Howl! scares Boys’ Club off Avenue A

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Howl! festival organizers say they were responsible for silencing a rival street fair that was scheduled for last Saturday on Avenue A, but the city says it was the decision of the fair’s promoter to cancel the event at the last minute.

Howl! supporters had threatened civil disobedience if the street fair, organized by the Boys’ Club of New York, was held as planned on Oct. 4. They objected to the fair because they said it used illegal tactics to commandeer the stretch of Avenue A that they had hoped to use in August for Howl! Adding to their outrage, organizers said that the Boys’ Club alumni fair would be a generic event that contributed nothing to the neighborhood.

But Howl! supporters didn’t get a chance to stage their protest. Last Thursday, the promoter of the Boys’ Club alumni event decided to cancel, according to Commissioner Jonathan Greenspun of the mayor’s Community Assistance Unit.

“Rather than have a confrontation, [we decided to] play it safe and easy,” said Phil La Lumia, a board of directors member of the Boys’ Club of New York Alumni, Inc., which organized the fair with the help of a professional promoter.

Before they cancelled, the Boys’ Club alumni group had decided not to set up a booth at the fair for fear of retaliation, La Lumia said. Last year, the event raised $12,000 for the Boys’ Club Harriman Clubhouse on E. 10th St., according to La Lumia.

Howl! had a different interpretation of the turn of events. In addition to leafleting, Howl! supporters would have lain down in the streets and held a parade on Avenue A to disrupt the Oct 4 street fair, according to David Leslie, artistic director of Howl! Those efforts turned out to be unnecessary.

“I think that this would be a lesson to people that they can band together and make these things leave,” Leslie said.

The inaugural Howl! festival took place as a block party in late August on St. Mark’s Pl. and in Tompkins Sq. Park. It featured a weeklong series of events centered on the East Village’s artistic and counter-cultural heritage.

The city rejected all new applications for street fairs this year, and as such had turned down organizers’ request to hold Howl! on Avenue A, Greenspun said. The Boys’ Club alumni group had held a fair last year, so they were allowed to continue this year, he added.

Howl! organizers claimed that the Boys’ Club of New York Alumni, Inc., pulled illegal moves in their street fair application, such as forging signatures on petitions. Greenspun said on Tuesday that the Community Assistance Unit had found the allegations of forged signatures to be without basis. However, Greenspun added that the office would continue to investigate the organizers’ other claims.

Greenspun said that next year Howl! would likely be granted the same position it was given this year for a block party on St. Mark’s Pl. He said the Boys’ Club alumni fair had not been rescheduled for this year, but that the organization may be granted permission next year.

Leslie said Howl! understood that their protests against the Boys’ Club group might not result in their being granted a coveted spot on Avenue A next year.

“That’s fair enough,” Leslie said. “We’re not asking for special consideration.”