Protests Foil Two Art-Center Evictions; One Still Endangered

Two nonprofit arts centers on the Lower East Side, Charas/El Bohio and Clemente Soto Velez, have turned back Giuliani administration attempts to oust them from city-owned buildings, but a third, ABC No Rio, is still facing eviction.

On Oct. 1, the city Department of Citywide Administrative Services dropped plans to auction off former school buildings at 605 East Ninth St. — home to Charas since 1979 — and 107 Suffolk St., CSV’s space. The move came hours after about 150 supporters had packed a court hearing in which Charas was challenging the auction, scheduled for the next day.

“It’s fantastic. We won,” said Charas chair Armando Perez. “They’ve realized we are not a fluke — we are needed and wanted by the community.”

However, ABC No Rio at 156 Rivington St. is still in danger, though it won a temporary reprieve Oct. 17 when a Housing Court judge reserved decision on the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s request for an immediate eviction. HPD has cancelled ABC’s lease and agreed to turn the building over to Asian Americans for Equality, a local nonprofit that plans to renovate it for three units of low-income housing. In December 1995 the City Council allowed HPD to bypass public hearings on the plan on the grounds that the building was “blighted” and “a menace.” ABC is challenging that designation in court, arguing that the city wants to evict them to retaliate for their support of the East 13th Street squatters.

Perez suspects politics was involved in the plan to auction Charas as well. Group leaders helped organize recent protests against Mayor Giuliani’s support for privatizing public housing, and local Councilmember Antonio Pagan told El Diario that the arts center was a “farce.”

The three spaces are among the few nonprofit arts facilities left in the neighborhood. Charas provides rehearsal space for over 50 theater and dance companies; Spike Lee showed his first film there in 1983. CSV, opened in early 1994, is home to several theater companies and 80 artists’ studios. ABC, born out of a 1980 antigentrification exhibit called the “Real Estate Show,” hosts poetry readings and all-ages punk-rock shows. Recent exhibits there have included “The Art of Eviction,” featuring squatters’ works, and “Endangered Spaces.”