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From Soho to Brooklyn, Must Alternative Arts Just Mean Gentrification?

By Matthew Russell Lee

NEW YORK CITY, October 29 -- How do independent artists try to avoid being stalking horses for real estate development? What is alternative art?

  The questions were raised on October 29 in a self styled alternative space on Tenth Avenue in the West 30s, when Stefan Eins of Fashion Moda previously in the South Bronx (and now in Harlem) spoke, along with Beka Economopoulos of the Not an Alternative space in Williamsburg.

  Inner City Press asked each of them, and the other panelists who appeared along with Beka, about gentrification and the limits of good intentions. Avram Finkelstein, designer of the Silence = Death anti-AIDS logo, said one has to consider ownership, not only of property but also ideas. He recounted how AmFAR edited from a poster any reference to corporate greed.

  Earlier in the panel discussion at Exit Art, tales were told of alternative spaces on Greene Street and Bleecker and Bowery, all locations now firmly gentrified. The Asian American Arts Center has, in a sense, been gentrified out of existence. It has retreated from a McDonalds invaded building on the Bowery to a smaller space on Norfolk, seeking grants to digitize photos of its former exhibitions.

 To Inner City Press' question about how artists can avoid being the vanguard of gentrification, Exit Art founder Jeannette Ingberman whispered an answer about capitalism. Earlier, NYU academic Melissa Bachleff Burtt had recounted stories of Yoko Ono's loft on Chambers Street, and the 10th Street co-op scene.

   Alanna Heiss of P.S. 1 and the Clocktower Gallery, among other great stories told about the Crown Heights Police Station, saying it “made Fort Apache [The Bronx] look like a garden party, with artists' studios in holding cells and a commander, Adam Butcher, who spoke of poets, painters and policemen. And now, it's condominiums.

Fashion Moda in The Bronx, answers on Soho and Brooklyn gentrification not shown

Stefan Eins of Fashion Moda told Inner City Press that although his iconic space on Third Avenue and 147th Street closed, he moved to a brownstone in Harlem, and has traveled as far as Osh in Kyrgyzstan to present about Fashion Moda. That never triggered gentrification, perhaps because it closed. Or could that be why it closed?

  In Exit Art, many alternative spaces were memorialized in cardboard boxes: the Longwood Arts Project in the Bronx, Gran Fury and others. (The Fashion Moda box contain, along with photos of Ahearn murals, a photo book by On the wall were posters of the Real Estate Show held on Delancey Street in 1980, and a photo of Elenor Holmes Norton when she was with the Studio Museum in Harlem. The show, and the boxes, are worth seeing.

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In Brooklyn, A Tale of 2 Girl Bands, The Raw & The Cooked, Heliotropes and Scamps

By Matthew Russell Lee

GREENPOINT, NY, August 27 -- Two female led bands rocked the Matchless Bar in Greenpoint on Friday night, one raw and one cooked. The first, the all female trio Heliotropes, was reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. The guitarist and singer was in a flannel shirt; the drummer, also Asian, stood up in a too short skirt. The African bassist was allowed to rock out. The trio was endearing and promising, touchingly deferential to the coming headliners, The Scamps.

   The Scamps, a hybrid quartet with closely honed songs reminiscent of the early Talking Heads, were launching their CD. They played each song from the CD. The lead singer and guitarist, in David Bowie-like short hair, switched midway to a slide guitar. The space grew warm; she was sweating and smiling.

  The organ player, a placid Asian woman with a tattoo on her left arm, sang in unison. The bass player, a seemingly emotionless Nordic session musician, was matched by a drummer with tongue out and drum machine.

   If the Scams' lineup sounds incongruous, their songs were tight, maybe too tight for some. Comparing the two bands, one imagined the Heliotropes drawn as is by gravity to increasing practicing and tightness, in order to become headlines like the The Scamps, to have a better attended CD launch event. But is bigger always better?

   Better is subjective. This reviewer prefers the endearing amateur to the finely honed presentation. It is merely a prejudice, or preference. One might advise Heliotrope to move out of New York, or at least out of Greenpoint / Williamsburg, to a place like Akron, Ohio. Perhaps there is an Akron in New York. Perhaps Inner City Press can find it. Watch this site.

Heliotropes, overcooking not shown

Matchless, as venue, is virutally matchless. The former car garage to the side of the bar has been subdivided by a door with windows. In the music space, complete with disco ball, a long wooden bench as if from a subway from another era has stools as Ottomen. There are sound checks, and outside, McCarran Park.

