ABC No Rio is a ‘social center located at 156 Rivington Street on New York City‘s Lower East Side, founded in 1980. It’s the kind of place that once inspired people to move to the LES, but now it’s facade sticks out as a lone reminder of  ‘the good old days’ in a neighborhood filled with boutiques and Zagat-rated restaurants.  Inside it features a gallery space, a zine library, a darkroom, a silkscreening studio, and public computer lab. 

abcnoriobuildingThe artist-owned building, which was purchased from the city for $1- yes- we are
talking NYC, not Detroit here- and is preparing to be soon torn down, [with the artist collective’s consent] to erect a beautiful new functioning arts and community center. In 1997, tenancy issues with the City of New York were favorably resolved and presented ABC No Rio a tremendous opportunity. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) offered to sell the building for one dollar if they raised the money to rehabilitate the building and dedicate it to community use. ABC No Rio was awarded $1,650,000 in June 2009 from New York City for re-development of the project on Rivington Street site.  The new facility has been designed by architect Paul Castrucci [right] and will be constructed in line with their environmental politics, utilizing sustainable design principles. And the good news is that they are almost there. You can donate here to support the new facility.

The NY Times points out that it is important to consider “the role played by educated bohemians in paving the way for the kinds of capitalist development that they traditionally abhor. ” This lesson comes too late for some. Recently 1217 Griswold, an artist-run building in Detroit has been completely displaced to make way for new ‘artist lofts.’ What if this vibrant place of art, innovation, and Detroit’s proud DIY mentality had been collectively owned by the artists that lived there?  This headline, “I’m Getting Evicted From Detroit’s Most Famous Techno Loft” may have had a different headline… “Artists Fight Private Development to Keep Arts Building with Collective Ownership.” Check out these photos of 1217 before the building is renovated to accommodate Dan Gilbert’s goal of turning Capitol Park into downtown’s arts district- without retaining its established artists.

PLAYGROUND DETROIT recently had the pleasure to have a personal tour around this LES DIY landmark by Robert Goldkind [below photo, taken in the darkroom] during their most recent art show, which we were informed may also be one of the last times to see a show in ABC No Rio’s old building. [ENDS MAY 8TH] The gallery space on the main level currently features a re-visit of one of the very first shows at the space in 1979, focused on real estate. Part of the reason for this show being its last in the current building is due to is the building’s condition. Inside there are decades of weather wear and tear, ceilings and walls are decaying and mold is visible in some rooms.

Robert Goldkind, our tour guide, in the darkroom

“ABC No Rio itself grew out of the 1979 Real Estate Show, organized by the artists’ group Colab (Collaborative Projects), in which a large group of artists seeking to foster connections between these communities occupied an abandoned building at 123 Delancey St. and turned it into a gallery to show solidarity with working people in a critique of the city’s land use policies—policies that in essence kept buildings empty until the area again attracted investment from developers—and a demonstration of what can be achieved through solidarity.” [Wikipedia]

This re-hash show features new work on the theme of real estate, land-use, and the right to housing. The Statement of Intent is below, from the original Real Estate Show:

This is a short-term occupation of vacant city-managed property… The occupation and exposition imposes a complex human system where previously there was no system — or only the system of waste and disuse that characterizes the profit system in real estate.”

ABC No Rio remains a rough and ready space. Throughout the years, artists have contributed installations and works on the walls and hallways of the entire space. The original Real Estate Show opened on New Year’s Eve, 1979. The Real Estate Show led to the creation of ABC No Rio.  According to their website:

ABC No Rio is a collectively-run center for art and activism. We are known internationally as a venue for oppositional culture. ABC No Rio was founded in 1980 by artists committed to political and social engagement and we retain these values to the present. ABC No Rio is a place where people share resources and ideas to impact society, culture, and community.

Our community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society’s disenfrachised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.

Inside the three-floor space there is also an amazing and completely unique Zine Library. The ABC No Rio Zine Library contains over twelve thousand publications. Their collection includes independent, underground and marginal publications on subjects such as music, culture, politics, personal experience and travel. Numerous individuals have donated their personal collections, and zine editors and publishers regularly send us issues.

RESx (The Real Estate Show extended) is on view until May 8th. The building will soon be torn down by it’s owners and an eco-friendly and sustainable landmark building will begin to take shape. Check it out now, before what’s left of the end of an era makes way for the future.

Detroit DIY-ers, take note! In the face of gentrification and new developments, ABC No Rio has proved that artists can join forces to control their spaces and their own destiny.