Art in Odd Places makes itself at home

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By Sabina Mollot

You know Art in Odd Places, the annual public art festival, has returned when the characters who act up on the M14 manage to be entertaining without getting into fights with the bus driver and the graffiti that pops up along local construction sites gets more creative than usual.

The event, which spans 10 days in October and is running for the ninth time in the city (the sixth time on 14th Street), kicked off last Friday.

The event opened with a low-key ceremony at the 14th Street entrance of Campos Plaza and several of the participating visual and performance artists keeping residents and passersby entertained.

This included a chance to get in touch with one’s past by having “Operator Loretta” (a character created by performer Lulu Lolo) dial the first number people could recall memorizing and seeing if they could actually get an answer.

One man, who was the first caller of the evening, dialed his mother’s number in Great Neck to let her know he wouldn’t be coming home for dinner.

“I don’t know if I really made contact,” he said afterwards, but the cat glasses-wearing “Loretta” assured him that “She’ll hear the message.”

Later, Lolo explained how the character came about, which is that when she ordered a vintage operator’s telephone from eBay, the previous user’s name, Loretta, was marked on it with a piece of tape. But even before that, she’d had an interest in vintage numbers, which went along with this year’s AiOP theme of “number” and had found that phone numbers from the 1940s along with the names of the corresponding New Yorkers were all available through a bit of research at the library. “ You knew where people lived by their phone numbers,” said Lolo, “if it was in Gramercy or Stuyvesant Town. I was looking up all the numbers on 14th Street.”

Another event participant, Shannon Novick, was behind a design of a virtual tour of 14th Street that participants can take via an app downloaded on any mobile device. Not having been to the area before (he’d just flown in from New Zealand), Novick created his tour with the help of an AiOP staffer who took photos of neighborhood points of interest and Google Maps. Those who take Novick’s tour, when holding up their smartphones, can read a bit of history about the various destination points while also listening to some accompanying music. For example, those who stop at the Liberty Inn will hear a song by the Rolling Stones since the band had stayed there.

For Novick, finally getting to see the places he’d researched from across the world “just blew me away,” he said. “It adds a whole new dimension to the work that I couldn’t see.”

Yet another artist, Pedro Gomez Egana, was making his way around Campos, wheeling around a wooden warrior he built. At the same time, curious onlookers could listen via headphones to a story that accompanied the walk. In it, the warrior, whose arm always points south regardless of the direction he was pulled in, clearly had an appetite for destruction. The story involved demolishing the FDR Drive, the Williamsburg Bridge and creating a tornado in Brighton Beach. Egana said he was inspired by an ancient Chinese mechanism called a south pointing chariot.

Meanwhile, as the event has grown in popularity (recently AiOP was debuted in Australia), Woodham said he’s also gotten some flack for not paying the artists who participate. But, he noted, no one involved gets paid, including him, because none of the art is for sale. “What we can offer is a support system and advice,” said Woodham, a teaching artist, “and these are really important things, and we offer freedom because we’re not behooved to anyone.”

The only rule artists really have to follow is to be “mindful” of the fact that everything is done in public, “so we’re not bombarding (people) with art, we’re suggesting art,” said Woodham.

For Friday’s festivities, the crowd was a mix of neighborhood residents and others who worked in the area, such as Lydia Matthews, who’d been to AiOP events in previous years.

“I always enjoy seeing all the different things,” said Matthews, “and when you hit a lot of the (installations) in one stretch, it’s very exciting.”

With this year’s festival having fewer participating artists than in previous years at around 30, the opening events didn’t draw a huge crowd, but to maintain a “festival atmosphere,” organizers have planned this year’s schedule so that there’s always something going on at any given time. AiOP, which began on October 11, will run through October 20 along the length of 14th Street from the Hudson River to Avenue C. There will be also be a “Critical Mass” Saturday with numerous artists participating at once from 1-5 p.m. on October 19 between Second Avenue and Avenue A.

Letters to the Editor, Oct. 17

Why are short-term renters targets for A.G.?

Re: “Airbnb won’t cooperate with A.G. investigation,” T&V, Oct. 10

To the Editor:

I am intrigued that Eric Schneiderman decided to prioritize investigating Airbnb. Wasn’t he supposed to be prosecuting the banksters responsible for our continuing economic disaster? Come to think of it, where are those indictments?

Rich people don’t sublet their homes for short periods. Middle-class homeowners and renters do. There may be some nefarious businesspeople subletting to even lurkier subtenants on Airbnb, but I’m pretty sure most of the people using Airbnb to make money or have a place to stay are ordinary middle class people. Some people rent out their apartments because they have lost jobs and are traveling, looking for work. Others are having difficulty paying their monthly costs due to stagnating wages combined with continually rising co-op maintenance fees and endless assessments.

Again, the rich don’t have these troubles. Should middle-class homeowners be forced to sell their apartments or incur credit problems because of temporary financial setbacks?

I can’t sublet my apartment on Airbnb due to the fact I store confidential materials here, but if that wasn’t an issue I probably would occasionally sublet it.

I have fond memories of the “illegal” sublet I rented as a young graduate student in 1990. If that apartment hadn’t been available, I never would have been able to live in Manhattan, close to my school and internship. Again, this type of issue is not a problem for the rich — only for the middle class.

Schneiderman and Liz Krueger might want to think about the fact that most of the middle-class people who sublet on Airbnb in New York are registered Democrats…


Anne Rettenberg,
Kips Bay

Sukkah in park not unconstitutional

Re: Letter, “Sukkah doesn’t belong in public park,” T&V, Oct. 10

To the Editor:

The writer who objects to sukkahs in public parks has gone beyond the facts in stating, “the Constitution espouses the separation of church and state.”

