dedication of building to community use
Exhibitions are partially funded by NY State Council on the Arts
Paid modest monthly commercial lease to the City on and off from 1980-1994
Since 1997 have raised more than $140,000 USD towards refurbishment of building, mainly from within the arts community and by holding benefits.
The projected construction budget for renovating the site is apporoximately $500,000.
Received donated equipment for silk-screening and darkroom facilities
ABC No Rio is a non-profit organization, collectively run by volunteers
AMOUNT OF PEOPLE
40 regularly committed volunteers (as of 1998)
100 regularly committed volunteers anticipated for 2003
156 Rivington Street, NYC 10002
DEVELOPMENT / HISTORY
ABC No Rio traces its origins to The Real Estate Show, on New Years Day, 1980, an exhibition for which over 30 artists occupied a vacant, city-owned building in protest of NYCs housing and land-use policies. After police shut down the show, the City entered into negotiations with the artists, which resulted in the ABC No Rio arts center on nearby 156 Rivington Street. The abandoned Lower East Side building was originally squatted, until the ABC No Rio Collective legally took over the storefront and basement and began paying a modest rent to the City, the default landlord. The No Rio collective paid rent off and on until 1994, when the City refused to accept rent checks and ignored No Rios proposal to buy the building themselves. The City had begun development plans for the building, which included evicting ABC No Rio and selling it to Asian Americans for Equality, a non-profit developer, for conversion into low-income housing. In 1997, after three years of eviction proceedings, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) promised to sell the building to ABC No Rio for $1 USD in exchange for the eviction of squatters inhabiting the upper floors, expansion of the center, and a campaign to raise at least $100,000 USD towards the $500,000 required to bring the building up to code. In 2000, after raising more than $100,000, No Rio was told by HPD that it must submit a proposed use plan, proof of local community support and sufficient financing to begin gut rehabilitation right after sale. The collective is currently continuing to use the space and to raise more funds.
a)LOCATION, SITE AND BUILDING
ABC No Rio is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC, in an abandoned tenement building with a storefront formerly used as a beauty parlor. In the 1980s, the area was suffering from urban decay, disenvestment, crime and drugs, along with the the fiscal crisis experienced by all of NYC. The largely Latino neighborhood, which has become more gentrifed in recent years, has been known for its vibrant arts scene over the past two decades.
b)USERS AND USE
ABC No Rio has maintained its dedication to interactive arts, addressing the local situation, attracting community residents and providing space for activist organizations meetings, workshops and services. Over the years, well-known artits such as Kiki Smith, Keith Haring, and Jenny Holzer, among others in the East Village arts scene, have passed through the gallery. In the mid-80s, No Rio found itself at the center of the East Village performance scene of spoken word and poetry, and in the late-80s it served as a non-racist/homophobic/sexist punk music venue. Ongoing events include exhibitions of visual art, weekly open poetry readings and other literary events, punk music concerts, a series of experimental music and performances to raise funds for the building and free summer programs for youth.
ABC No Rio is run by a collective of all active volunteers, which deals with programs and events, and a Board of Directors, also composed of active volunteers, which supervises long-term development and building acquisition.
c)SPATIAL AND TIME PATTERNS OF USE
The ABC No Rio building, in the middle of a block of tenement row-houses, occupies four stories, a roof and a garden, totalling 208 square meters (2,236 square feet). Until 1997, 6-8 people squatted illegally on the upper 3 floors, while the collective legally rented the storefront and basement from the City, for gallery and performance space. Recently, the center has expanded its publicly accessible facilites to include: a silk screen room and darkroom for which most equipment was donated, a Zine Library with independent and underground publications, a computer center for internet, word processing and multi-media design and a kitchen.
d)BENEFITS AND CONFLICTS
City of New York (municipality; landlord)
+ vacant, derelict City-owned building was transformed into vibrant arts center at no or relatively small cost to city
- contradictory to HPD plan to return city owned buildings to responsible private ownership and raise money by auctioning off abandoned buildings to private developers
- gritty alternative arts center did not match Guilianis plan for improving NYC quality of life and the citys physical appearance
ABC No Rio (users)
+ over the years, center has developed a core constituency of artists and activists on the Lower East Side
- until 1997: constant struggle to avoid eviction, negotiate with municipality
+/- attempting to maintain commitment to original principles of collective, grassroots, radical arts while formalizing organizational structure, expanding building and programs and planning capital campaign
e) EFFECT ON NEIGHBOURHOOD / OVERALL CITY
ABC No Rio provides opportunites for new and emerging NYC artists, diversity in the arts scene and an alternative to the mainstream and often inaccessible New York gallery scene. Radical squatters, artists and activists, who are often white refugees from middle class suburbs, have struggled to relate to and invite the participation of the surrounding predominantly Latino neighborhood. At the same time, unintended gentrification that follows after artists occupy a neighborhood, drives prices beyond what artists can afford forcing them to move on.
f)SPIRIT OF THE PROJECT
community commited to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles
Moore, Alan and Marc Miller (eds.) ABC No Rio Dinero : The Story of a Lower East Side Gallery. NYC: 1985.
RELATED PROJECTS IN NYC
Bullet Space is an urban artist collective on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which got its name from the brand of heroine sold in the neighborhood in the 1980s. In 1985, activist/artists squatted an abandoned building and established a gallery and community print shop. Despite City pressure to vacate, Bullet Space continues to squat illegally and produce newspapers and street posters responding to homelessness and denouncing gentrification.
292 E. 3rd St. (betw. Ave. C & D)
New York City, NY 10002
Tel: (212) 505-8312
Gallery hours: Sat. & Sun. 2-5pm
(and by appointment)