Volume 75, Number 43 | March 15 -21 2006

Map of L.M.D.C. cultural grants

Downtown arts groups cash in on L.M.D.C. cash

By Ronda Kaysen

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert
Sigourney Weaver, a board member of the Flea Theater, co-founded by her husband, Jim Simpson, was happy to hear the Tribeca theater is going to get $500,000 in Lower Manhattan Development Corporation money.
It was standing room only inside the ornate, oak-paneled Collectors Reception Room inside the National Museum of the American Indian on Bowling Green last Wednesday. Leaders of some of Downtown’s most notable arts institutions stood shoulder to shoulder with representatives from fledgling Downtown arts groups. After four and a half years of waiting, redevelopment funds had finally been delivered to cultural groups Downtown.

“It’s so exciting, it really is!” said Ruth Abram, president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, to Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin. The Tenement Museum had just received up to $1 million in capital funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to build an Irish family apartment from the 1860s and a German saloon from the 1870s at its Orchard St. museum.

“It’s a big chunk of change,” Manhattan Youth Executive Director Bob Townley told The Villager. His after-school and summer program received up to $400,000 to build a 12,000-square-foot arts and cultural space within a new community center under construction in Tribeca.

The L.M.D.C. announced $27.4 million in grants for 63 cultural groups below Houston St., disbursing funds for capital projects, planning projects, events and programming. Many of the groups squeezed into the museum — which was itself a recipient of $1.5 million for an education pavilion — had learned the news the night before.

“We are thrilled beyond belief and so grateful and so honored,” said actress Sigourney Weaver, a board member of the Flea Theater, an Off Off Broadway theater on White St. that received up to $500,000 in capital funds to replace the furnace, improve the bathrooms and perhaps build a greenroom for performers. “It’s an investment in our people, in our hearts, in our minds,” she told the room full of recipients.

Last November, the L.M.D.C. announced it would provide $35 million for Downtown cultural institutions and up to $10 million for a new museum for the Drawing Center, a museum originally slated for the World Trade Center cultural center. The Drawing Center bowed out of plans for the Trade Center last summer after fierce criticism from some victims’ family groups and the media that its art would be too provocative for a location so close to the Trade Center memorial. The Drawing Center is now considering building a new museum at the South Street Seaport.

L.M.D.C. doled out funds to organizations around the neighborhood, including up to $400,000 in capital funds for the Church Street School for Music and Art to move to a larger space nearby. The Battery Park Conservancy received up to $500,000 to build a children’s carousel near the Bosque in Battery Park. The Poets House, a poetry library and archive in Soho that is relocating to a new space in Battery Park City, received up to $800,000 in capital funds. The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, an arts advocacy group that lost its offices and one of its artists on 9/11, received up to $1.5 million to purchase its present home at 125 Maiden Lane. And 3-Legged Dog, a performance group that also lost its home on 9/11 and is rebuilding a new space on Greenwich St. South, received up to $1.5 million for programming support.

The New Museum for Contemporary Art received up to $2 million for construction of its new museum on the Bowery.

“Following the terrible events of Sept. 11 we were really brought to our knees,” said Lisa Phillips, the museum’s executive director. “We emerged from that with tremendous determination to rebuild and to pursue a vision for the future…. We also decided at that time to recommit to Downtown.”

For many of the recipients, the announcement was the culmination of a years-long effort to rebuild arts in the area. “This is a great moment for me, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Madelyn Wils, former president and C.E.O. of the Tribeca Film Institute, told The Villager. The institute received $600,000 for its “Drive-in,” a free, outdoor screening of films as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. Wils, an L.M.D.C. board member, was a vocal advocate for culture Downtown when she chaired Community Board 1.

The announcement was a rare moment of celebration in a redevelopment process that has been marred by setbacks and often characterized as painstaking and protracted. “There is no question that this is an up day,” said L.M.D.C. chairperson John Whitehead. “This is one of the best up days I’ve had in the past four and a half years.”

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