Former bodega thrives as multi-use space

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Art by Hayley Welsh at Specials on C (Photo by Peter Knocke)

Art by Hayley Welsh at Specials on C (Photo by Peter Knocke)

Since it opened about a year ago, bodega-turned-art-space Specials on C has played host to graffiti art shows, secret concerts, educational workshops, painting exhibitions and a pop-up holiday shop. And co-founders Jim Chu and Peter Knocke don’t want to limit it to just that handful of uses; they want the space to be open to whatever anyone else wants to use it for.

“We work with artists, entrepreneurs and creators to help them get around the prohibitive challenges of putting out their work,” Chu said.

Knocke also made a point to say that he and Chu don’t consider themselves the curators of the space.

“We try not to curate anything,” he said. “We want the community to curate it.”

The building, which is located at East 12th Street and Avenue C, is a city-owned property, which makes the rent more affordable than most retail spaces in the area. Knocke and Chu worked this aspect of the building into Specials, and the space gets rented out per event at $300 a day with a minimum of three days.

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Former precinct stationhouse becomes gallery for graffiti writers

A former police precinct stationhouse located at 327 East 22nd Street became home to an exhibit of graffiti and street art that opened last Thursday. Fifty artists participated in the show, which will be open again this weekend. (Photo by Jowy Romano.)

A former police precinct stationhouse located at 327 East 22nd Street became home to an exhibit of graffiti and street art that opened last Thursday. Fifty artists participated in the show, which will be open again this weekend. (Work by Pesu/Photo by Jowy Romano.)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A former police precinct is probably the last place one would expect to find rooms plastered in graffiti and street art, but one local organization took to the walls of the former 21st Precinct at 327 East 22nd Street and covered the space in art.

Art collective Outlaw Arts collaborated with a group of about 50 graffiti writers and street artists who have been tagging, spraying and wheatpasting inside the four floors of the building for the previous three weeks.

Curated by Rob Aloia of Outlaw Arts and street art publication VNA Mag, the show features work from Elle, Pixote, RAE, Smells, Ghost, RAMBO, Sheryo and The Yok, Lexi Bella, Esteban del Valle, Li Hill, Vexta, Never, Mr. Toll, Faust and others. The work debuted in a private opening last Thursday and was open to the public on both days last weekend.

According to New York-based blog Daytonian in Manhattan, the East 22nd Street building was the former home of the neighborhood’s police precinct in the late 1800s before the area was renumbered the 13th and moved to East 21st Street. It has, until recently, functioned as a foster care group residence for LGBTQ young people.

The building’s current developer, Suzuki Capital, is planning to demolish the building at the end of the month but in the meantime, allowed the artists to freely decorate the walls, like an indoor version of Five Points. Unfortunately, as is also the case with Five Points, the art will soon be gone when the building is torn down to make way for more luxury condos.

The exhibit will be open one final weekend, August 30 to 31, from 1 to 6 p.m. both days.

Click through for more photos from the exhibit. (All photos by Jowy Romano.)

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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.