Monday, May 7, 2007

So I Thought You Guys Were Moving to Union Square?

Karen Boutet of the Zeitgeist answers a FAQ @ our (ill-starred) Union Square Gambit

The Union Square bank space fell through in February. Alan and I went through a period of discouragement, where we weren't sure what we would do, and were worn out with talking about things.

At any rate, what happened at the Union Squre Bank space is that after bringing in architects and city inspectors, we found that the building needed around $100,000 worth of work for us to be able to turn it into a public use space (it was private offices before.) For us to be able to do what we do, it would need a sprinkler system, wheelchair lift, two handicapped access bathrooms, and a second means of egress. (The handicapped access rules kicked in due to it's being on the second floor.) We were advised that this would cost approximately $100,000. After that we would still need to do all the usual sheetrocking, painting, lighting, and sound system installation. Despite extensive attempts to negotiate with the landlord (Ifeanyi Menkiti), he finally made it clear that he would not be willing to pay for any portion of this work, nor would he give us periods of free rent so that we could undertake to fund it or work on it ourselves. We have attracted a backer recently, who was willing to put up $50,000, but we didn't feel comfortable about raising the rest of the money without being able to use the space, while paying rent on it. Also, some problems arose with the Diesel cafe, who signed a lease on the first floor. They did not want to work together to develop the building, in fact they refused to give us a couple of feet we would need on the first floor to put in the whelchair lift. This would have resulted in an additional cost of $20,000 to build the wheelchair lift on the outside of the building. They were not willing to approach the city together for facade funding- they went separately as did we, which was not going to work, since the facade was made up of one wall of glass spanning the two floors.

The whole thing started to feel untenable and kind of hostile. We felt misled by the landlord, as he had initially expressed an interest in participating in an arts and cultural center, bringing people from his native Nigeria, putting on poetry events, etc. (Mr. Menkiti is a poet.) He neglected to mention that he was not willing to participate financially. We also felt betrayed by the Diesel cafe people, as Alan brought them into the space, yet they weren't willing to work with us in the most rudimentary of ways- in fact they stopped talking to us! Also, the realtor said the place already had a sprinkler system, which it didn't.

At any rate, we got a lease lawyer and got out of the lease. Mr. Menkiti gave us back our whole deposit, but the realtor, Kevin Delaney, still wanted his commission, so we had to pay that (even though Alan got him a tenant, which he hadn't been able to do in three years!) We also had some lawyer's fees. But we were very relieved to get out of there- it just felt really cutthroat. The Somerville Arts Council and Union Square Main Streets were very supportive, but they were powerless against this stuff.

So we are still looking about for an appropriate space, with a landlord who genuinely wants to work with us to make it happen!

Thanks for your patience and support.

Karen and Alan

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

then get the HELL out of cambridge! there is a rest of the world out there! its better! really!

love and rockets from a better life!
katt

Anonymous said...

Dear Katt,
It IS tough to make an art center work in this area. It's a little tougher due to what you left behind. In the December 2006 edition of The Bridge(a paper put out by Green-Rainbow folks in the Cambridge area) you were quoted as saying the Zeitgeist's old Inman Square residence was "destroyed by a trust fund baby." What a hit-and-run! The Zeitgeist's leaving its space really needs an explanation of novella-length to be accurate.
Gil Aharon, the guy who bought the building that housed the gallery's old space, is not such a baby, as far as I know. He works as a piano teacher and has put himself into heavy debt to renovate the building. His expensive path certainly plays ball with the city in the way the Zeitgeist never did.
Gil is paying to avoid the harrassment that comes from (for one example) refusing to pay $500 for an entertainment license that would have only purchased a right to refuse admission. Folks thinking of creating their own art space should not be misled by a recent Boston Globe article about the LilyPad which led creedence to the city's tired claim that the $500 always has to be forked over for even one poem to be read aloud. As long as you only ask for donations and don't turn people away, you're clear. Years of fighting established this, much as the city doesn't want to admit it. If
you didn't know better, that struggle never happened.
The article in which you were quoted was MISTAKEN about the Zeitgeist closing here and moving to Philadelphia. The article-- signed by "The Bridge Troll"--was actually written by Bill Cunningham, who called to ask me my feelings about the the gallery's 'move.' My feelings were confused since something did not add up. Since you were the only one quoted, I surmise that the 'news' was fed to Bill by you. Hey, maybe you were misquoted, but I don't think so.
FACT: The Zeitgeist NEVER LEFT, and you're bitter that it didn't. I wish you would attend to the better life you're advertising. If we all moved to Philly to be with you, I know it would make you feel EVEN better, REALLY, but every time I saw a stack of "The Bridge" I thought of your bomb-throwing. Why are you still barking up our tree?

Sincerely,
Ian Maxwell MacKinnon
Occasional Zeitgeist Collaborator

Anonymous said...

Hello Ian-

I just came across your comment on the 186 outpost site.

