Since the city began undergoing intense gentrification in the late 1970s, many artists have stepped up and to occupy and sometimes even reclaim places to both preserve the city’s history, but also to highlight the negative implications of gentrification, and showcase their unique artistry. The city is known for its heralded art museums, but to be showcased is a difficult feat in itself.
Take a look at 10 places in New York City that artists and musicians have occupied to showcase their skills, and preserve ideals of community building by fighting gentrification.
10. 123 Delancey Street
In 1979, a group of artists who called themselves the Committee for the Real Estate Show, broke into an vacant, city-owned commercial building on the Lower East Side and installed an art exhibit in a response to the gentrification happening all across New York City, which consequently evicted many people from their homes.
The exhibit, titled, the Real Estate Show not only commented on the increasing gentrification, but also the artists who were complicit “pawns” in allowing “greedy white developers” revalue property. The exhibit had also been installed in solidarity with the death of Elizabeth Mangum, a 35-year-old woman who was killed during her eviction in Flatbush earlier that year by a policeman.
The exhibit featured politically motivated paintings, installations, drawings, posters and such by young artists, some of which would move on to have notable careers, such as Alan Moore, Ann Messner, Peter Moenning, Becky Howland, Bobby G., and Christof Kohlhofer. After unsuccessfully trying to reach out to city administrators for permission to use its unused spaces, the group decided they would break in on their own.
As Becky Howland explained in Places Journal, “We were like packs of artists with no place to go. Where can we show next? Where can I live? What can I do? Where can I be?” They replaced the city’s lock with their own and set to work on putting together the exhibit.
The show was not something that was calling for “rights,” since there was no legal problem. The artists explicitly called their exhibit “insurrectionary urban development” on posters put up around the city which expressed very clearly their goals. One of them states, “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.”
On January 2nd, 1980, just two days after opening, the artists returned to the space to find the NYC Department of Housing & Development had locked them out, shutting down the exhibit. They tried to contact the HPD and with no success were able to get the space reopened. They sent a letter to the office announcing they would be there on January 8th to reopen the show, and that they’d be waiting for the HPD to come and unlock the doors.
The doors remained locked, the works brutally and without care moved to a warehouse. The ejection was covered by many major new outlets, including the New York Times, which quoted Alan Moore stating “Our ideas are behind bars. And this is a statement made by the city, not by the artists.”