As more than 100 artists vacate their illegal studios in the Long Island City building where a staircase collapse seriously injured a woman, one bright spot for urban art aficionados remains: 5 Pointz, the graffiti art collective that has painted the structure’s exterior walls, is staying put.
“I knew when it happened that we’d be open again,” said Jonathan “MeresOne” Cohen, who runs 5 Pointz. “There’s a lot of positive energy in that building. It’s something that you have to be there every day to see the reactions of the people.”
But the brightly colored, spray-painted murals may be the only art produced at the 90-year-old former factory for the near future.
After an external staircase fell apart April 10, sending jeweler Nicole Gagne plummeting three stories, the city Department of Buildings issued a vacate order for the property. Gagne is on the road to recovery, appearing at a fund-raiser held by colleagues last Thursday, one of the artists said.
Since the collapse, artists had been in limbo, unable to continue working or retrieve their equipment until last week, when owner Jerry Wolkoff announced he could not obtain a certificate of occupancy from the city without cost-prohibitive expenditures and told his tenants they had until Aug. 22 to clear out.
“It’s a big loss to the community, of course,” said artist Carla Reyes, who rented a studio in the building until July, when she relocated to Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
“I would have liked to keep a space in the neighborhood rather than move to Brooklyn, but it had a lot to do with my budget and studio amenities available in the area,” she said, noting some artists from the closed studios have found spaces in Long Island City’s Juvenal Reis and PaintCan studios.
Work crews set up scaffolding and had repainted much of the building’s exterior with a beige color last week, covering up the distinctive graffiti murals that graced the walls for more than a decade. Cohen said he and his fellow artists are waiting for the scaffolding to come down before they embark on a wholesale effort to redecorate it.
“It was a little stressful, but things happen,” Cohen said. “It’s kind of a good thing ... in that it brings new energy to the building. After the staircase collapsed, it was a real dark time.”
A formal graffiti program has existed at the building since at least 1996, when Wolkoff and organizer Pat DeLillo launched what they called the Phun Factory. Cohen took over the graffiti project in 2002, renaming it 5 Pointz. He is now hoping to turn the building into a museum, noting he is in talks with a group to help him with fund-raising.
“We get anywhere from one to two tour buses every day,” he said, noting the building also draws crowds on Saturdays from P.S. 1’s outdoor parties. “New York needs a graffiti museum. It originated here. Whether you like it or not, it’s art.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cn
©2009 Community News Group
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