Volume 22, Number 20 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 25 - October 1, 2009

Photo by Robert Caldarone

Dancing in the streets; Fourth Street, specifically

Fifth FAB! Fest fetes Fourth Street — for free!
E.Village cultural district is one of a kind

FOURTH ARTS BLOCK
Fourth Arts Block Festival & Block Party
Free. Saturday, September 26, 1-7 p.m.
On East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Ave.)
Visit www.fabnyc.org

BY STEVEN SNYDER

As the recession lingers and New Yorkers feel the pinch, various art groups that have come to call the East Village home are trying to entice reluctant consumers to take a gamble on Off-Off-Broadway productions.            

Amid the stagnant ticket sales and sagging fundraising, there’s a beacon of hope: The Fourth Arts Block (FAB), a non-profit group that for the better part of the decade has devoted itself to establishing and advocating on the behalf of the East 4th Street Cultural District — the only one of its kind in Manhattan.

FAB’s mission is equally political, commercial and educational. Its efforts are geared towards aiding arts groups in connecting with audiences and government leaders, ensuring the survival of a cultural hub that has thrived for decades.

This weekend, FAB presents one of its biggest events of the year: The fifth annual FAB! Festival scheduled to run from 1-7 p.m. along East 4th Street, between 2nd Avenue and Bowery.

“It’s a free event, geared at offering visitors and residents alike a taste of all the art this community has to offer,” says Tamara Greenfield, FAB’s executive director. “What’s so exciting about these day-long celebrations is that even people who live here sometimes don’t realize everything that’s going on. The FAB! Fest allows groups to set up stages in the street, invite people into their buildings, and share with them a little of what they do — celebrating all of the various art alternatives that are right here in the East Village.”

The FAB! Festival also serves as a reminder of the ever-expanding presence of Fourth Arts Block itself. Founded in 2001, the group was integral in urging the city to sell off a handful of publically owned buildings that it was leasing out to arts groups on a month-by-month basis. Greenfield says that unlike so many other neighborhoods that lose their arts groups as gentrification sweeps across the landscape, FAB wanted to secure these buildings for permanent artistic use and, in the process, preserve at least this part of the East Village’s character. In October of 2005, the city sold eight properties to arts tenants along East 4th Street for $1 apiece.

It was at that time that the surrounding area was designated a cultural district, and the mission of FAB shifted from preserving the area’s artistic presence to launching an ambitious fundraising effort (to refurbish the buildings) and a widespread marketing campaign (to increase consumer awareness and attendance). Since its inception, FAB has raised around $17 million to aid its members. This year, it increased its roster to include 16 “core” arts groups and four “affiliate” members — all of whom are benefitting from FAB’s efforts.

Among the core members are such familiar names as the New York Theatre Workshop, La MaMa, the Rod Rodgers Dance School and the WOW Café Theatre. This year alone, four new arts organizations have signed on to join FAB: The Bleecker Street Opera, P.S. 122, the East Village Dance Project and the New York Neo-Futurists. As the member list grows, the number of FAB projects continue to increase. Most East Village residents have probably already seen the recently-completed façade renovation at the La Mama Annex (74 East 4th Street). Another substantial exterior renovation is about to begin at 62 East 4th Street, home of the Rod Rodgers Dance Company.

“We jumped at the chance to be part of all that’s going on at Fourth Arts Block,” says Rob Neill, managing director of the New York Neo-Futurists. “As a smaller arts group, it helps in so many ways. You not only get your name out there, but you can connect with other organizations who are in the same position as you are; you can learn from their strategies as you fight to survive. The Fourth Arts Block helps us promote ourselves, network with other groups and, more importantly, become a more recognized part of the cultural landscape.”

Neill says his group has participated in the last four street fairs organized by FAB — events that have offered the Neo-Futurists an invaluable means of introduction to area residents: “We’ve definitely seen an impact from events like this, where maybe people don’t come the next weekend but a light bulb goes off a few weeks or months later, when they remember seeing us on the street and they come in to check us out.”

Beyond the FAB! Festival, Greenfield has worked to launch several other new FAB initiatives. She’s worked with local media outlets and member arts groups to create bundled marketing opportunities (where smaller venues can save money on ads while still promoting their new shows in the pages of area weeklies). FAB has also recently opened a ticket window outside its headquarters (at 61 East 4th St.) which follows the TKTS model. Visitors can check out new promotions and purchase tickets to nearby Off- and Off-Off-Broadway productions. “We wanted to make it an easy access point that would appeal to people who live here, as well as to those who have maybe been thinking of coming down to the East Village but needed an extra push” Greenfield says. “Now it’s a little easier to come and take a chance on a show they don’t know anything about.” FAB is also in the process of expanding online ticketing for member shows.

Yet while the accomplishments are many, Greenfield says challenges still remain. The risks of gentrification have been set aside, but the dangers of the recession remain ominous. “A lot of theaters work pretty close to the margin, and the danger of this recession is if the public money dries out,” she says. “I think the real impact of the recession has been delayed for groups because they get annual infusions of donations; but if the city and state money starts to shrink, it will become very rough. So now we’re looking at how to move forward — to raise funds, bring in more members and continue to get the information out there that, for those who love theater and dance, we have everything you could ever want right here.”

Fourth Arts Block Members
Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance (www.alphaomegadance.org)
Cooper Square Committee (www.coopersquare.org)
Cooper Square MHA (www.coopersquare.org)
Creative Time (www.creativetime.org)
DUO Multi-Cultural Arts Center (www.duotheater.org)
Downtown Art (www.downtownart.org)
La MaMa E.T.C. (www.lamama.org)
Millennium Film Workshop (www.millenniumfilm.org)
New York Neo-Futurists (www.nyneofuturists.org)
New York Theatre Workshop (www.nytw.org)
Paradise Factory (www.paradisefactory.org)
Rod Rodgers Dance School/Dance Company
(www.rodrodgersdance.org)
Teatro Circulo (www.teatrocirculo.org)
Teatro IATI (www.teatroiati.org)
Works In Progress NYC (www.designeastnyc.com)
WOW Café Theatre (www.wowcafe.org)

Affiliate Members
Bleecker Street Opera (bleeckerstreetopera.org)
P.S. 122 (www.ps122.org)
East Village Dance Project
(www.eastvillagedanceproject.com)
Horse Trade Theater Group (www.horsetrade.info)





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