‘Art Attack’ offered fleeting protest of controversial East River Park resiliency project

Frank Ape, whose work is well known in the East Village, painted one of his signature pieces so quickly that many of the other artists had no idea that he had been there. (Photo by Bob Krasner)


If any trees fall in East River Park, there will be plenty of people around to hear it — but the results of a recent protest were erased so quickly that not many had the chance to witness it.

A diverse group of artists began work late on Oct. 9 and by evening had covered the park’s amphitheater and nearby grounds with art to call attention to the plight of the park. Yet by Saturday afternoon, all evidence of their discord had been power-washed away.

The East River Park has become a focal point for activists as the city continues to push forward its plan to build a seawall to protect against a rising water level, destroying the current park in the process. The sprawling city park, used by countless people every day for exercise, family gatherings or just solitary meditation, will be unusable for years as the city works to boost the area’s resiliency to coastal storms.

“It’s a horrible plan!” says Murphy Cox-Nicol, who is making a documentary about the whole mess. “They’ve already spent millions to renovate the park and now they want to spend over a billion dollars, close the park for five years and destroy 1,000 trees. Everything that is wrong with the world is in this project – greed, stupidity and destruction.”

Max poses with his almost finished piece.

Annika Samuels opted for a hands on approach.

“The city signed a death warrant on the park, but we want to be part of the conversation,” Ian Knife tells us. Knife, who describes himself as “just a local East Village artist, activist, community organizer”, came up with the idea of mounting an “Art Attack” to bring attention to the cause.

“We’re not just tagging,” he explains. “We’re creating a massive artwork.” Part of the idea is to “invoke the Visual Artist Rights Act to buy us more time.”

Pat Arnow of the activist group East River Park ACTION states the goal simply: “Our dream is to stop this and get a better plan. This is the most diverse park in the city – everyone uses it.”

Artists came from all over and quickly turned the bandshell into a collaborative canvas featuring trees, squirrels, flowers, slogans and the occasional political message. “Trump Final Dayz”, read one.

Frank Ape (aka Brandon Sines) heard about the protest and lent his talent, even though he doesn’t live in the borough. “I hope we can postpone what is happening,” he said. “It’s beautiful here.”

Actress/performance artist Heather Litteer stopped on her run to say how she felt. “This park has been a sanctuary for me for years. It would be a shame to lose it now when we really need it.”

Clinical Psychotherapist Jayson Miller paid tribute to the endangered trees.
Rivington School artists protested the proposed destruction of 1000 trees.
Al Diaz, known for creating the SAMO tag with Jean-Michel Basquiat, came by to sign the amphitheatre with his original “BOMB” tag.

Elder statesman Al Diaz, who created the legendary SAMO tag with Jean-Michel Basquiat, arrived as the sun set to show his support by adorning a wall with his first solo tag, BOMB-1, which he came up with as a teenager.

“It seemed more appropriate,” he mused, before reminiscing about hanging out at the bandshell in the 1970s. “Nobody cared about it then. There was a space underneath the stage that was filled with junkies.”

The city wasted no time destroying the work, sending workers in hazmat suits the next day to power wash it clean.

Arnow, however, was feeling positive about the piece despite the outcome. “It was a great action,” she said. “Whatever people can do to bring awareness is a good thing.”

Knife, on the other hand, was “devastated” when he heard that their work was being erased.

“We wanted to send a loud and clear message and they wanted to destroy that message,” he explained. “Our intention was not vandalism, but an alternative to an ‘Occupy Wall Street ‘ situation. There are trees that fell in the last storm and garbage that hasn’t been cleaned up, but they are spending money to erase art.”

Spoutnik, one of the artists who spent hours collaborating on a piece with Angry Red, was undeterred. “We did it, it was cool, it was not a waste of time,” she stated. “I just want to know, what’s next?”

Pat Arnow of East River Park Action (left ) and organizer Ian Knife spoke ti the artists and then got right to work.