Thursday, March 2, 2017

Site Visit #8 IDA

The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)! As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from. This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

At a Glance
Founded: 1993
Budget: 13k mortgage + ?
Staff: 0
Board of Directors: ?
Board of Advisors:
Residents: 6-10

Idyll Dandy Arts (or just Ida) is a Southern, rural community land project and educational space tucked into the hills of Middle Tennessee. The mostly wooded hollow provides space for a gaggle of queer, trans and gender non-conforming residents and their neighbors, friends and visitors.
The residents and the larger Ida community work to provide a safer space for queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people with varying experiences, identities, and abilities. Visiting Ida offers time and space for play and work projects and for making art and learning rural living skills and maybe most importantly–making connections with each other and the land. Ida is host to garden interns in the spring and summer and hosts artists residents and workshops and musical performances throughout the year. Idapalooza is Ida’s annual summer music festival and community coming as well as the primary fundraiser for Ida’s annual land payment.
Geographically Ida is located in a hollow, or maybe a holler, or perhaps even both in the Middle of Tennessee. Organizationally it is at a crossroads.  When we set out to talk to “like minded” organizations about strategies for change, growth and transition, we knew that we absolutely could have no idea of what we’d be getting into. When we first started the Dirt Palace, 16 years ago, we did a similar listening/meeting tour. However at that time, we only had the resources to dialogue with projects that were near by. Those conversations and experiences are burned into our hearts, both because they were so inspiring and also so intense. Our visit to IDA fits into this category of incredibly inspiring and also pretty intense.

It had actually been pretty hard to set up our visit with IDA. For a while no one returned the email that we had sent to the general email (which we can relate to - as the e-mail traffic controller for the DP, I can be SLOW!). So we tried a couple of other avenues, through friends of friends, and then we went down the path of trying to meet with someone who had lived there for a while, but had moved out and into the surrounding “neighborhood”. Then that didn’t work out timing wise, and then someone told us that NOBODY would be home at IDA because of Halloween. Then, just when we thought that our timing was busted, and that we wouldn’t be able to do a site visit, two leads worked out. We ended up having the opportunity to talk with Bren & Half Pint, and later in the day with Phil.

For how “middle of nowhere” people talk about IDA being, it was actually not so hard to find. As we drove down narrow roads, with sunlight dappling the windshield through autumn foliage, there was sense that we had in our stomach’s that this might be the most beautiful landscape that we’d get to see for quite some time. Upon pulling in and walking down the path towards what looked like a residence, we were first greeted by a dog and end of season black-eyed-susans. The dog was calm as we approached, clearly unphased by the comings and goings of visitors. We followed a “hello” out to the back porch where we found Bren who started out by telling us about how she had found her way to IDA after living in New Orleans, Portland and Oakland and ended up moving in around June. Though fairly new as a full time resident, Bren came off as a seasoned spokesperson for the project and named the priorities and responsibilities of being an IDA resident as: maintaining it as a community center, keeping up with the practical realities of the land, keeping it clean, keeping up with people’s needs and supporting people. While IDA’s neighbor, and one time fiscal agent, Short Mountain Sanctuary talks specifically in its outward facing descriptive materials about serving as a safe space for healing, IDA doesn’t. However, it’s clear that if this purpose wasn’t initially designed to be part of IDA’s culture and approach, that it worked it’s way into how at least Bren & Half Pint (who came to the table a bit later) conceptualize what everyone there is building together.  

Our conversation drifted in and out of talking about the change that was happening at IDA, which was characterized as a mass exodus about 2 years ago of the old guard, and a shift towards queer, brown, femme, younger people with less personal resources. The sense we got was that this transition had been difficult and was not without major challenges and painful situations for some of the people who had been there at the time. However, it seemed like Bren & Half Pint had gotten there after some of the most challenging times, and as a consequence had not been worn down or burnt out by the exhaustion of transition. They were incredibly energized by the new direction, particularly in its embodiment in the structure “Building Permanence”, an autonomous QTPOC (Queer Trans Person of Color) house, that is an embodiment of the potential of this new direction.  