I was in part mis-quoted, yes. I certainly didn't say the Zeitgeist moved to Philadelphia . Bill wanted to know what happened, so I told him- the whole novella, not a one-liner. But at this point, I'm glad *anyone* wrote *anything* about it. At the time, Alan and Karen were living here too- but then they moved to Pittsfield instead. I never expected them to stay in Philly though. Just gave them the option, cause they always had options for me. I figured if they even got as far as somerville, southie, or JP they'd have a better life. Did you have a better idea?

I'm NOT bitter that people didn't move HERE. I AM bitterly, bitterly dissapointed that there's nothing left THERE. And I'm bitter as hell that Zeitgeist was destroyed by a spoiled rich trust fund brat like gil aharon and an opportunistic real estate agent like alan carrier, and no one did jack shit to stop them. Do you have any idea what happened over at that 2nd zeitgeist space? You weren't around to see it, day in, day out- even here you call yourself an "occasional collaborator".

We never had a lease in that space. So eventually Gil just took it. He tried to take our name, too- somehow Alan got him not to do that, even though he tried. But Gil ran it without a sign for a while, so people would think it was still Zeitgeist. He was under the impression we were either were or could be making lots of money- I suppose he knows better now. And certainly he took all the work we'd done, all that work, all those days and hours of work we all did. You're full of venom for me, easy target that I am. Why not take on the REAL people who destroyed 10 years or more of free speech activism- our former landlords?

Well, its too late now. It wont' matter if I tell you about how he physically attacked people, locked people out he thought weren't clean-cut enough to help his sorry jazz career, threw his live-in tenants out on 14 days notice, and treated us all- especially karen, ting, lo-lo and jaimie- as if we daren't call our souls our own. Might as well not mention that the rent fluctuated continually, tacking on things like his new computer and stereo- or his constant vacations to the beach- as "gallery expenses". To late to know that he threw hundreds of books in a garbage dumpster- Nor about the false website he and his friends put up stating that "Zeitgeist has closed down for good, and the Lilypad has sprung up in its place!" May as well not even mention the scary ass conversations I had with him, when he thought I was going to be on his side, cause I played an instrument, too- about how he was going to get rid of all the "crazy people" like YOU and marcus and alan and make a "Real jazz club"-complete with a watch dog so he would "always know exactly who's in here at all times"- as soon as it was "Built Up" to the point that he wouldn't have to do any WORK. Cause all he does is get fucked up all day, with occasional jaunts out to teach the children of the hyper-wealthy (who will only deal with those of their own class), and more often to sit around on the beach getting fucked up some more.

I tried to tell people. But no one believed me until it was too late. Everyone was ready to fight the abstract entity of the city- to fight an abstract group of landlords. But when a landlord in-the-flesh, a scrubbed clean berklee kid with a rich daddy, a fancy duke degree and a stated belief that black people are illiterate and shouldnt' have babies, and that the war in iraq is a Good Idea came along to destroy everything, well everyone just lay the fuck down. Thats what I'm **bitter** about.

I'm glad Rob is opening a new space. I encourage him every chance I get. But his family OWNS a BUILDING. Most of us do not. More power to him- thank fucking jeezus *someone* with a building is a good dude. . . . . . but me? Well. I'm a musician. Busking is cool, but I need to play in rooms, too. As long as the Lilypad- which I wouldn't patronize even if I could, because the owner attacked and harmed a whole shitload of my close friends- is smack in the middle of the improvised music scene, there's not much of a life left for me there. I don't think there's much for Alan and Karen either- but thats for them to decide.

I miss it every single day, I pine for it. But your right about one thing- I have to attend to my life here. I live in a big beautiful house where I have shows in my living room, which is as big as that zeitgeist gallery was. In Boston I couldn't even find a shoebox apartment for the same price, even with the money my family miraculously inherited a few years ago (and no, they wouldn't help me buy back the zeitgeist building either, and i'm paying in blood for even trying to get them to). I play music of every kind, play out pretty much every week. I put on shows, work part time at the co-op. . . . . .there's zillions of spaces and people doing shit here. But its not Zeitgeist. If Lilypad closed, and the boston real estate market crashed down far enough that Zeitgeist really re-opened for REAL, I'd be back like a shot. But cool as 186 is, its not Zeitgeist- or Oni, Redtail, Andrew Square, Little White Box, Neu Gallery, Bad Girls, Mama Gaia's, Phoenix cafe or any of the other places I got my lifeblood from which are gone now. I *loved* it there. I only *live* here. But it IS a better life than what was gonna be left for me in Boston after all that shit went down. And there's a far better chance I can build something amazing here than there. . . . sad but true.

Thats a nasty last line there at the end of your comment. It makes me sad, it fucked my whole day up, cause I fought like tooth and nail for that zeitgeist gallery. SO here's one in return. If you couldn't get up off your ass and come stop a couple of shits like Alan Carrier and Gil Aharon from destroying this Zeitgeist, then why are you barking up MY tree? At this sad late date, who are YOU to say "OUR"? I would have thought better of you. I used to be jealous of you, that you owned a house in central square. Now I'm just sorry that you're gonna be stuck there. Maybe you can get something to happen there that the rest of us couldn't. I hope so.

Anyway-

Happy New Year-

Katt