#SaveNYCSpaces Means Protecting the City’s Most Vulnerable Populations

Artists assemble to protect underground venues

Photo by Kristine Villanueva

Artists are proving that not only do they know how to create — they know how to organize.

The Night Mayor, who will act as a liaison between the city and its nightlife industry, is slated to be chosen next month. Artists and activists gathered at Market Hotel in Brooklyn last Wednesday to voice their concerns to the Office of Nightlife. Some them include protecting the artist community from the debilitating effects of real estate development and ensuring that the Night Mayor will have a deep understanding of all aspects of nightlife in the city.

“I do believe the position should be that of a cultural ambassador with the sensitivity and respect of the multifaceted race and class divides that nightlife bridges, especially at its roots and grassroots,” said Jeannie Hopper of 99.5 FM WBAI, a New York City-based, non-profit radio station.

From the origins of hip-hop in the Boogie Down Bronx to the Bowery’s undisputed birthplace of punk, the best of New York City’s contributions to music and art are often made in the city’s underground or Do It Yourself spaces. The underground art scene is comprised of a diverse array of people who often feel marginalized like people of color, the LGBTQ community and undocumented immigrants. Artists hope that with the new Night Mayor, the scene will continue to thrive and act a safe haven for vulnerable populations. The only way to keep these creative spaces alive is to prioritize affordability.

“…We’re fighting for a vision of the city of New York where even if the city becomes more and more expensive, there are places where people can come together in friendship and build on new ideas that become new cultures just like how hip-hop started in the Bronx and then became something that everyone in the world is familiar with,” said Jamie Burkart of the New York City Artist Coalition, that organized the event.

While these spaces represent only 4 percent of all audiences in the city, they gave birth to world-renowned acts like the Ramones, Patti Smith and hip-hop’s first commercially successful rapper, Kurtis Blow, who also spoke at the event. Still, 20 percent of the city’s small venues have closed over the past 15 years.

Despite their uphill battles, artists are getting traction. Representatives from the Office of Nightlife announced that they will begin repealing the prohibition-era Cabaret Law that requires a license “for any business that sells food and/or beverages to the public and allows patron dancing in a room, place, or space.” Historically, the law has been used to shut down cultural hubs for marginalized groups like jazz clubs, Latin dance clubs and DIY venues.

The event will not be the last of its kind. Artists will certainly continue to advocate and foster a relationship with the Office of Nightlife moving forward.

“We’re going to be engaged forever,” explained Burkart. “As long as there are artists and as long as there is New York City, there needs to be dialogue there.”

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I’m a student at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, working with the D.I.Y Scene in the greater New York area. Want to talk or collaborate? Shoot me an e-mail: kristine.villanueva@journalism.cuny.edu

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