We talked about Idapalooza, which we’d been hearing about for years, and came to learn was the main source of funds IDA. Traditionally Idapalooza nets enough to pay the $13,000 a year mortgage and cover a number of expenses for the year. The past few years, Idapalooza attendance has been record breaking (around 700 people) but the funds raised have decreased, which Bren & Half Pint attributed to the shift in demographics (a fan/user base with less money to contribute).  IDA as well as Short Mountain have long standing NOTAFLOF (No One Turned Away For Lack Of Funds) policies around their annual gatherings. Idapalooza is important to IDA in terms of fundraising, but also as an outreach and community building event. Most people discover IDA by coming to Idapalooza, and the scene and culture around it is legendary. Half Pint tells us about cleaning up after it this year. She does her best to channel non-”neighborhood” locals, staring at them in disbelief, wondering why the hell they have a pickup truck full of broken tents filled with lizards and maggots. Both Half Pint and Bren talked with a lot of pride about how this past years gathering involved a lot of intentionality about how purpose was communicated and about how POC were really front and center...and correspondingly how the music was really good & everyone was really cute! (cute is apparently young person slang that we didn’t really know about - AGGGHHHHH!!!!Showing our age!!!)

They characterized the moment that IDA was at as very exciting, but also very fragile. We talked about how different people had different relationships to the space: for some it is a place to call a home base amidst a backdrop of frequent travel, for others it is a place to nest more deeply into. They characterized these relationships to IDA as based on different needs, and we got the sense that there was a lot of understanding and comfort around how this would work, but that it hadn’t totally all played out yet. However, amongst the crew that was there currently, that there was a decent amount of trust and compatibility, as well as drive to get things done.  Most of them are Sagitariuses and Libras.


At risk of casting a metaphor that comes off as way too woo, sitting down with Phil was an experience for us not unlike deciding to pull a single card from a tarot deck and realizing that the card that you drew was exactly the card that you needed to see at that moment.  

After spending the morning with Bren and Half Pint, we went and sat along the dry river for a bit and ate almonds and bread. We walked towards the house and studio that had been pointed out to us as Phil’s, and attempted to figure out what door to knock on. We walked around to his studio and spied a face through a window. He came out and greeted us warmly...but then let us know that he was a bit in shock, having just received an email notifying him of the imminent death of a family member.  Having both gone through some experiences with death in the past month, the complexity of those moments was tangible and close to us. We don’t have to talk we said - whatever you need. “I’m not sure” Phil said - “I think that I need to eat first and then I’ll know if it makes sense to talk to you about IDA now or not - give me a few minutes, i’ll come find you”.  We went and sat down in the grass near one of the somewhat baroque outhouses that they refer to as “shitters”. This one looked vaguely like a UFO. The one closest to the main house is a white victorian with red detailing. The victorian “shitter” is one of the fanciest structures that I’ve ever seen, but I have a hard time not imagining it covered with snow and ice. From there, I confront one of the practical things that seems like might be very hard about living at IDA...trekking out in the snow in the deep of winter to take a morning shit.  We’ve had some times at the Dirt Palace, particularly in the early days, when the creature comforts weren’t very comfortable, but nothing that can compare to a February outhouse situation.

Phil came and found us and invited us up to a platform on the side of his house. It was kind of like a second story deck. We talked casually about how much transition and change he’d seen in his 24 years living at IDA, and how the whole thing had started in the early 90’s from ideas spun at a gathering at Short Mountain. Even in the visioning stage there was a strong philosophical/spiritual component to how the project was conceptualized and gained momentum. Phil told us about a circle ritual that ended with people who were ready to jump into this new land project, that would embrace some of the values and cultures of Short Mountain, but also focus on creativity and art, very literally, stepping forward. The cast of those interested twisted and turned even back then, but there was a core enough group to sign a lease in ‘92, and eventually get started building in ‘93. We talked a bit philosophically about identity politics and separatism vs openness, and if separatism was still relevant at this moment in time. Then we started to talk about structure. For the most part in conversation, Phil stayed away from declarative or prescriptive statements, always holding open a window crack for various possible ideas and approaches. But on this topic, there was no grey. “IDA”, he said, “will be saved or lost through structure”. There was no declaration of what that structure ought be, but only that having it would be critical. This is something that we could relate to for sure. The more clear our governing doc’s have gotten over time, laying out expectations, the easier working together has been. Trust and actually really liking each other and feeling connected goes a long way, and feels great when it’s working. However, when things get hard or stressful, having concrete and clear descriptions of roles and responsibilities pertaining to both practical matters like rent and taking out the trash, and approaches to consciousness and communication, help a lot - like a lot a lot.

