Scoopy’s Notebook, Week of Sept. 7, 2017

Ai Weiwei snapping a selfie in front of the Washington Square Arch, where he hopes to install the centerpiece of his “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” public-art project.

Trying to find a Weiwei: The Public Art Fund’s planned citywide “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” project has stirred up some opposition in the Village, due to the Ai Weiwei installation planned for under the Washington Square Arch during the holiday season, which would displace the annual holiday tree. But Nicholas Baume, the nonprofit arts group’s director and chief curator, said the fund has agreed to pay for repositioning the tree, among other things. Baume told us this week that he has been in contact with the community about the installation and where the holiday tree would be placed. “We have gotten an outpouring of support from the community about the installation,” Baume assured. No one seems to know yet, however, where the tree would go. Maybe stick it in the fountain and make sure to keep the water jets off? He also pointed out that they have been in talks with the Washington Square Association, the primary group that has fought against the installation. “There is a deep respect for the monument and what it represents,” Baume said of the arch. “The installation has been approved and is code-compliant. It will not touch or deface the arch in any way.” By “approved,” Baume meant that, according to him, the project has allegedly already been O.K.’d by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (Washington Square Park is in a landmarked district) and the Parks Department. Yet, strangely, the proposed project still has not gone before Community Board 2, which — the last time we checked — is usually the first step of the approval process in these situations. So, has it really been approved yet? Or is it just a fait accompli? Ai, who is from China, lived in the East Village during the 1980s. The famed artist has said this project is intended as a reaction to America’s retreat from its essential attitude of political openness. Baume stressed that Ai is a passionate advocate for refugees — and people, in general. “Ai views the arch as symbolic — it is a work of art in itself,” Baume said. “Ai was influenced by the political turmoil going on in the [East] Village at the time and by artists like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. That experience was very informative for him.” Renderings of the under-arch installation show a 16-foot-tall cutout of two humans embracing in a hug. Baume said the cutout is a representation of the human spirit. “A border can stop people,” he said, “but the human spirit can break down those barriers.” Baume was scheduled to make a presentation to a joint hearing of Community Board 2’s Parks and Waterfront Committee and Arts and Institutions Committee on the evening of Wed., Sept. 6 — in fact, the first public discussion about the project — as The Villager was going to press.

Rosie report: City Councilmember Rosie Mendez and District Leader Anthony Feliciano are unopposed and so have already “won” election as the East Village’s Democratic district leaders. They will just automatically “win” on Sept. 12 — Feliciano being re-elected and Mendez elected — and take office Sept. 13. Their potential opponents were knocked off the ballot due to “deficiencies” in their petition signatures, we’re told. Mendez, of course, will be term-limited out of office at the end of this year after three terms in the City Council. We asked her what she would do if Brian Kavanagh is picked by the County Committee to run for former state Senator Daniel Squadron’s seat. Would she run for Assembly? Mendez told us, “If there is a vacancy, I’ll consider it. I’m not throwing my hat in the ring — but I’m not dismissing it, either.” Her political club, Coalition for a District Alternative, will vote Sept. 14 on who they will back for state Senate.

Rogers report: Assuming Carlina Rivera wins Mendez’s Council seat, Rivera’s husband, Jamie Rogers, plans to step down as chairperson of Community Board 3. In an interview with The Villager last October, Rogers told us he would do exactly this. When he would relinquish the position, though, is still up in the air. “If Carlina wins, I would plan to step down as chairperson as early as January 2018, when she would be inaugurated,” Rogers told us. “I will leave it to the C.B. 3 membership whether they would like me to serve out my term [as chairperson], which would end in June. But under no circumstance would I run for chairperson again. As we talked about last year, I don’t think it makes sense for two community leadership positions to be held by two people who live under the same roof. There are many great community board members capable of serving as chairperson.” He plans to serve on the board for one more two-year term.

Cooper superstar: Speaking of Mendez, she tipped us off last week that Valerio Orselli was retiring from the Cooper Square Committee. His retirement party was at LaMama last Wednesday. Orselli started out with Cooper Square Committee with a stint as an organizer from 1972 to ’79. (The committee, of course, was the group that saved a big chunk of the southern East Village from being razed for a misguided “urban renewal” project that would have seen another pseudo-Stuyvesant Town roughly centered around the area where the East Houston St. Whole Foods is now.) After a couple of years with ACORN, Orselli returned to Cooper Square Committee in ’81 as its executive director. In ’97, he became the executive director of the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, running all the affordable housing the committee saved from demolition. Mendez said it’s just cool to know Orselli, who was part of the counterculture back in the day. “He joined Abbie Hoffman’s Yippie Party,” she said, “and traveled to Washington, D.C., to levitate the Pentagon.”