The First Amendment forbids legislating, “an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and Article VI forbids a religious test for holding federal office. An establishment of religion, the thing forbidden, is a requirement that all citizens worship God in the manner of only one religion and must contribute to its financial support.  Allowing the free exercise of religion means that every citizen may choose to worship God, or not, in the manner he or she deems right, and in doing so may exercise all the other First Amendment freedoms — of speech, the press and peaceable assembly.

The Constitution mandates freedom for religion, not freedom from religion.

Yet Mendy Weitbaum may have exceeded these rights, in the same way one would by erecting a personal sign in a public park suggesting, “Drink Coca-Cola,” or “Fly American Airlines.” Yet, if he did exceed his rights, it’s because of erecting a symbol of his personal preferences, not because the symbol is a religious one.

Don Murray, ST

Re: Letter, “Sukkah doesn’t belong in public park,” T&V, Oct. 10

The phrase, “separation of church and state” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson used it in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to assure them that the state of CT would not interfere with their religious practices.

James Madison said the purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion. Just because someone doesn’t want to see a sukkah, a cross, or anything else in a public park doesn’t make it unconstitutional, so the rabbi can put up a sukkah anywhere he wants.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joan Carmody,  PCV

‘Interesting’ owners

They have three transients in every eight apartments; they send you reminder notices on the day they’ve cashed your check; they inspect your apartment to insure that you’re using your 22-year-old refrigerator; two of five washing machines in a laundry room meant for over 100 apartments are unplugged. They hang padding 24/7 in elevators that rent stabilized tenants have paid for so transients can readily move in and out. They are the most interesting landlords in the world.

Name withheld, ST

Stuy Town residents get video intercom MCI

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, residents in every Stuyvesant Town building learned that they’d be getting a major capital improvement (MCI) rent increase of $4.17 per room in their apartment per month for installation of the property’s video intercoms.

The intercoms were installed in 2009 by then-owner Tishman Speyer, who applied for the MCI. The increase, which was finally approved by the state housing agency, is added to residents’ base rent, along with a retroactive portion tenants are also responsible for paying from December, 2009 until November of this year (47 months). A spokesperson for the agency, New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), declined to comment on its decision.

Meanwhile, Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said after a recent conversation with CWCapital, the TA learned CW was just as surprised as tenants to hear about the MCI, which it is now authorized to collect starting in November.

Because of this, she said it was unlikely that CW would begin charging for it right away and instead may start collecting it in December.

Steinberg added that the TA has been in touch with its attorney, Tim Collins, and as of Wednesday morning, the TA said in an official statement that it was clear to Collins that HCR “has made a reversible error” with the latest MCI approval.

“None of the orders acknowledge or consider our attorney’s general and specific objections – all of which were served on the HCR on May 14, 2012,” the TA said.

“Our attorney has advised that this is not unheard of and HCR should promptly rescind the orders and correct its error by considering our objections and giving notice to the owner’s attorney.  We will file ‘Requests for Reconsideration’ due to ‘irregularity in a vital matter’ as well as Petitions for Administrative Review (PAR) in the next few weeks.”

The TA also said it was asking CWCapital “to recognize HCR’s error” and refrain from charging the MCI in tenants’ December rent bills.

Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital, said the special servicer couldn’t comment on the video intercom MCI at this time.

While in the past, the TA has encouraged tenants to file their own PARs, which would protect them from having to pay at least the retroactive portion of the MCIs until the matter is settled, this time the TA said there was no need for tenants to individually file PARs at this time.

“We will provide further updates as our efforts to stop these MCIs continues,” the TA said.

Steinberg also noted, “We always protest MCIs because there’s usually something we find amiss.”

In this case, tenants have complained about the intercoms being faulty and following Hurricane Sandy, some buildings’ intercoms were unable to contact security.

(A rent reduction application previously filed by the TA for lost or diminished services after Sandy in certain buildings in Peter Cooper Village and two in Stuyvesant Town has still not gotten an answer from the HCR.)

Another potential argument against the MCI, said Steinberg, is that CWCapital may have already gotten insurance money for damaged systems “so that goes into play. This was done back in 2009, but it seems like circumstances have to be looked at afresh.”

The MCI affects tenants in all 89 Stuy Town buildings, which Steinberg called “unfortunate” due to the timing. This year, the Rent Guidelines Board-issued increase was higher than usual at 7.75 percent for two-year leases, 1,100 residents were also hit with mid-lease increases in May and more recently, tenants noticed that CW’s gotten tougher about imposing late fees. “It’s a heavy burden,” said Steinberg.

In an email to neighbors sent on Saturday, the TA said it would be filing a PAR. The TA also asked for tenants to send the association (via a form on its website at their docket numbers.

Not surprisingly, the response from tenants has been that an MCI for the video intercoms isn’t fair.

One resident told T&V this week that most of the time the system in his building doesn’t even work, so when he has visitors, he’s actually resorted to throwing down a key-card from his 11th floor window in a sock that’s weighted down with another object so it won’t flutter in the wind.

Another resident, David Dartley, vented on Facebook to tell CW, “You who are in charge did not spend any money installing these intercoms back in 2009,” he wrote. “Now you want to collect in perpetuity for something you expended no money or effort in creating?’

Steinberg also noted that in 2009, reps from the TA met with the state housing agency, then known as the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. At that time, the TA, along with local elected officials, complained that they felt the agency was rubber-stamping every MCI request the owner made. They also learned that 20 percent of the city’s MCI applications came from ST/PCV alone. “It was a very cordial meeting,” said Steinberg. “We reached out to them, but they were receptive.” She added that the goal of the meeting was to see if the agency would be willing to negotiate some of the MCIs that were still outstanding, but after the meeting, “it went nowhere.”