Phil’s lived at and has been involved with IDA for 24 years. It was only so long in the course of conversation before we could ask with both awe and curiosity how he’d managed to pull off such a feat. He looked at us knowing that that question was on the way. “I think”, he said, “it’s the balance of two things at this point, one is a certain amount of detachment, coupled with a very deep dedication”. Again, this was something that we could relate to conceptually, but haven’t always been able to pull off practically….”So on a practical level” we asked  “how do you do do you strike this balance”.  With deadpan delivery Phil replied, “Well to start off with I don’t do any dishes anymore”.  He elaborated, “I strongly believe that if people can’t handle the kitchen chaos here, they’re just not going to make it - it’s like essential to be able to live with a certain lack of control, an uncertainty, and at times that means giant piles of dishes...when I say that I don’t do dishes, to some people it sounds like I’m not helping, that I’m a part of giving up...but actually a big part of being able to be here long haul has been the realization that you personally can’t be saddled with carrying all of it, and to realize what strengths you have - there are some things that I do, and do well, and I focus on making sure those are done.”  This was hard for us to wrap our brains around, and I think in part because it points to a core difference between us and IDA, which is that on the spectrum of full individuality to full collectivity, we’re a good deal further away from full collectivity than where IDA positions itself on this spectrum. We don’t cook together, and only eat together once a week. So dishes are a personal responsibility, rather than a collective one, that if one person stopped doing, it would be like a nightmare. On the other hand, we could totally relate to understanding that being able to let go of ab reactions to chaos, particularly kitchen chaos, is a valuable skill for co-habitating in these alternative experiments. It’s been our experience that when collective kitchen mess has started to feel to certain people like signs of bigger issues, like lack of respect on a personal level, rather than simply the chaos of living with 7-8 people, that it is a sign that that person is moving towards no longer wanting to live collectively, or feeling the need to have some control over some of the mundane aspects of living day to day. Emotionally this makes sense. When the chaos of the world is pressing into your psyche, the need for some control of the small things can loom large.
Phil’s method for dealing with stress was his ability to recognize that his fears were really located in past or the future and then to stay focused on living in the present.  Although there’s been a good deal of transition over the past two years, and as a person from the old guard he’s seen and felt a good deal of tensions with these transitions, his way of intersecting with new folks (and this is by no means his first set of “new folks”) is to be really chill with them and not offer lots of unsolicited opinions or advice.  He’s learned over time that it feels better to him to let people figure things out for themselves.

Phil expressed concern over a dwindling sense of transparency particularly in regards to finances. It’s not clear that there was ever total transparency around how much each of the residents at IDA were contributing in the form of rent, but rather a neighborly assumption that all residents were contributing equal shares, which at some point stopped being the case. Rent was never a steep contribution (from my pieced together math, less than $200 a month), but concerns about difficulties for some members to be able to earn income in rural Tennessee led to a change in practice where rent ultimately became the discretion of the members and then no longer a requirement.
Today as we sift through our notes to put together this blog post, it happens to be the day after halloween.  Halloween is kind of a big deal in Providence and the kitchen is strewn with costume scraps, candy wrappers and a bunch of dishes. Basically the reasonable, yet chaotic remains of a night of excitement and wildness not exactly focused on kitchen clean up.

Xander: did you go into the kitchen yet today?
Pippi: yeah did you?
X: yeah
P: Did you think about Phil?
X: Totally...I think that I did it.
P: Did what?
X: Successfully blocked out giving a shit about the dishes.
P: Cool, yeah me too. I’m feeling comfortably detached.
X: I have a feeling that we’re going to think a lot about some of the things that Phil told us going deep into the future….or at least attempt to channel him a lot in the kitchen..

P: totally

Friday, February 3, 2017

Providence People Loving and Supporting Each Other So Much & Mr. Bones



Providence People Loving and Supporting Each Other So Much


In loving memory of Nick Gomez-Hall

Please come celebrate the life and memory of Nick Gomez-Hall on this Friday, February 3rd.
It will be a night of music and memories, chili, cheers, beers, and tears.
There will be performances by Mother Tongue and Russian Tsarlag and words by Laura Brown-Lavoie. Come at 6 for food, come at 8 for tunes.

