Activist museum makes some history, marking one year


Cake-allelujah! Reverend Billy cut the museum’s first-anniversary birthday cake as MoRUS co-director Laurie Mittelmann looked on.   Photo by SAM SPOKONY

Cake-allelujah! Reverend Billy cut the museum’s first-anniversary birthday cake as MoRUS co-director Laurie Mittelmann looked on. Photo by SAM SPOKONY

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Reverend Billy helped celebrate the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space’s first birthday on Fri., Dec. 8, by ceremoniously cutting the huge cake. Museum co-founder Laurie Mittelmann had earlier pointed out that it was her mother who baked the “radical” cake, which had 12 layers — including a vegan layer.

Before the cake, there was a full program of presentations by former squatters and activists.

Things started off with a radical clown breaking the ice by, well, breaking stuff.

Bill DiPaola, MoRUS’s co-founder, gave a slideshow presentation on activism, including bicycle activism. It took years of actions and protests on the part of groups like Time’s Up!, he noted, before the Bloomberg administration finally caught on and upped the amount of bike lanes in the city.

Poet Peter Spagnuolo recalled that the squats were a catchall, of the good, as well as the bad. In short, there were very scary characters in some of the buildings. He recalled one friend who stood up to some crack dealers and ended up getting his skull fractured in a brutal beating.

Former squatter leader Frank Morales is working on a book on the subject “the supernatural and the squats.” He recounted one story he feels belongs in that category, that of 319 E. Eighth St. One day, scaffolding was suddenly being built around the squat — with Morales and other occupants still inside. One of them, Willie Butler, poured their “piss buckets” off the roof and doused the construction workers, while other squatters then victoriously  yanked down the scaffolding with a rope. Unfortunately, the euphoria was short-lived. The squat was later demolished.

Artist Fly Orr retold tales of squatter defiance, as well as the painful loss of an inspiring artists’ squat, Fetus.

Marta Dan did a Q and A with the audience, telling how she, a former nanny from Portugal, would up becoming part of the squatter movement. But she said she didn’t participate in the big Tompkins Square riot of 1989.

Noting she came from a country with an authoritarian regime, she stated bluntly, “I don’t like getting arrested.”

MoRUS, at 155 Avenue C, between Ninth and 10th Sts., offers guided tours on weekends. On Saturdays, there are two tours of squatters’ apartments. On Sundays, there is a radical walking tour of the neighborhood by writer Bill Weinberg.

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