Longtime Museworthy readers have seen me write often, and with great affection, about Spring Studio, Minerva Durham’s 7 day-a-week life drawing studio located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. Much of the artwork posted on this blog over the years was created at Spring Studio, by artists like Fred Hatt, Daniel Maidman, Bob Palevitz, Jean Marcellino, and Jordan Mejias, to name a few. The singular, unique qualities of Spring Studio – from its founder Minerva, to its artists, models, atmosphere, social events, and corner location at Spring and Lafayette Streets – cannot be overstated. In other words, there is no other place for life drawing in New York City like Spring Studio. It is truly one-of-a-kind. This is fact, not opinion.
Over this coming weekend – Memorial Day weekend – the city of New York in partnership with Citibank, is set to launch its aggressively-hyped Bike Share Program. This project has been the subject of much contention and debate, mainly due to the installation of intrusive bike kiosks, or “docking stations”, throughout the city. Keep in mind, this is not about folks who own a bike and want to ride around the city. This is about bike rentals, at various locations throughout the city. Because apparently our city’s vast and efficient transit system isn’t good enough all of a sudden.
Before I continue with what this has to do with Spring Studio, I’d like to digress for a moment about the state of leadership in this city – my hometown, the big mess of a metropolis in which I was born and raised. I have always believed that politicians are bad, and that politicians with obsessions are a thousand times worse. Our Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is an obsession-riddled little creature who has demonstrated throughout his tenure that he is driven solely by those personal obsessions rather than by the principles of good governance and civic responsibility. From smoking bans and trans-fats and congestion pricing, to salt content and sugary drinks, to forcing an exception for himself regarding term limits, Mayor Bloomberg is a pampered billionaire who arrogantly believes that he is in the business of issuing king-like edicts, that he and he alone knows what is best for eight million New Yorkers when it comes to lifestyle choices. He is notorious for disregarding the sentiments of ordinary working people. He sees the city as his own personal pet project, a place that he can remake to fit his own preferences, enforced with little consideration of dissenting viewpoints and by way of fiat.
Some of the New York media has reported opposition to the Citi Bike stations as nothing more than “NIMBY” complaints of rich people who don’t want the unsightly obstructions in front of their fancy co-ops. While this may be true in some instances, it in no way tells the whole story. People’s livelihoods, community loyalty, small businesses, safety and cultural concerns all come in to play with regard to this program. Jacques Capsouto of Capsouto Freres restaurant in Tribeca, sat down on the curb to protest a bike share installation in front of his restaurant on Washington Street. And Minerva Durham, director of the beloved Spring Studio, has been protesting daily against the the proposed bike docking station in Petrosino Square on Lafayette Street. She recently sent out a mass email which details her plight and her plans for the studio. As a gesture of support, I asked Minerva for permission to share her email here on Museworthy. She said yes. I’d like to add that I have been one of Minerva’s regular models for seven years and I stand by her in this battle. She is my dear friend and employer. And I know her to be a person of passion and principle, who stands fiercely by her convictions and will go to the mat for her models, her neighbors, her fellow small business owners, her friends, and, perhaps above all, for ART. It saddens me to see her experiencing so much despair. So here is Minerva’s email, reprinted in full and with her permission. In her own voice, she describes her position like only she can:
Since Saturday, April 28, I have been protesting the theft of the art installation space in Petrosino Square by the New York City Department of Transportation and Citibank . The City administrators and the corporate bank have placed bike-share docking stations on top of the officially designated space for Public Art. Georgette Fleischer and I had stopped the bike-rack installation on Thursday night, April 27th, but DOT secretly placed the racks during the middle of Friday night.
If bikes are operating from the stations on Memorial Day weekend , Saturday, May 25, I will lock Spring Studio for one week or until the bikes are removed, whichever comes sooner. In good weather I will have classes outside with a nearly nude or nude model, depending upon the model’s fearlessness. I will leave messages on the phone, 212-226-7240 about the times for the sessions in the park. I will have all of the morning classes in the park if it is not raining. They will be free to anyone who wishes to draw. I will also bring free materials for passersby. The studio will be open for Karen Capelluto’s show during the gallery hours, 5:00 to 6:00 pm, M-F. If the bikes remain I will reopen downstairs on Saturday, June 1, raise the prices, and cancel all plans to stay in New York City beyond the two-and-a-half years left on my lease here at 64 Spring Street.