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mark Baumer on his barefoot journey to raise awareness about climate change. Mark left us with so much to read and think about and if you haven't had a chance to encounter it, please check out his writing/videos. From Mark's blog day 54 when Nick passed away: Some friends sent me messages to see if I was okay. One friend said, “i feel so heartbroken about Nick. the last thing he posted on facebook was in support of your walk. it made me feel really happy how all of us providence people support and love each other so much. i am so sorry such a wonderful person is gone, i hope you are doing ok on your walk”.  
There will be a memorial for Mark this Saturday from 2-4pm at the Grannoff center 154 Angel Street - There is a memorial fund to continue his work here


Susan Clausen installation in the Dirt Palace Storefront Window
Watch the Video

Susan Clausen has lived in Providence for 33 years. She received a BFA in light metals from the University of Illinois in 1980 and has continued to make artwork ever since, working in many mediums. Clausen attended Tyler School of art as a non-degree grad student and worked as a studio assistant for several glass artists over the years. She worked as a jewelry model maker for 16 years in the costume jewelry industry, as the teaching assistant in the carpentry shop the Rhode Island Juvenile Detention facility and as an artist in residence at Charles Fortes Elementary School. Clausen is one of the original founding members of AS220 in 1985 and is currently employed as one of the property managers for AS220.

Mousie Videos on Vimeo here:

 I feel best when I am engaged in making.

My artwork has typically involved things that move, works that invite interaction and play.  Interactive sculptures, distorted skeleton puppets, trophy like bobble head animals and Stop Motion Animation to name a few.

I always loved making dioramas as a kid. When the opportunity came up to do the Dirt Palace window it seemed a perfect venue for a seven foot skeleton in a rocking chair. I created his environment using bobble heads and other thing I have made to furnish his home.  His world comes to life every night from 5pm to 1am.



One good book that we have in our library is called The Emotional Animal Within All of Us by Mark Baumer. It is from the time when Mark asked the internet for $50,000 to write 50 books in one year. He did not get the money but he wrote the 50 books anyway. Here is some writing that he did about the making of these 50 books in one year:
 ....people at the library heard about the fifty book project somehow and kept asking me if I had written the fiftybooks yet. I got tired of making excuses. It felt embarrassing. Around the beginning of June, I decided I would wake up early before work and write a book each day. After I decided this, I woke up the next morning and wrote a book. That night after work, I did the layout for the book and uploaded it on the internet. Then the next day I wrote another book and did the layout and uploaded that one on the internet. It’s pretty cool we live in a world where someone can literally publish a new book every single day. So yeah, I basically wrote a book every day or so. Sometimes I would feel myself trying to create something that would take years to finish before I would remember I didn’t have years to finish the thing I was trying to create.
Maybe someday we will have all 50 of the books in the Library here. The one about the Emotional Animals is pretty amazing, plus it is great to be reminded that you can wake up, write a book, go to work, come home lay out the book and do it all again 50 times in a year. Here's a sample of this highly informative book about emotional animals:

First thing to remember about emotional animals is that they have a large amount of brain tissue in their armpits. Second thing to remember is that the vivid taste of their existence cannot be swallowed. Third, and most important is that all emotional animals are basically yellow stationary clouds that have been consumed by the swirling blue dolphins that live somewhere beneath your retina and these dolphins can make you blind if you look at yourself the wrong way in a mirror.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cold Winter Announcements

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We Have Some Exciting News!!!!!!
We will be attending RISCA's press conference at 10 am January 19th at the Linden Place Ballroom
for the announcement!!!!!

Dirt Palace is looking for a new Artist in Residence April 1st 
The Dirt Palace is a self organized collective that supports women artists by providing affordable studio space, facilities, shared resources, opportunities and a culture of cooperation. The Dirt Palace is trans-inclusive, strives to be accountable and to work intersectionally.
Seeking experimental feminist with projects that will make use of our current facilities: Legal live/work space with: screen printing shop, letterpress, animation stand, music rehearsal room, wood shop, large shared space for building bigger projects, and library.
Members are expected to attend weekly meetings, monthly work days, do regular chores, keep the kitchen clean, and take a leadership role over running some aspect of the collective project vaguely falling under the conceptual roof of “The Dirt Palace”. If you are interested, all of this (and more!) will be explained in our epic 20 page document called “the Occupancy and Consciousness Agreement” that we will e-mail you upon request. Residencies at the Dirt Palace average about 24 months. We are looking for a commitment of at least a year minimum.

