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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HistoriCorps: Volunteers in U.S. Historic Preservation Make Their Mark and Have Fun Doing It

©HistoriCorps

Want to experience a slice of American history? Would you be willing to clear some brush, wield a hammer, and step off the beaten track? If so, and if you have a week, month, or more of your time to give, and you’re willing to travel, consider becoming a volunteer for HistoriCorps, a kind of national landmarks-focused Peace Corps for sites in the U.S.

Described by executive director Townsend Anderson as “a hybrid between a nonprofit construction company and an outdoor adventure company,” HistoriCorps “mobilizes and engages a volunteer workforce to work on historic preservation projects.” Anderson describes the experience as a kind of adventure vacation in some of the most beautiful—if sometimes remote—parts of the country.

Since its founding in 2009, as many as 900 HistoriCorps volunteers have logged more than 60,000 hours doing preservation work on close to 170 projects in more than 20 states. Projects are currently underway at Clermont Farm, Virginia; Santanoni Preserve, New York; Routt National Forest, Colorado; and Tahoe National Forest as well as special project sites in West Virginia and Arizona.

HistoriCorps evolved from a “partnership between a group representing land managers and preservationists, who collaborated to restore buildings on the Pike-San Isabel National Forest in Salida, Colorado. That initiative helped the U.S. Forest Service recognize the power of such a collaborative model, since the federal agency has thousands of historic buildings under its care, but it is not able to do all the preservation work that is needed.” HistoriCorps along with its sponsors and partners tries to help with projects that can benefit from volunteer manpower.

According to Anderson, the organization goes out of its way to provide an easy, accessible experience for those who join, and group leaders train them to work side-by-side with skilled tradesmen and other volunteers. No previous experience is necessary. Individuals are provided with the tools they need and basic accommodations, including a kitchen and camping equipment to provide adequate shelter.

“It has really become a gateway, if you will, that historic preservation has never had before,” explains Anderson. “It is introducing many non-preservationists to historic preservation. […] HistoriCorps has offered, for me, the best opportunity I have had to teach a preservation ethic.”

Those who work on HistoriCorps have the chance to repair and restore “places that preserve and tell the nation’s history.” Ann Pritzlaff, one of the founding members, calls HistoriCorps “more than a clearinghouse for volunteers or a resource for funding.” She described the mission as having a number of parts, to “build the capacity of land management agencies and local governments to achieve preservation projects, advance green technologies and enable innovators in historic preservation and stewardship, so that preservation can take on real value for communities and economies.”

Historic preservation can take many forms, preserving, conserving and protecting things from the past that are deemed to be of historic importance. It can be about protecting houses and other buildings from being destroyed, or the recovery and protection of artifacts and sites. In the United States, one of the earliest, best known examples was “the decision to maintain Mount Vernon, George Washington’s homestead, in its original condition rather than demolishing the property shortly after his death.” In the late 1940s, President Truman signed legislation to create the National Land Trust. More recently, in 2011, the National Trust announced a dynamic new program called National Treasures, through which the organization will identify significant threatened places across the United States, and take direct action to save them. National Treasures are part of a new and focused effort to bring more Americans into the preservation movement, and demonstrate the relevance of preserving the nation’s historic places.

On the grassroots level, HistoriCorps is one of a number of organizations trying to help out. For those who are interested in HistoriCorps but can’t participate as on-site volunteers, individuals can make donations to HistoriCorps, where even less than $100 can be allocated to buy new tools or buy meals for field teams. The organization also accepts applications from organizations and groups that have a structure or property they believe may have historical significance and should be restored and used to benefit the public.

To learn more about activities in historic preservation, visit HistoriCorps’ sponsor pageor the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). Preservation Action, a nonprofit lobbying group also hosts Preservation Week each spring to help raise awareness of important issues. And NTHP publishes a yearly list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places on their website to spotlight national treasures and rally efforts to save them.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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