The historic reasons for an art installation space here in this Park are overwhelming. The fact that the Park was derelict in appearance but inviting to avant-garde and experimental artists since 1985 makes it a sacred place for everyone who is aware that their artistic output was influenced by the Fluxus movement. Just about everyone who makes art today, as well as most performing artists, express Fluxus ideas.. Think of Lady Gaga and her elaborate settings. Even the newspaper reports of my protest are couched in Fluxus concepts and language: “Elizabeth Hellman’s ballet-inspired protest…” and “In typical SoHo artist style, a woman is staging a protest near the bike rack, standing in a statuesque pose every day…” I love these descriptions that assign empowerment to the performer herself, to the genuine and truthful intention of an artist who moves and communicates. That vision of the artist comes right out of SoHo.
The idealistic thrust of the artists’ settlement in the loft buildings in the cast-iron district was central to the economics and politics of Virginia Admiral, the woman who organized 226 Lafayette in the early 1970′s. It is thanks to her, my friend who died in 2001, that I have my business in the basement here. Before she died, she said,”Keep Minerva in the basement,” a statement that could be viewed with sisterly cynicism or with a sense of humor that knows the value of real estate. The corner of Spring at Lafayette is to me the most valuable real estate in the world. But it will lose all of its value and charm if it becomes a bicycle depot. How did I get to be so lucky to have spent 21 years working on this corner? Now that the city has changed so much, is it time for me to go away and die in an obscure corner?
Virginia wanted the Park to be green. She meant plantings. It took years for the Park to be rebuilt into the inviting space that it is now. The decision was made to put art works out in the “PLAZA” area, and to leave the fenced-in green area quiet, free of even artistic speech. Outside, in the north triangle, people gathered around the first work installed and took pictures in a touristy way without annoying the locals who live and work here and who sit in the enclosed green space. Actually, I think that most of the locals were proud that tourists were enjoying the art. There are many Parks Department papers proving that the north triangle of Petrosino is designated for temporary art exhibitions.
Besides the historic, philosophic, and esthetic arguments for the removal of the bike stations and for the insistence on the continued presence of Art in Pertosino Square, there is a more profound and potentially more volatile reason to keep bike shares out of the park. For me it is the ultimate right-of-way turf war. I have been walking along the side of the park for over thirty years. For twenty of those years I have walked to my business at 64 Spring Street. I have rarely encountered mounted bicyclists on the pavers. If the bikes are being parked and taken out, my pleasant walk to work will become a hazardous journey. Already, the presence of the bike racks has opened up the possibility to many riders that they may ride on the sidewalk which is Park land and not a bike path. As I do my protest daily, I call out to mounted riders to “please walk your bike.” One man stayed on the sidewalk, still mounted, then circled back in the street and called out to me, “I know you. I used to live where you live at 86 Kenmare, and you are easily the most annoying person in world.” Half an hour later I saw him riding in the street in the bike lane and we both smiled and waved at each other. Another said that I need to get laid. (Everyone needs to get laid.)
My problem is with Mayor Bloomberg, the DOT and Citibank. While many people are working on this, I feel that I have my own little war with them. It is either them or me. And, hey, he spends his weekends in Bermuda, while I am here all week long, and the weekends too. I was willing to go to jail to stop the pushcart from operating in the park, but I will die for this outrageous violation of the law and of the will of the local residents, both renters and owners of property, and shopkeepers who share with me the traditional cultural values of New York City.
I am asking you, all the people I know and love, all of those who love the studio, to support the accomplishments of the art movement that occurred in SoHo at the end of the last century and to insist to Mayor Bloomberg, the DOT and Citibank that Petrosino Square be protected from commercial activity and from moving vehicular traffic (bikes), and that its front triangle be supported as the Parks Department has designated it to be, as a space devoted to art installations. I am asking those of you who have power and connections to do what you can. If you can’t help me in this, I will have done everything in my power, and I will be living with a deep sense of disappointment and disillusion.
My blog post about Spring Studio from October 2012 “Silence Under Spring Street”
From the NY Times “The Bikes and the Fury”
From ARTINFO.com the Petrosino Square anti-bike rack protest with photo of Minerva, sitting in the chair.
From CBS Local “Installation of Bike Share Docking Stations Testing New Yorkers’ Patience”
From Fox Small Business Center “One Size May Not Fit All on U.S. Bike Shares”
I will conclude this post with some of my mother’s figure drawings created at the Saturday morning session at Spring Studio, which she attends regularly. Charcoal sketches by Elaine Hajian