Art groups’ dispute continues despite mediation

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Councilmember Alan Gerson has stepped between the feuding actors and artists of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side with a plan to resolve the long-standing dispute over the center’s management.

Pressure is mounting for the two sides to put aside their rancor and figure out a workable way to share the former school building at 107 Suffolk St. Gerson’s recommendations include the election of five board members by each side and the institution of binding arbitration to settle claims of money owed or space improperly seized.

“We received very positive feedback,” Gerson said about his plan, which would preserve the building’s identity as a Latino-American cultural center. He acknowledged, however, that, “We won’t satisfy each group 100 percent.”

Many believe that satisfying each group partway would still represent progress. Relations between the Clemente Soto Velez Center, which formally manages the space, and the Artists Alliance, Inc, which runs the building’s top to floors, worsened in 1999. That year, the artists stopped paying rent due to what they called lack of heat, leaky ceilings and other management problems.

The city owns the building and put it up for auction every year between 1994 and 1999. Every time, the artists and actors persuaded the city to take it off the auction block. While there is no imminent threat of auction now, its occupants nonetheless feel a sense of urgency to settle their problems.

“We look forward to a positive solution,” said Shelly McGuinness, executive director of Artists Alliance. “It would be really a shame if the building went to auction.”

The city continues to nudge the two sides toward a resolution.

“We are waiting for the existing occupants to come up with an appropriate consensus and management structure,” said Warner Johnston, a spokesperson for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

Calls to two representatives from the Clemente Soto Velez Center went unanswered by press time.

“I can tell you that both groups said they can work with it,” Gerson said. “C.S.V. said 90 percent of it they liked, and Artists Alliance said that they could work within the framework.”

Gerson said he had a meeting with the Clemente Soto Center scheduled for July 21, and that he planned to meet with Artists Alliance shortly thereafter. Based on their continued feedback, Gerson said he might modify his plan.

The councilmember said he did not anticipate any delays: “Things are going to happen quickly at this point.”


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