Rent and expenses end up breaking down to about $450 - $470/month:
Rent - $293/month
Heat - $62/month (paid all year round)
Electric - $57 - $69/month (varies)
Internet - $13/month
Sundries - $10/month  (TP, dishsoap,etc)
Netflix - $5-$6/ month (optional)
Parking is included.
We have one cat (baby) and can not take any other cats at this time.

If you would like to learn more contact us at dirtpalace @ yahoo dot com



2014 - 2016
Second-hand denim and leather clothes, wool, canvas, tencel, thread, bugle beads, suminagashi on
denim, silkscreen on denim, snaps. All are hand-sewn.

This series of flags was created in response to the 2012 City of Boston Nuisance Ordinance which
spurred a rash of underground venue shutdowns in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. The show
houses memorialized in this series are but a few of many private residences where live music was
hosted, and whose tenants were charged with fees, eviction, or legal action as a result of the ordinance.
These are homes where I've played music or shown art, met and grew a family of peers. TYFYS is a
thank you to these houses, as well as a goodbye.

Melanie Bernier is an artist and activist working in fibers, music, performance, and aerobics in
Cambridge, MA. An involvement in underground culture influences her artwork and projects, including
 Punk Rock Aerobics, an alternative aerobics class, and Bardo, a house gallery in Cambridge.
Melanie's work has been shown in NYC, Miami, the Greater Boston Area, and featured in
Papercut MagazineStrangewaysCreative Time Reports,NPR, and 99% Invisible. She was recently
awarded a residency at OxBow School of Art. Melanie has performed in dozens of U.S. cities
with her bands, including NYC, Brooklyn, LA, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Boston. Her
 music projects have been featured in Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, NPR, Impose Magazine, and VICELAND's
 skate show King of the Road. Essays she's written have appeared in the Boston Hassle and the
Advocate. Melanie has acted in films such as Love Between the CoversNautical Nymphs, and Don't 
Drink the Devil's Blood. Her work has been used to raise funds for tribal resistance of the Dakota
Access Pipeline, Planned Parenthood, Ladyfest Boston, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and Girls
 Rock Campaign Boston. Additionally, she has worked for organizations benefiting artists with
disabilities and advocating for marriage equality. 
She was born in 1985 in Hartford, CT, the seventh of nine children. She stopped making trash in 2013.


Organized "Sunshine Pool & Fence Co.," a group show opening tonight at Machines with Magnets. It's a
rockstar crew, with many gems from the Dirt Palace! Come out -- starts at 7pm on January 12th.

She is also getting ready to bid a sad farewell to Providence next month, when she will be departing for a
desert adventure and a couple months of weaving in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Xander will be doing some things at two of her favorite institutions this month: The RISD Museum &
Anthology Film Archives.

Jan 17th 7pm: Broken Vision Flaherty Seminar event at Anthology Film Archive - programed by Ruth
Somalo. "This visually striking program focuses on eyesight and its influence on our experience. Xander
Marro’s haunting animation work on shoe catalogues, silver molecules, and melting chemistry, and British
artist Dryden Goodwin’s philosophical film both explore the physical act of looking and the tools we use to perceive the world."

Jan 19th 6pm: RISD Museum:  Artist Fellow Xander Marro presents a series of new graphic works that
re-mix garments and textiles swatched from the archive of the Tirocchi sisters, whose dressmaking shop
brought Paris fashions to Providence between 1915 and 1947, into repeat patterns. Influenced by the
Museum’s exhibition on the Tirocchi shop and its accompanying catalog, Xander’s fellowship allowed her
to examine works of art relating to her interests in Providence history, the history of fashion and textile
design, female entrepreneurship, and the New England Italian immigrant communities. Free.
Hint: This program ties in with the mysterious forthcoming announcement we reference at the top of this


Returning to the Dirt Palace for a few quick but sweet months after a year-long absence, RRLEW is taking
a brief hiatus from performing and, instead, pouring creative energy into the craft of routine and
home-building. Cheers to a winter of patience, self-rediscovery, and peace peace peace!


Has been experimenting with embroidery for the Sunshine Pool & Fence Co. show on 11/12. She also has
some new items up in her webstore available here:


Alison has work in the Sunshine Pool & Fence Co. show at Machines with Magnets.

