I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published May 6th 2010
Despite the challenging economic climate, artist collective ABC No Rio has cause to celebrate. Thanks, in part, to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Representative Alan Gerson, the plan to rebuild the collective's long time Rivington Street home finally has legs to the tune of more than $1.6 million in city funding. At the same time, an anonymous donor added another million dollars to the pot. It was a long time coming, but ABC No Rio is officially on the map.
ABC No Rio, run by Steven Englander, is an independent artist collective that has been a force in New York's art and activism scene since 1980. The collective was DIY before the media created a name for the make-it-yourself-from-nothing-ethos. For the past three decades ABC No Rio has defined and invigorated the Lower East Side and offered hundreds, if not thousands, of artists and activists access to information and technology, dark rooms and silk-screening facilities, and the ever-popular zine library (the biggest in the nation!). This year also marks the collective's twentieth anniversary of historic Saturday afternoon hardcore/punk matinees. But it's not only 15-year-olds who are coming to ABC No Rio these days. The collective now hosts an impressive roster of visual arts exhibits, poetry readings, artists' discussion groups, performances, and workshops that appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.
While the facilities are not top-notch, they are affordable (darkroom time goes for the unbelievably low rate of $6 per hour, while screen printing ranges from $3 to $20). What is priceless, however, is the solidarity and comradery artists experience when they work together, share techniques, and exhibit in the historic space, recreated again and again over the last 30 years through the hard work of volunteers who suffered many cold winters without heat.
So here's to all the volunteers who staged sit-ins and squatted without electricity or heat to preserve their rights to keep the collective running. And now, in 2010, as the Lower East Side is turning into a slate of glass condos and overpriced boutiques, ABC No Rio has won the race. The tenement where the artists and activists stood against the city will be gone, but a new state-of-the-art facility will rise in its place. And what a victory for the people of the Lower East Side. Sometimes the little guys win.