Volume 73, Number 6 | June 9 - 15, 2004

FEVA focuses: Plans new arts spaces and programs

By Erica Stein

It seems odd to attach the words “just” or “only” to a weeklong festival that last year attracted more than 100,000 people and will consist of 400 to 500 events this year. But while producing the Howl! Festival is certainly the Federation of East Village Artists’ most prominent purpose, it is far from its only one. Or even its most important.

Phil Hartman, executive director of FEVA, announced an extremely ambitious plan of action when the group was launched in 2002. Howl!, first staged last summer, was an integral part of the plan, whose five-year goals also included three building projects and the objective of more fully integrating artists with the community, especially through association with local schools and youth groups.

Two years later, FEVA has signed a letter of intent with the Lower East Side Girls’ Club to manage 11,000 sq. ft. in the building the Girls’ Club plans to construct on Avenue D; is proposing to turn half of the northernmost building of the Essex St. Market into a refuge for displaced theater groups; and has established an after-school program at the 14th St. Sol Goldman Y.

The person charged with overseeing the birthing of all these dreams — not to mention keeping track of them all — is FEVA’s new managing director, Greg Fuchs.

Fuchs, 35, is a photographer and poet living in Brooklyn. Fuchs has been involved with the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Festival for 10 years, and first met Hartman to discuss the Poetry Festival’s involvement in Howl!

A few weeks after Fuchs and Hartman met, FEVA’s artistic director, David Leslie, left the group, and Hartman offered Fuchs the position as FEVA’s managing director. But Fuchs’ job is not, as both he and Hartman are quick to stress — as Fuchs puts it — to be “the new David Leslie.”

Leslie, who still works with FEVA in a consulting capacity, was the artistic director of both FEVA and the Howl! Festival. But Howl! was conceived of as a “supremely democratic, decentralized event,” consisting of 22 sub-festivals. The sub-fests are given “a lot of freedom to do their own, really specialized thing,” said Hartman. Each has its own leadership and artistic director.

Fuchs’ main responsibility, though he does help oversee Howl!’s production, is to focus on FEVA’s ongoing programs and work on the implementation of its mission — “year round,” he said. The group’s mission, according to its official literature, is “to preserve the legacies of Emma Goldman, Charlie Parker and Allen Ginsberg, while promoting opportunities for the next generation of visionaries to flourish.”

Hartman has said in interviews that he came up with the idea for FEVA and Howl! as a response to the increasing gentrification of the East Village. It is only fitting then that the core of FEVA’s long-term plans is to utilize space constructed by community groups or provided by neglected neighborhood buildings. Currently FEVA is tentatively moving forward with plans to construct a Lower East Side Performance Art Center, which would house displaced or soon-to-be-displaced theater groups like Surf Reality and Collective: Unconscious. Surf Reality was forced out of its space on Allen St. by high rent a few years ago and relocated to Collective: Unconscious, which, in turn, is due to be evicted in July for a new apartment building project on Ludlow St.

One of the most promising locations is the northernmost building of the Essex St. Market on Essex and Rivington Sts., which, unlike the thriving two southern buildings, stands half vacant. Fuchs says FEVA hopes to “lease or buy” the space or building, which is owned by the city. While nothing is decided yet, and the group continues to look at other sites, City Councilmember Alan Gerson seems enthusiastic about the plan. Gerson’s new “Campuses & Corridors” report on Downtown arts and culture recommends allocating $250,000 — drawn from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s Community Block Development Fund — for the project.

Hartman said he also envisions the Essex St. Market art center having a TKTS booth, as a sort of “clearinghouse for all Downtown theater events,” and also a retail component, with books and T-shirts.

“It will be a real hub, with a cafe,” he said.

Henry Rainge-Megill, a Lower East Side resident, was given a lease for the Essex St. Market space about five years ago by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. However, he never followed through on his plans to develop a banquet hall, claiming contactors repeatedly ripped him off. Since 2000, E.D.C. has been in litigation to evict him from the space for failure to pay rent.

Hartman said if Rainge-Megill — who had operated a barbecue concession in the building for a while — is interested, FEVA would consider talking to him about running something similar in the planned performance center.

“We’re going to have a food component, so maybe there’s a role for him,” he said.

Hartman said they know nothing’s a done deal yet and expect E.D.C. will issue a request for proposals, to which parties interested in using the building will respond.
Another possible beneficial partnership is with the Lower East Side Girl’s Club. FEVA recently signed a letter of intent to manage 11,000 sq. ft. — or just under half the space —of the Girls’ Club’s proposed new headquarters on Avenue D. Fuchs said that FEVA was offered the space with the understanding it would “develop it into artists’ studios” and be involved in “sub-tenant managing.” Currently, the plan is for 51 artists’ studios and multi-purpose rooms, which would also be used by artists to teach neighborhood youth, partially fulfilling another one of FEVA’s goals — linking local artists more closely to the community.

“We couldn’t be happier to have artists as our anchor tenant,” said Lyn Pentecost, the Girls’ Club’s executive director. “I was so afraid that we’d have to ask chain stores to fill out the space, so I’m very excited that we didn’t have to and that we have FEVA,” she said.

Though still negotiating the price for the land with the city, The Girls’ Club has signed a letter of agreement with E.D.C. and been given site control. Fundraising, according to Pentecost, has been quite successful, and the Girls’ Club plans to both close on the property and break ground for the new clubhouse in the spring of 2005. “It takes more time to close the deal than to build,” said Pentecost. Architects have already been commissioned to draw proposals for the building, which should be completed within 18 months of the groundbreaking, Pentecost said.

While construction of the clubhouse is not slated to begin until next year, in the meantime, starting in September, FEVA will partner with the 14th St. Sol Goldman Y to expose local youth to art — while providing employment for artists, an endeavor to which Fuchs pays particular attention. “Year round, one of my pet projects is finding job opportunities for artists,” he said. Many of FEVA’s plans depend on co-sponsorship with other local organizations. In the case of Howl!, FEVA provides many of the venues, oversees logistics and procures permits. But in this instance, the resource FEVA provided was its membership.

The Sol Goldman Y had a barebones after-school arts program, which, according to Hartman, was really more like babysitting. A director at the Y, Margo Bloom, was dissatisfied with the existing art program and worked with Fuchs and Hartman to redesign the program and attract neighborhood artists who would be interested in teaching classes. Beginning in September, Fuchs said, five to 10 of FEVA’s member artists will teach four to six art classes at the Y for children ages 4 to 17. The program, in addition to creating income for artists, will also link them more closely with the community and allow young aspiring artists from the neighborhood the chance to “develop in a first-rate program,” said Fuchs.

The group’s other long-term goals — providing artists and writers with health insurance and constructing a museum of the counterculture — are still in the very early stages of planning. Fuchs said New York State insurance laws are “very tricky.” Meanwhile, there isn’t a clear mission for the museum yet. “Those are long-range plans; the insurance is two or three years away,” he said.

For the moment, Fuchs is focusing on the Y program and a bulletin board: “This might sound anachronistic, but what I want to work on is a community bulletin board. It would have event, job and meeting listings. I’m excited about developing this until it’s really useful.” Fuchs said that the listings would be of value for — and an incentive to — their membership. “Health insurance is a longer way away,” he said. “This is something immediate we could do for them.”

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