‘Acker Awards’ return to celebrate The Village and the avant-garde art scene

Acker Awards ceremony 2022
Acker Award winners (and a few friends) at the Theatre for the New City on Sunday night, Dec. 11, 2022.
Photo by Bob Krasner

When you think about awards ceremonies, a few things may come to mind — red carpets, glamorous gowns, glittering jewels, limos — but this isn’t the Oscars or the Grammies, it’s the 8th annual New York Acker Awards.

Shambolic might be a better way to characterize Clayton Patterson’s celebration of neighborhood and art. In recognizing talent from disciplines that run the gamut from painting to music to activism to feminist porn, Patterson aims to shine a light on “what makes the creativity of the community happen.”

Named after the experimental novelist, playwright, essayist, and postmodernist writer Kathy Acker, Patterson created the award in 2014 to “embrace the whole spectrum” of downtown avant-garde creators. Each recipient of the Acker receives a box which contains a contribution from each of the winners, as well as a pair of posters designed by other award winners and a cup featuring a portrait drawn by Anthony Zito of a deceased compadre.

This year, the box was decorated with pages of vintage “Stars and Stripes” papers and the “National Enquirer” by Zbigniew Zolkowski, aka Joey Baby, who sadly passed away a couple of days after the task was complete.

The event began with Leonard Abrams, editor of the East Village Eye, being introduced by emcee Phoebe Legere as “the sexiest intellectual around.” Legere apologized for looking like she had just come from a funeral because, she said, “I’ve just come from a funeral.”

Walter Steding, who received an award for his art, was as flamboyant as ever in his tuxedo and top hat as he reminisced, played his violin solo and then accompanied Legere for a spoken word piece before the awards were presented.

Master printer/photographer Sid Kaplan took home an Acker boxPhoto by Bob Krasner
Legere and Patterson with Raquel Shapira, who won anaward for her work in Graphic ArtsPhoto by Bob Krasner
Award winner Lucy Sante, flanked by Clayton Patterson and Phoebe LegerePhoto by Bob Krasner
Seth Tobocman reminds Patterson of their first meeting, in jailPhoto by Bob Krasner
Steve Marcus, illustratorPhoto by Bob Krasner

Although many of the recipients were unable to attend this year, the ones that did made sure to note their gratitude and some took a moment to address Patterson, who created the award back in 2014.

Seth Tobocman, whose activist art projects earned him his Acker, noted that “the first time I met Clayton, we were both in jail and I had a bloody nose.”

Steve Marcus, recognized for his illustration work, shared that “after over 30 years of creating my art in the Lower East Side, it’s amazing to be acknowledged.”

Author Lucy Sante said, “It was really sweet and I was proud to be there, representing as an elder. I’ve been out of the Lower East Side for 30 years, but it’s still the place I think of as home, many ruinous changes later. It’s the only neighborhood that could have given rise to an award that reflects its myriad styles and clans and eccentricities and brought together NYC neighborhood pride.”

The process for determining who gets the Acker box is pretty simple – various people make nominations and Patterson decides who’s in.

Past winners include John Kelly, Johan Vipper, Puma Perl, Penny Arcade, Godlis and Gina Healy, with Lifetime Achievement recognition awards going to Crystal Field of the Theater for the New City and performance artist/writer/filmmaker Annie Sprinkle, among others.

Phoebe Legere and Walter Steding opened the evening with a performancePhoto by Bob Krasner
Burning Buddha, who once worked the door at CBGB’s, received an Acker for his musicPhoto by Bob Krasner
Dennis Flores accepts an award for Video ActivismPhoto by Bob Krasner
Clayton Patterson takes a shot of Freaky Frige’s gift for himPhoto by Bob Krasner
Peggy Awesh accepting her awardPhoto by Bob Krasner

Patterson notes that the award is not for mainstream success or for newcomers, as the recipient has to be at least in their 40s. An artist like Patti Smith is unlikely to take one home, as Patterson mentioned onstage and reiterates later, “she’s already got lots of attention. This is about discovery – people who are sowing seeds in the neighborhood.”

He hopes that full sets of the boxes from over the years — which, in a way, function as time capsules — will end up in suitable institutions for later reference.

“It’s a snapshot of the community,” he muses. “Judith Malina’s archives went to Yale and her box is there now. It would be great if they had a complete set. Howl! should have a set too.”

“I hope that the Ackers will continue when I say ‘Adios Amigos’, he adds. “It’s a great cross section of downtown culture.”

More information about the New York Acker Awards can be found at nyackerawards.info/2020_acker-awards.html and Clayton Patterson at patterson.no-art.info.