In the park, there is a yellow school bus with at least one person living inside. Is it Ken Kesey or the next Heliotropes? Watch this site.

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NYC Summer Music Ranges from Monklike Tango to White Rabbits, Fania All Stars, Hipsters to Salseros

By Matthew Russell Lee

NEW YORK CITY, August 22 -- This summer in the City the music has been free. The main Summerstage in Central Park has hosted, among others, the minimalist British duo The xx. Click here for Inner City Press' review. But its satellite in East River park has recently had the White Rabbits, complete with upright piano in the renovated East River Amphitheater.

  Nearly entirely white hipsters stood awkwardly and listening, filming the proceedings on cell phones for uploading to YouTube. There was Grape Nut ice cream and people longing for (a) Spoon.

  A week later in the same venue, the tribute salsa band Fania All-Stars drew a larger and more demonstrative crowd, this time nearly entirely Latino. A woman in the front rows slowly waved a Puerto Rican flag; the smell of pescado frito for sale wafted over the crowd.

  A borough east in Brooklyn on August 20, an Argentine tango quartet rocked the Vora Space at 315 4th Avenue. Most striking was pianist Octovio Brunetti, who deployed Thelonius Monk-like chords over Mercedes Sosa songs sung by Mariel Sol, and even a bit of salsa.

Octavio Brunetti, radiator and Rooftop not shown

  The crowd was largely South American and older. They looked happy in Vora's small space, with a white painted radiator on the stage. The bartender gave out free wasabi peas. The event packed more wallop and not only wasabi than the season's end of Rooftop Films just a block away, sold out to a European crowd which tried to scalp tickets on the banks of the Canal.

  Finally for now, further back in Park Slope at 444 Seventh Avenue in the Bar 4, a rock quartet played for what looked like their own roommates. There was vodka on the foosball table, a white crowd gyrating. This is summer in the City, at least some parts of it. Some heard as soundtrack: LCD Soundsystem's "New York, I Love You." To be continued.

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At UN, Nigeria's Reception Features Fela and Gambari, UNAMID Vote Friday

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 28 -- At Nigeria's end of Security Council Presidency reception Wednesday night, the de facto guest of honor was Ibrahim Gambari. Ambassador Joy Ogwu, who has followed him in each of his Nigerian jobs, took photos with him, as did Nigerian and other UN staff members in attendance.

  The event was in the penthouse of Nigeria House, built under Gambari's tenure as his country's ambassador to the UN. So it was something of a home coming.

  As regards his current job, the joint African Union - UN Mission in Darfur, the vote to extend its mandate will be Friday and not Thursday. Gambari chatted up the political coordinators of Council members such as Mexico, Austria and Turkey. He schmoozed Western Deputies Philip Parham and Rosemary DiCarlo.

  Chief backer China did not appear in attendance. But that was not the point: Nigeria's representative on the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions was there, kindly telling Inner City Press about ACABQ's trip to El Fasher during one of Gambari's absences, to see the cost of living differences in different parts of Sudan.

   Later, she helped procure a plate of food for Ghana Perm Rep Leslie K. Christian, then clear the tables It is a down home and full service mission, one refreshingly without pretensions.

   The soundtrack was pure Fela, spun by a Ethiopian DJ who words for the Nigerian mission. More than one Nigerian remarked to Inner City Press that Gambari, like Fela, might not always be welcome in Nigeria: the latter because of protest, Gambari due to perceived defense of the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha.

   But on Wednesday Sani Abacha was scarcely mentioned. Ambassador Ogwu, the host with the most, said she does not envision following Gambari to a peacekeeper mission, as she is 64, as in the Beatles' song.

Joy Ogwu and DPA, Ms. Gurlach not shown, outside candidate in wings?

   Goodluck Jonathan's picture was up; the UN Department of Public Information's reticence to move from Lagos to Abuja was a bone of contention. A spicy dish came with fish bones included. The vibe was good: but where were China and Russia, August's president?

It was confirmed to Inner City Press that DPI is consenting to include the word “blogger” for the first time in their accreditation guideline. Still they are trying to confine it to a footnote. We'll see -- watch this site.

Our own footnote, then: the top Department of Political Affairs post with Security Council Affairs, from which Horst Heitmann was removed without ceremony, will not necessarily go to Ms. Gerlach. The talk now is of an outside candidate. But why leave this post unfilled for so long?

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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