Check it out in the flesh Thursday, January 12th!


Donate to the Oakland communities affected by the fire


Bridget has some new songs in the world: a track on Untergang Institut’s Secret Map v.1 and covers of
love songs that live only in Nina’s art show at MWM.

Watch the Video

RECTRIX is performing the Whore Paint Record Release
at Tommy's Place 01/27/2017 with Bed Death

Zornoza is also exhibiting some really old quilt work (17 years old!!!)
In Machines with Magnet's Sunshine Pool & Fence Co. opening  this 1.12.17



In the 1960s, a UFO/conspiracy theory magazine called PROBE (also known as THE CONTROVERSIAL PHENOMENA BULLETIN) was published out of RI by JOE FERRIERE, late owner of Woonsocket record store JOE’S MOLDY OLDIES. There’s not a lot online about this publication but a few of us library rats/conspiracy freakos are trying to get more info...if you know more about Joe and his work on the
paranormal, or own any issues of Probe and want to share them with us, please get in touch!! This
LA-based mag, unfortunately unrelated to Joe’s work, was originally published under the title PROBE THE UNKNOWN. It’s got some sick articles- writing by Asimov, behind the scenes of the Close Encounters
movie, and some spooky paranormal psychology stuff….

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


The Dirt Palace is getting strategic (making a plan)! As part of this process we're visiting some organizations/space that we admire and hope to learn from. This post is part of a series of profiles of spaces that we have visited. This project is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
ABC No Rio
(Becky Howland holding up tote bag designed by artist Julie Hair)

Interviews with Founder Becky Howland and Director Steve Englander
At a Glance
Founded: 1980
Staff: 1
Board of Directors: 11
There are no program directors at ABC No Rio. Projects and programs are run by sub-collectives of volunteers.(volunteer run programs, consensus based, fluctuating numbers of volunteers):
Punk/hardcore matinees - usually 8-15 people
Visual arts - 7 - 10
Darkroom - 4 - 6
Zine library - 3 - 5
Print shop - 2
COMA experimental music - 2

About (from ABC No Rio website):

ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture. ABC No Rio was founded in 1980 by artists committed to political and social engagement and we retain these values to the present.

We seek to facilitate cross-pollination between artists and activists. ABC No Rio is a place where people share resources and ideas to impact society, culture, and community. We believe that art and activism should be for everyone, not just the professionals, experts, and cognoscenti. Our dream is of cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists.

Our community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society's disenfranchised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.

(book by Alan Moore and Marc Miller)
(brief history recounted in greatly expanded versions in countless other locations on the internet)

ABC No Rio came out of the The Real Estate show, when a group of artists broke into 123 Delancey Street, right before New Year’s Eve 1979, to create a gallery exhibition criticizing the city of New York’s development policies and disinvestment of the neighborhood. On January 2nd the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development padlocked the building, from the inside, locking the artists from their work and show. Through negotiations with the city, the artists were granted use of  a building that subsequently housed ABC No Rio from 1980 - 2016. Currently the ABC No Rio building at 156 Rivington is slated for demolition with plans to build a new building for the organization at the same address.

ABC No Rio holds a space in both of our imaginations for the punk matinees of the early to mid 90's that we attended as teenagers. (a fact we found out about each other only when we began discussing ABC No Rio recently). What a long history and series of transformations from 1980 till now! It was amazing to interview both Becky Howland who one of the founders, and Steve Englander  who stewarded ABC No Rio as its director from the 90's to the present day,.

We've been told over and over by Becky, and others’ involved in the early days of ABC No Rio, that everyone who was part of that history has a different story and version of the events that went down in 80's that led to the procurement of the No Rio space after the publicity of the shutdown Real Estate Show. For the most part our blog posts have been based on the oral conversations that we’ve had with people. However, Becky’s writing on the early days paints such a portrait of the history that we’ve excerpted a bunch from what she wrote about ABC No Rio in Printed Matter’s, A Book About Colab (and Related Activities).

