Festival Prompts New Gentrification Debate

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At a news conference last week announcing the schedule for the inaugural Festival of Ideas, New Museum Director Lisa Phillips said, “three years ago, when we moved to the Bowery we witnessed a dramatic transformation of this neighborhood.”   The festival (May 4-8), she added, is an opportunity to engage the community in a conversation about its future.  It seems s conversation has already started,  reigniting an old debate —  about the New Museum’s role in accelerating the pace of gentrification on the Bowery.

Even the most ardent Lower East Side preservationists would have to concede the museum has added greatly to the cultural life of the neighborhood. The festival is a collaboration among many downtown-centric organizations. A number of groups dedicated to fighting gentrification — including the Cooper Square Committee, Good Old Lower East Side and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors — are taking part.

As we reported yesterday, however, antiques dealer Billy Leroy (“Mayor of the Bowery”) is not exactly embracing the festivall. He told Curbed, “these yuppies from the New Museum don’t get it. NYC does not need another street fair. It’s not cool to try and gentrify the Bowery.”

This brief item prompted a couple of interesting reader comments.

Brad Burgess of the Living Theater (the legendary radical theater company on Clinton Street) wrote:

How can you be against a festival promoting alternative energy and arts education!? It’s anti-human. I doubt Bill even understands that half of the groups he is insulting as part of the festival are ones that he probably would hold up as wonderful local institutions, maybe even higher percentage. Probably even some of his friends are involved. This is why art and cultural progress is stunted and deformed, not because some wealthy white people are involved. That is a good thing in this case! What a great thing for them to support! It’s this kind of negative attitude that flies in the face of progress in any community and creates animosity and disunity, ultimately assuring the kind of imbalance Bill is afraid of.  It’s the defeated radicals and outdated/embittered locals that feel you can only be hip if you are on the losing side. What a negative aspect to The Lower East Side. I’d much rather that attitude go away than the investment in New Ideas.

Billy Leroy responded:

Don’t you see you are buying into the Corporation “the man” I grew up on the Upper Eastside went to Prep Schools in Conn. and Switzerland..I left that world 20+ years ago to be with people/Atrists/Outlaws that could be who they wanted to be with cheap rent…now that is all gone..just Sheeple wearing American Apparel and Latte’s permanently attached to there meathooks. I am on the Street everyday watching the herds go by. I love the Artist’s god bless them take advantage of getting some exposer but let’s be real the New Museum is a farce it’s not for the Artists it’s for RICH..In 5 years the LES and Bowery will look like the Upper Eastside..Herds of stressed out rich people with to much cosmetic surgery instead of Bums and Junkies.

No doubt, the debate will rage on before, during and after the Festival of Ideas.

2 comments to Festival Prompts New Gentrification Debate

  • Which downtown criminals were you referring too? The Wall Street ones who did the latest round of “legalized” theft or the poorer ones who go to jail?
    Which junkies? The rich white ones on cocaine or the poor ones on other drugs?

    Don’t try to reduce this to being pissed off at rich folk (though hey, you can kind of see why it would go there – things are a tad unfair). Most of us are angry at an economic system that chews up the slack and resources of the most of the world to cushion the lives of people already well cushioned. The insecurities of the wealthy are not eased by this and the rest of us are squeezed dry.

    You can talk about “alternative energy” and “arts education” and other favored buzz words, but really you can’t do anything sustainable for humans or the planet as long as we have an economic system hell-bent on short term profits at any cost. New markets must be found and exploited whether they be pristine forests or a grizzled old Bowery.

    Some of us did and do raise families here (Latino/a, Chinese, Italian, African, and European Heritage) and we’ve been doing it for a while. I liked my neighborhood just fine in the 70’s and 80’s . It was alive and yes, a bit wild. I like(d) living side by side with people who are poorer and richer than I am. I think it makes us smarter and less narrow.

    So take the money, try to do something honest with it, but don’t kid yourself that this is about redistributing the wealth and creating a “new” city. Unless you mean a city that is absent of working class, poor and, at this point, even middle class people.

  • Brad Burgess

    If your argument is that you want junkies and criminals downtown…then I have nothing for you, that is truly insurmountable stubbornness.

    Your initial argument talks of causing a security problem for the festival for crying out loud…

    As someone who might want to raise a family downtown in the future, I do hope not many people feel the way you do or will act that way or speak that way. Should the neighborhood return to how it was in the 70’s and 80’s when it was unsafe to be here? Is that your goal? It’s hard to understand.

    What do you want even, other than to be angry at people with money? That’s not original, it has nothing to do with the spirit of the LES, and it is the only thing that will empower “the man” that you harken back to. Just being jealous and bitter at those wealthier than you, will only further the capitalist system. If you can find ways to work with them and redistribute their resources for good (which this festival is doing), that can keep them from coming in with cranes and bulldozing over us.

    Also, there is no way the LES could look like the Upper East Side in 5 years, that shows no understanding of the current real estate market, nor where the neighborhood is at culturally. They haven’t been able to finish the first big building like that on Ludlow, and it has stood half finished for over three years yet somehow in 5 years, the entire neighborhood will look like that? I doubt it.

    The museum has pay what you can nights weekly, and often finds ways of getting money to under supported local artists. Two long time local, Living Theatre actors got paid work in an exhibit which helped them rehearse unpaid for our Pacifist Anarchist theatre company.

    There’s no argument here Billy, your attitude is the stereotype, your attitude keeps the man in power, and your attitude should change.

    Why not use your energy to bring some kids from a school that lost its art programs to The New Museum one of the Thursday Pay What You Can Nights? It might change their life and rebuild your attitude a little bit.