Volume 74, Number 31 | December 08 - 14, 2004

Arts groups brainstorm to increase buzz and bucks

By Lincoln Anderson

A retrospective of the East Village arts scene of the 1980s is opening this week at the New Museum in Chelsea. Yet, while the East Village of 20 years ago was the virtual center of the art and gallery world, those days — like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, two of the ’80s scene’s stars — have passed.

Last month a group of current East Village artists and arts groups, as well as community groups, gathered at L’il Frankie’s restaurant on First Ave. to try to network, get tips on how to generate interest in the area’s current cultural scene and figure out how to “penetrate the Times.”

Billed as the First Annual East Village Education Summit, it was organized by the Federation of East Village Artists, the group that produces the annual summer HOWL! arts festival in Tompkins Sq. Park and numerous local performance venues.

Anne Pasternak of Creative Time said the federal funding situation is not currently favorable, making it harder for the arts to flourish.

“We’ve lost public funding,” she said. “I think it’s going to be that way for generations to come.” Corporate funding isn’t pouring in either, and it’s hard to get a patron, she added.

Creative Time recently did the “Speak Out” giant red megaphone installation at Foley Sq., intended to highlight the First Amendment protection of free speech.

M.M. Serra, an artist who does alternative and underground cinema, suggested they reach out directly to the mayor for help.

“If we could get Mayor Bloomberg here — he’s a big patron of the arts,” she said, noting the mayor’s London art gallery purchased a film of earthwork artist Robert Smith’s “Spiral Jetty” from her filmmakers’ co-op.

“I would like him to come to one of our meetings,” she said. “He’s very political — as a mayor of a city should be. But I think there’s a passion there.”

Phil Hartman, executive director of FEVA, said continuing to build and grow the two-year old organization will pay benefits.

“We have 1,000 members,” Hartman noted. “That’s a powerful amount — and our message will be heard. It’s really about numbers.”

Hartman pointed out that 1,000 votes represents political clout in a City Council election. Some estimate only about 16,000 will turn out to vote in next year’s District 2 election to fill Councilmember Margarita Lopez’s seat.

Jesse McKinley, a The New York Times cultural reporter, offered hints about how to pitch article ideas to the newspaper’s arts writers. The artists were particularly interested in hearing if the Times planned to bring back its arts listings section, but McKinley said he didn’t think it would return anytime soon.

Afterwards, Deborah Fries, director of Fusion Arts Museum, at 57 Stanton St., said she found the summit very helpful. She cradled a booklet on Councilmember Alan Gerson’s plan for Downtown “art campuses and corridors,” which she said she hadn’t even known existed.

“This city has a lot more culture than MoMA and the Whitney,” Fries said. “There’s a lot of nice culture from here down.”

Hartman said the summit was a success.

“A lot of these people had never met each other,” he noted. “Arts groups often function in a vacuum. There’s sometimes even an adversarial relationship, because we’re competing for limited resources.”

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