Volume 74, Number 22 | September 29 - October 5 , 2004

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Jose Oliveras, artistic director of Teatro Circulo, left, and Eva Vasquez, Teatro Circulo performer, at announcement of Fourth Arts Block deal on Monday.

The show will go on, and on, for E. 4th St. Theater Row

By Rachel Evans

For more than 20 years, the arts community in the East Village had a reason to worry. With commercial venues eyeing development opportunities in the area, what is known as Downtown’s Theater Row had been struggling to ensure a long-lasting artistic presence on E. Fourth St.

After four years of discussion with the city, the tight-knit neighborhood of theaters, workshops, youth programs and patrons doesn’t have to worry anymore. The properties they currently occupy, plus several vacant lots, were officially sold on Monday to the newly formed organization, Fourth Arts Block, also known as FAB, and permanently dedicated to cultural, nonprofit organizations.

At a press conference held by Councilmember Margarita Lopez, the announcement came that a total of seven properties had been sold for $1 each to FAB, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the arts on E. Fourth St. between Second Ave. and the Bowery.

Lopez, who had been deeply involved and supportive of the initiative, said it was a wonderful day.

“The arts community is finally treated the same way and with the same values as we give Wall St.,” she said to more than 20 members of various arts organizations in the area. “We created a space that never existed before.”

FAB, which was formed in 2001 when the idea of buying the properties from the city started to materialize, joined with Lopez to negotiate with the city and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to ensure the properties on E. Fourth St. that are now occupied by nonprofit organizations, such as theaters, dance studios and film-editing suites, will not disappear over time.

According to H.P.D. Deputy Commissioner Luiz C. Aragon, the organizations were previously tenants paying month-to-month rent to the city. This sale allows the area to be preserved and maintained as a designated art block indefinitely.

“I see a future in the Fourth Arts Block community,” Aragon said. “It is a wonderful cultural hub.”

Lopez said the area has been an essential part of the community, providing youths with a place to learn and aspiring artists a place to perfect their work.

“The community basically had nothing and created everything,” she said. “The Lower East Side was able to put together a show that became a hit on Broadway, ‘Rent.’ ”

Ryan Gilliam, chairperson of FAB, said it truly was a wonderful day not only for the arts, but also for New York City.

“This has paved the way for us to stay,” Gilliam said, “and to stay here always.”

The organization has raised 50 percent of the estimated cost of renovations through partnerships with public and private agencies and smaller donations from local residents and businesses, she said.

Lopez said with the city’s approval of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure the properties will be renovated and the vacant lots filled to include theaters, printshops, dance companies, rehearsal spaces and costume construction shop workshops.

There are also other educational plans for E. Fourth St., including a new four-story Youth Arts Center that would have free and low-cost programs, as well as a public archive documenting the Off-Off-Broadway movement.

“It is a multicultural and multiethnic area,” Lopez said. “In the same street someone would be able to enjoy beautiful pieces of Shakespeare and be able to eat wonderful Latino food.”

Jose Oliveras, artistic director of Teatro Circulo, was also part of the effort to preserve the arts community.

He said the past four years have certainly been a battle, but it has definitely been worth it.

“This is a happy day for Latino theater in New York,” Oliveras said. “We finally have our own forum to produce and create our work. We are not homeless anymore,” he added.

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