Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Art war flares at C.S.V., though maybe in the dark

By Lincoln Anderson

At the fractious Clemente Soto Velez cultural center on Suffolk St., members of the breakaway Artists Alliance Inc. visual artists group are crying that a proposal by City Councilmember Alan Gerson will lead to their “constructive eviction” from the building.

However, Gerson is saying the final plan hasn’t been unveiled yet and that people shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Of more immediate concern, on Tuesday, members of the C.S.V. Resident Advisory Panel issued a press release saying that unless A.A.I. pays $30,000 toward an outstanding $57,000 electricity bill, Con Edison will shut off the building’s electricity on Friday.

“They’re paying half of what they should pay,” said Gloria Zelaya, president of the resident panel and head of the Latino Experimental Fantastic Theater, which operates in the building. “[A.A.I.] should be paying their share,” she said. “We’re sick and tired of the situation — we want the situation to be resolved.”

A.A.I. occupies the top floors of the old school building. Shelly McGuinness, executive director of A.A.I., said their group feels C.S.V. has been trying to “overcharge” them on rent.

“Some of the people from C.S.V. who scream loudest at us to pay our rent are in rent arrears themselves,” she charged.

Drew Figueroa recently stepped down as C.S.V. executive director with Luis Cancel, former commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, taking over. After a year in the job, Figueroa said he was worn out and that because of what he called the A.A.I. “rent strike” he couldn’t make “an adult salary” and was only being paid $20,000. “You only live once. I was tired of it,” Figueroa said. “I’m a filmmaker — and I’m just too ambitious for this crap.”

McGuinness said they are paying their fair share of rent based on square footage and usage. But Figueroa said, “A tenant cannot decide their own rent. They’re organization is a squatter. They seized that space.” Figueroa said A.A.I. is only paying “a third” of the rent that they should. “They should pay $11,000. They pay $3,500,” he said, adding A.A.I. does not pay its rent regularly.

But McGuinness said they have “a stack of canceled checks” to prove they have been making their payments. She said the artists were only on strike for two years during 1999 and 2000 and since then have been paying their rent. She said A.A.I. originally went on rent strike over concerns that repairs to the building were not being made. She said the timing of the Con Ed issue seemed strangely coincidental with the pending release of Gerson’s proposal.

As for his plan for somehow unifying the embattled center, Gerson said, “People have not seen the final document. There are a lot of half-truths, typical for the end of a process…. We’re going to work it all out. The idea was to come up with an agreement that all parties can live with and do their art by.”

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