Fighting City Hall

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.

Thank you,

Minerva

Some links:

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 🙂

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17 thoughts on “Fighting City Hall

  1. derek says:

    Hello My Dear
    I admire being vocal about it. I have nothing but respects for speaking your mind. And I read that your employer and friend has been speaking her mind about the situation that is going on. I am not a politically minded person and I never get involved in speaking on American soil.But I admire your

    Anyway back to art, is that Elaine’s sketches of you? if so, she did an incredible job capturing the grace and the beauty of what she created visually and with passion. She has a great eye in capturing a great muse that you have become. I assume that is done in short poses and a long pose. I love the portrait she did of you and I even love the one she did on the sketches. if that is you on the sketches that she illustrated she is one hell of a talent.The piece reminds a cross between
    Vincent Van Gogh meets Edgar Degas. Very classical influence. and you are one great influence on Elaine on a creative level. I see two talented women showing the love of the arts one being a creative influence to the artist and the is an artist with a great eye on the figure styles. I assume she must have done college studies on illustrations I bet. I think that she should put that illustration on an art exhibtion as well as her other arts like the dacia gallery there is a website she can submit her pieces she is so brilliant. Was this recently that the illustrations in that Studio took place I assume?

    I think by having her illustrate you was a beautiful thing, it shows her love for the arts and illustrating someone very close to her and that is her greatest accomplishment her beautiful daughter. She capture the legs and the bones connecting well and even the great back muscle very accurateness. Claudia you are one talented muse and you showed how to be graceful , beautiful and creative and with alot of soul.You have a great technique to capturing and making it so simple for the artist to capture it like a photograph. True artistry. A good match of two talented women. Mum and Child . I give it a 10 for excellence both the art that you both created spiritually and emotionally.

    Derek
    Brisbane, Australia

    • artmodel says:

      derek,

      Your comments are lovely as always, but I must clarify that I am not the model in these particular drawings. I guess I should have indicated that. They are, however, three outstanding models from Spring Studio, 2 female and a male. Mom said they were done fairly recently, over the course of the last few months. She attends the Saturday class almost every week and has a lot of sketches!

      It’s interesting that you mentioned Dacia Gallery because two good friends of mine, Daniel Maidman and Janet Cook, exhibit there.

      Sending love to Australia!

      Claudia

  2. Bill says:

    Finally — an opportunity to vent to someone besides my wife (who is tired of hearing about it). The bicycle situation in Boston, including the bicycle sharing program promoted by our Mayor, is wretched beyond belief. Boston motorists are bad enough, but there seems to be some sort of requirement that the bicyclists here have to ignore all laws, regulations and common sense. They run red lights, go the wrong way down one way streets, and operate under the misguided notion that a few strips of reflective tape render them visible at night. They just seem to be totally out-to-lunch.

    My favorite story involves the time that I saw two cyclists, chatting away, breeze through a pedestrian light in a busy downtown intersection and miss a wheelchair-bound man in a crosswalk by a few inches. Sadly, this incident may be particularly egregious, but it isn’t surprising. I was so amazed to see one cyclist actually stop for a red light the other day that my reaction was to walk over and personally thank him. Unfortunately, he looked both ways and, seeing no one coming, ran the light before I could get there.

    Sigh. I could go on (endlessly — thank you for your patience), but I certainly wouldn’t want to ignore your mother’s drawings. They are really quite beautiful — please thank her for sharing them. Of course, she did have a great model . . .

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      Yes, traffic rule violations by the bicyclists are common here too. I have seen many with my own eyes, and almost got sideswiped just the other day! If the cyclists in Boston are creating hazards imagine what it’s like on the streets of New York, as we are a much bigger, more populated, chaotic and congested city.

      The Bike Share program is worrisome to many because we anticipate the likelihood of inexperienced riders creating perilous situations. Getting around the city is dangerous enough for just drivers and pedestrians. Add bikes into the mix and it becomes really treacherous.

      Also, as I replied to Derek above, I am not any of the models in my Mom’s drawings. I should have mentioned that! But you are still correct that she had great models. Spring Studio models are among the best in the city.

      Thanks so much for your comments and for sharing your opinion. Happy to provide an opportunity to “vent”! 😉

      Claudia

  3. Stewart says:

    Hi Claudia….just thought I would add my 2 cents…:)

    The “bike program” you folks have issues with all started in Montreal. Beautiful key historical areas of our downtown core and Old Montreal are now littered and cluttered with bike stations. Implementation sounds exactly the same. No public consultation (except perhaps a couple of hardcore cyclists) and a seemingly lack of regard for businesses that operate in the area. Loading areas and parking spots are commandeered without asking the local business owners. Major routes through the city have been modified to include year around bike paths, that have to be maintained year around (plowed and salted) even though no one uses them except late Spring, summer and early Fall. The thermometer here dips really low in the winter months, so cyclists risk loosing appendages. Some routes that already had traffic jams with 4 lanes now have been reduced to 2 lanes. It’s kind of funny to sit in traffic for hours and see these two other lanes with no one on them at all, making you wonder why they were created in the first place. So much for going green when the amount of exhaust doubles in gridlock! As you may or made not have heard, there are public hearings on corruption going on in Quebec, in construction and road repairs. One longtime mayor has been arrested for alleged “gangsterism” . Many city and borough officials are being questioned and police raids are happening weekly. The inquiry is simply following the money. Their mandate has been extended because of the juicy tidbits they are finding.

    The Bixi program here was financed by tax payers and was actually loosing money and had to be propped up repeatedly year after year. The Drivers also pay for all of this with an increase to the cost of our licenses. Cyclists aren’t required to purchase a bike permit nor do they seem to have to obey the rules of the road either. Kind of unfair if you think about it.

