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Friday, September 14, 2007

Video: East Village memories

The scene at Andy Warhol's 'Exploding Plastic Inevitable'
on St. Mark's Place in the 1960s

east villagevideodowntownA perfect little video interlude titled Art and Unrest in the East Village appeared online at the NY Times site today on the history of the East Village by John Strausbaugh, who also wrote the related article Paths of Resistance in the East Village. It's the neighborhood that my grandparents lived in after emigrating to the US in the early twentieth century, as well as countless others who came here before and afterward. Later in the 50's, and more as I remember it in the late 70's as an Art student, it was the epicenter of counter-culture and the NY Arts scene. The piece laments that the the "East Village has been dragged up-market" as a sort of negative which might be challenged by my parents and others who grew up there during the Great Depression and witnessed its decline. The work of activist, photographer and videographer Clayton Patterson, a native of Alberta, Canada, is featured throughout. He has documented the changes he's seen there since 1979. Mr. Patterson, also the editor of Resistance: A Radical Political and Social History of the Lower East Side, a collection of essays on the politics of East Village real estate.

I probably share some of his concerns, but at one point he seems to imply that poverty is a driving force in the Arts, "all that greatness that American and especially New York culture is known for can never happen again, that is a wasteland. All that culture is connected to the cheap rents and the poverty". I think that's a stretch. The fact is that our culture does not often recognize the value of the Arts in a material way. It is therefore incubated in poorer areas. Poverty or privilege does not of itself spawn creativity. The city's Arts scene has always been nomadic. It is a part of the city's life cycle. Yes, things change. Artists displaced by increasing costs, pollinate and revitalize new areas of the city. The new creative hothouses are currently in the South Bronx, Bedford Stuyvesant, and still to some extent in Williamsburg. What might be more useful is a fresh discourse and rethinking of how we support, promote and incubate the Arts in our culture, rather than another rant about those damn yuppies movin' in. No matter your point of view, I think that you'll enjoy watching this very informative video about the rich contribution of this downtown neighborhood over the past 150 years.

play video: Art and Unrest in the East Village