New York’s Art Students League in Battle over Air Rights Decision

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art S...

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art Students League of New York on a sunny afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Creative space is sacred to an artist. So, it’s not surprising that passions have flared on West 57th Street in New York at the prospect of change adjacent to—and cantilevered over—the site of the famed Art Students League. The 140-year-old nonprofit art school “that counts Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mark Rothko among its alumni” is, according to The New York Times, the scene of a “battle being fought between the school’s leadership and a faction of its 3,945 voting members” over the granting of air rights to build, in part, above the school.

On paper, the deal looks good for the Art Students League, which has negotiated to be paid close to $32 million in return for granting air rights—the right to build in the empty space above a piece of property—to Extell Development Company, which intends to build “one of the tallest residential towers in the world” next door.

The League administration’s plan, according to the petition that was circulated earlier this year to gain support for the decision, is to allow Extell to “build a cantilever some 30 stories above the League and 6,000 square feet of air rights.” Then, they’ll use that money in the arts building to add floors, additional studios, unveil skylights that have been covered up, and to restoring “gallery space and the library.” Their board also sees this as a way to provide the League “a strong foundation for a capital fundraising campaign to pay for the expansion.” Further, they want to have money to use to “keep tuition low, and augment the League’s endowment to serve future generations of students.”

The dissenting group, which is called ASL 2025, has also expressed dissatisfaction with the school’s president, ­­­­­­­­Salvatore Barbieri, claiming that he has “ruled by fiat, making up the rules as he goes along.” Led by Marne Rizika, a painter and printmaker, and Richard Caraballo, a graphic designer, ASL 2025 claims there have also been “efforts to intimidate and stifle any dissent.”

In return, according to the Times, President Barbieri, has called the attacks a “classic pattern of amateurish slanderous writing” filled with “false and distorted allegations without supporting facts.” And the institution’s lawyers have said, “Under Mr. Barbieri’s tenure, the league is in better financial shape than it has ever been…. Its prospects for longevity and the ability to educate artists for generations to come have never been brighter.”

But that’s not the way Rizika and Caraballo see it. “The sense of collegiality that formerly existed between art students, instructors and administrators, in an ‘open-door’ policy, has disappeared,” said Ms. Rizika, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Barbieri for the presidency several weeks ago, “and been replaced with autocratic rule, which has included hiring armed guards for members’ meetings.

“The opponents agree that overturning the sale itself is impossible. The purpose of the suit, Mr. Caraballo said, is to challenge the way the 2014 vote approving the deal was conducted.”

Today, the League remains an institution run by artists for artists. They follow in the footsteps of the many famous artists who have “shaped the vocabulary of art worldwide, [and] have been instructors, lecturers and students at the League. They include, among many others, Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Ben Shahn and Cy Twombly.” Hopefully, the two sides can reach a comfortable agreement soon. Perhaps it can help to recall what Paul Klee once said about his art space: “All is well with me. The rain doesn’t reach me, my room is well heated, what more can one ask for?”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Is the Romance with Tiny Houses More Than a Fling?

Tiny house

Tiny house (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tiny house movement, which is often credited as having gained popularity thanks to Sarah Susanka’s 1997 book, The Not So Big House, has captivated architects, designers, city planners, and increasingly eco-conscious homebuyers on either end of the buying market. There are millennials who, faced with uncertain economic growth and unwilling to tie to the long-term mortgages of their parents’ generation, are considering tiny houses. Architects and designers are intrigued with the challenges of making 1,000 square feet and smaller feel like living large. City planners appreciate the economic possibilities, and even Boomers are willing to engage if downsizing to tiny can work with a lifestyle they can enjoy.

Not everyone is a fan, of course. As NPQ reported in an earlier article on possible use of tiny homes for the homeless, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino expressed his concern about tiny homes, on average “the size of a garden shed,” and which are “built on wheels so that [they] can be moved frequently enough to skirt laws against loitering or trespassing.” Buscaino felt “each home would require reflective markings” and that this idea overall might not be the best of solutions.

But many others, as the Star Tribune piece showcased this week, would argue tiny houses are a game-changer and feel they offer exciting alternatives to traditional notions of housing in addition to posing the question of “how much space one really needs—and encourages living in a sustainable way.”

Among the architecture community, there has sprouted “a competition of sorts to design appealing, cost-effective, environmentally friendly tiny homes. […] One of the movement’s pioneers, Geoff Warner of St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects, has teamed with the Robert Engstrom Cos., the city of St. Paul, and an East Side nonprofit developer to propose a tiny house cluster as a demonstration of how such homes could spur development of affordable for-sale housing.”

A cluster of Alchemy Architecture’s “Weehouse” prefabricated tiny homes has been proposed for St. Paul’s East Side, an area that connects downtown St. Paul “with an “emerging business and entertainment corridor.” The Weehouses are described as “modular boxes prefabricated in factories and designed by Warner to vary in size from 300 to 850 square feet. They can be set up side-by-side to create stand-alone neighborhood clusters, or stacked on top of each other to build bigger single-family or multifamily dwellings.” The Star Tribune article also said “their real innovation is that they’re hardly Spartan: They include modern aesthetic features such as floor-to-ceiling glass and open kitchens, while also emphasizing energy efficiency with passive solar design, reflective roofs and geothermal heating.”

The hope of planners there is that the “units will market for around $100,000,” putting it at “a price that can appeal to a wide range of people, including first-time home buyers of all racial backgrounds.” According to a report issued by tech company SmartAsset, “in over half of the biggest U.S. cities, the typical millennial can’t afford a 1,000 square-foot home.” Warner’s hope, which is shared by many enthusiasts of the growing trend, is that more and more people will realize “you don’t need to have huge spaces to have really nice spaces.”

In the city of St. Paul’s case, the municipality “will need to craft a new zoning overlay designation governing such clusters of tiny housing.” But this is being “envisioned as a possible template for other cities across the state and country seeking to encourage the tiny living phenomenon.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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