Volume 75, Number 28 | Nov. 30 - Dec. 06, 2005

A special Villager supplement

Creativity is needed to save Village counterculture

By Joseph Pupello

When I first moved to New York in 1978 my rent was $110 a month and I split that with my roomate. I lived right above the B & H Dairy Restaurant and Free Being Records on Second Ave. and St. Mark’s Pl. I was 15 years old at the time and my parents were supportive of the move. Why wouldn’t they be? My mother was baptized at St. George’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church around the corner and my father was happy that I would be near my sister who was 21 years old at the time and studying dance at New York University.

The neighborhood was a creative and free-thinking mecca, a parade of individuality, a paradise of experimentation, a league of nonconformists and a hotbed of radical ideas that shaped everyday anew. It was home. The East Village was an international magnet for free spirits. It is this ambience that has become the foundation for the current local real estate market. Now, we must actively work to preserve that ambience and recognize what needs to be done to do that.

In my first months in the East Village I joined a community garden at Ninth St. and Avenue C. That eventually led me to my last post, working with Bette Midler to create the New York Restoration Project, saving hundreds of community gardens from destruction, restoring hundreds of acres of parkland and building the first boathouse on the Harlem River in more than 100 years.

I am honored and excited to have been selected as the new executive director for the Federation of East Village Artists, created to begin the very complicated balancing act between neighborhood growth and cultural preservation. Although FEVA has already had a tremendous impact within the community through the Howl! Festival, it is really just getting started. The support in the community has been tremendous and each of the Howl! festivals has had a different flavor.

It’s important to note that Howl! is the core of FEVA, but there is so much more we hope to accomplish. We are exploring the ways in which FEVA can help the Lower East Side remain a destination for artists as it has been for decades, while providing support for artists who live and work in this community. Among the many issues we will explore are healthcare, housing, studio space and support for the venues that make art happen on a daily basis.

I’m sure that many of you have heard that Phil Hartman, FEVA’s primary founder and principal funder, has left his post as volunteer executive director and moved on to the board of directors. His contribution has been so extraordinary, not only as a funder, but as a convener of creative forces. Imagine the challenges of bringing together hundreds of free-thinking, creative people for a common goal! Three years in a row! It will be tough to follow in his footsteps.

There has been a lot of heated dialogue during this very important transition. I would like to assure everyone that FEVA is moving along in a positive direction. In the coming year we will solidify the many details that will make this organization strong, effective and well run for years to come.

The culture of free expression must be remembered and supported for future generations. The East Village and Lower East Side need it, and America will be poorer without it. There is no other place in the world that has the rich iconoclastic history and the diversity that makes up this unique counterculture. We are not going watch it go down with overdevelopment and homogenization. Instead, we will make smart choices about when to fight, when to partner and how to work together in a common movement.

Pupello is executive director, Federation of East Village Artists

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