    Sounds like the same problem has spread and has only gotten worse.

    I am all for pedestrian only spaces and especially areas dedicated to the arts. For example Old Montreal should be traffic free, no cars no bikes. We need more spaces closed to any form of traffic, including bikes. Bikes kill, and seriously injure people in this city every year.

    While the idea is great, the implementation and management of the program needs a lot of work!

    • artmodel says:

      Stewart,

      Your comments are really informative, thank you! I am vaguely aware of the political issues taking place in Quebec. They sound troubling. And as for the bike share, you raise great points that never occurred to me. Well-intentioned or not, the “bike culture” folks fail to take into consideration some of the complex realities of city life. And my particular pet peeve is when people talk as if every city in the world is exactly the same – geographically, culturally, etc. If I hear one more person cite Denver as a reason why the Bike Share should be pushed in NYC I’m gonna tear my hear out! As if Denver and New York City have anything even remotely in common as urban centers. It’s ridiculous.

      I haven’t been to Montreal since I was a kid, but I do know that it is a wonderful city with great people. I hope our respective towns can find ways to reassert their inherent characters and prevent their landscapes from becoming irretrievably altered.

      Thanks very much for your comment contribution to this discussion 🙂

      Claudia

  4. When Bloomberg gets termed out maybe he’ll run for city council in Soviet Monica, California. He’d fit right in.

  5. Derek says:

    My apologies and thank you for clarifying it.
    The only reason I asked is that the young lady in the middle looks lkie you . Her body type kind of matrches yours, and I wasn’t sure of it was. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Please forgive me I am old and I am 64. But I wil say that your mu is one talented artist and she has an eye and a vision to create something unique.
    I have a love for art and I enjoy artist blogs and sharing their love for art. Anyway have a great weekend. I have back surgery next week wish me well.

    Derek

  6. Jennifer says:

    I was really sorry to read that the wonderful Spring Studios is under such threat! I would imagine that Mayor B is pushing through the bike stations to make sure his ‘green credentials’ appear on track. We have them in London, but at least the mayor here is a committed bike rider! I don’t know whether the bike stations have caused such concern in London – there might have been more available spaces in which to put them. But, like you, I’m appalled now by the way that bike riders take no notice of the ‘rules of the road’. I cycled in central London for years when I was younger and never once flouted a red light or mounted the kerb – now, the majority of bike riders seem to think it’s okay to shoot through red pedestrian crossing lights. sometimes at speed, or ride along the pavement. Having cycled a lot myself in the past I find it distressing to now feel ‘anti-bike’! Good luck to Minerva in her campaign, which should at least raise some profile about the issue, though I’m very sorry to think that the most likely outcome is that she’ll end up leaving NYC sooner rather than later.

    • artmodel says:

      Jennifer,

      Yes, Minerva’s feeling that she is besieged, that individuals like her who share similar values are being pushed out of the city is what’s most distressing to me. The Bike Share thing is just one example of the urban elite’s goal to redesign the city’s landscape to suit their desires. And in a city of eight million people that is problematic to say the least!

      Mayor Bloomberg is most certainly not some avid bicyclist. He gets chauffeured around the city like the billionaire he is. I wonder how he’d feel about having one of those obtrusive bike docking stations installed in front of his East 79th Street townhouse?

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

  7. Jim O'Neil says:

    Based on her letter you posted, I really like your buddy Minerva! If, as, sigh, is likely, King B’s decree is upheld, hopefully things might still change in the 2 1/2 years her lease still has to run. Meanwhile I think I’ll buy a 2 liter soda and a trans-fat something or other as the King’s writ doesn’t reach quite this far…. so far. 🙂

    • artmodel says:

      Jim,

      If the emperor Bloomberg could extend the reach of his micromanaging tentacles up your way he’d surely do it!

      Minerva is a fabulous person. It’s upsetting that the future of Spring Studio is, as of now, uncertain. The city has changed so, so much.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  8. artmodelandrew says:

    A June 14th Wall Street Journal story about Citi Bike makes it sounds like an ill conceived program:

    ” If you fail to dock within a half hour, the overtime fees kick in, and they’re mighty steep. My total bill for a three-hour trip: $63. At that rate, I could have rented a Zipcar. Sorry, but the 30-minute time limit (45 for annual pass holders) is crazy. If you obey traffic laws, that isn’t enough time to get anywhere in the city.”

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323734304578545473429619356.html?mod=wsj_share_tweet

    • artmodel says:

      Andrew,

      Thanks for the article! I especially like this part, “if Citi Bike were NASA, there’d be a lot of dead astronauts.”.

      There are problems, to be sure. But so many people are blindly cheerleading the program they don’t want to hear about or address these issues.

      Claudia

  9. Jim O'Neil says:

    I just read that another neighborhood (Alas, with more political pull than your friend M.) got city hall to remove the bike racks: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2346870/CitiBike-stations-removed-Outrage-New-York-rips-Citibike-stations-near-luxury-Manhattan-condos.html

    & yes, I find British tabloids give me far better coverage of US news than our own papers, including the old gray lady. 🙂

    • artmodel says:

      Jim,

      Yeah, I’d say Barry Diller has a little more juice than my friend Minerva. Hard to believe 😆

      I, too, find myself looking to the British press for coverage of some topics. And I cancelled my subscription to the old grey lady quite a while ago when it was obvious she was becoming senile and demented 😉

      Thanks for the article and your comments! Always good to hear from you.

      Claudia

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