January 9, 2008
(Editor’s note: This is the sixth of a ten-part series produced by the All Ages Movement Project, in which the leaders of community-based youth organizations share tips and tricks of their trade. All stories are researched and written by members of organizations using independent music–punk, hip-hop, rock, noise, electronic and more–as a vehicle for social change.)
“It is important to focus attention on the way artists get used as pawns by greedy white developers.
It is important for artists to express solidarity with Third World and oppressed people.
It is important to show that people are not helpless–they can express their resentment with things-as-they-are in a way that is constructive, exemplary, and interesting.
It is important to try to bridge the gap between artists and working people by putting artwork on a boulevard level.
It is important to do something dramatic that is neither commercially oriented nor institutionally quarantined–a groundswell of human action and participation with each other that points up currents of feeling that are neither for sale nor for morticing into the shape of an institution.
It is important to do something that people (particularly in the art community) cannot immediately identify unless they question themselves and examine their own actions for an answer.
It is important to have fun.
It is important to learn.”
–excerpts from The Real Estate Show Manifesto, 1980.
The story of ABC No Rio has always been one about creative engagement with the politics of space. It began on New Year’s Eve in 1979 when a group of artists invaded a vacant storefront on Delancey Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. At the time, the neighborhood was blighted by widespread arson and a culture of drug addiction.
During the 1970s, thousands of buildings in New York City had been abandoned by their landlords, became property of the city through foreclosure, and sat vacant and neglected. The art exhibition on Delancey Street entitled “The Real Estate Show” was a provocation: why should these spaces sit idle? Watching the grainy black and white video footage that documented the event, there’s a palpable sense of indignant playfulness as trash was cleared away and art crudely taped to walls. Neighborhood kids joined in the fun, drawing on the walls and interacting with the sculptures.
The city authorities were not amused. Police padlocked the building and the artwork was rudely confiscated and shipped to a warehouse across town. As one reviewer noted at the time, “the show’s basic ideological premise–that artists, working people, and the poor are systematically screwed out of decent places to exist in–could not have been brought home with more brutal irony.”