We broke into an abandoned building for our show about real estate, which opened New Year’s Eve, 1979. Our ragtag bunch did it - and, were rewarded for it- with the space that became ABC No Rio. Amazingly, 35 years later, we own the building. With its program of art and activism, it will remain as what might be called a shrine to defiance, long after we are gone.
Everyone loves a good outlaw story, and, for me this is how it began:
Growing up with the Tumult of assassinations, feminism, and protests against the war in Vietnam - dissent is in my bones. Wending my way from a small town upstate, I arrived in Lower Manhattan in 1974, seeking the community of artists. Nights of gliding to openings, and days of grappling with the reality of the precarious life of an artist. Most artists were living illegally, in commercial loft buildings. If an inspector saw a house plant in a window, a bag of groceries, or a bathtub - Eviction!
By 1979, globally, tension was high - 60 American hostages were taken in Iran. Here at home, real estate values began to climb, and stories emerged of fire marshals forcibly evicting artists from lofts; paintings and possessions dumped on the street. Then, as now, a black woman - Elizabeth Mangum was brutally killed as she resisted eviction from her home in the dead of winter. Under the city glitter, it felt grim, explosive.

Becky recounts how Alan Moore wanted to do a show about real estate and had the idea to break into 123 Delancey to do the show. Becky says “Alan’s friends in Colab weren’t keen on this, so it simmered until we decided to do it anyway, and dedicated it to the murdered woman, Elizabeth Mangum.” This was the first we heard about the Elizabeth Mangum story as impetus and fire for the Real Estate show.

The memories of the early days were fast and loose and somewhat based on timing and coincidence. One of our favorite stories is that, when things started heating up with the city around the Real Estate show, Becky peripherally ended up knowing a woman who was one of the city bureaucrats who had they had to negotiate with. In the not so distant past the woman had been a waitress at a restaurant near where Becky had been working as a plumber’s apprentice. It was a small town coincidence that we are very used to in Rhode Island, where individuals end up having connections from “previous lives” that become part of how people, who might have oppositional interests, are able to see each other as reasonable humans and form unlikely alliances.

Becky describes the course of events leading up to the founding of ABC No Rio: One night we were going around to bars to talk up the Real Estate Show, and then suddenly less than 3 weeks later we were having to figure out how to handle actually having a foot hold into Real Estate. Colab was firm about not wanting to have a fixed location and so we had to regroup from there.

In the end, Becky put her name on the month-to-month lease because no one else would do it.  

After a seven year stint, Becky quit the board around 1987. While relaying this long history of ABC No Rio, from 1980 to the present, well past her own direct involvement, Becky still used the word “we” when describing the changes and fluctuations of the organization. She says “ABC No Rio was important of it’s time because there were virtually no artist spaces in Manhattan and the ownership stake in the building was a toehold in NYC for future ruckus”.

Contextually, in the mid-80’s the whole scene started shifting because of the AIDS crisis. A lot of activity had been happening in bars and clubs, but as people got sick, people started staying home. New York’s landscape started to shift.

Steve Englander had been involved informally in ABC No Rio in the 80's. He left for a bit and came back into the fold through his personal history with squat movements when the group was fighting the city in 1994. It was during this period that No Rio started operating more collectively. Programming came organically. Who showed up is who decided what the programming was. Decision making was based on general consensus. There was a lot of trust and goodwill at this point amongst a group that knew each other well.

It was fascinating to hear Steve riffing on the power of the secretary within boards and organizations, pointing out that the secretary actually writes the history of an organization’s decisions, formulates the language for proposals and resolutions, and can have  a huge amount of influence, even in collective structure. When pressed on how ABC No Rio can exist in NYC with such a modest budget Steve cited two reasons.

  1. “Through ABC No Rio's fabled resourcefulness”
  2. Because of Steve’s personal history with the squatter’s movement and his current residence in a former squat, with incredibly low rent, he is  able to have a salary  much lower than most people could afford with normal NYC rents.

Steve sees his role in the organization as more of a coordinator than a director. His job outside of budgetary administration is to work with the collective members to ensure the success of their programs. However, he is a “dictator” about safety, security and cleanliness. He spends about 10-25% of his time managing volunteers.

What will happen to ABC No Rio? With 7 million dollars raised for their new facility, they still have quite a lot of fundraising to do. However Steve, who seems incredibly pragmatic, is optimistic based on the logic that they represent a part of New York City that’s integral to its identity that has almost vanished, and that elected officials also  seem to understand and have nostalgia for.
Drawings by Becky Howland for "Dear Ivanka" protest