The backlash against one Citi Bike docking station in a small SoHo park continues to rage. You'll recall that some neighbors are up in arms over the Citi Bikes' presence in Petrosino Park, where opponents say the bike station will prohibit the public art displays that are usually exhibited there. "We do not want Citi Bank-branded and Mastercard-branded advertising in a space designated for beauty, contemplation, and independent thought," one park advocate tells A Walk in the Park.
Parks Department regulations prohibit the building of any structure inside a NYC Park without the "approval of the Commissioner," and in April Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro sent a letter to the DOT objecting to the 43-bike station, arguing it was "not an appropriate location." But the DOT hasn't hastened to relocate the station, which appears to differ from the department's swift damage-control response to other mildly controversial bike share locations.
At city's official press launch event yesterday, protesters "Cyclists for Art in Petrosino Park" and "Artists for Art in Petrosino Park." And this morning, the bikes were affixed with signs pleading with Citi Bike users to boycott the bike station entirely. The DOT did not respond to our request for comment, but this war is far from over. "It is incredible that a city agency would exhibit such fear and contempt of the citizenry," Sean Sweeney, a SoHo Alliance rep, declared earlier, with characteristic understatement.
And artist Minerva Durham, who for years has offered live drawing sessions at her Spring Studio, has been regularly protesting in the park since the bike station was installed. She says she she "will die for this outrageous violation of the law" and has vowed to close her space "for one week or until the bikes are removed, whichever comes sooner. In good weather I will have classes outside with a nearly nude or nude model, depending upon the model's fearlessness." Naked models—that'll show 'em!
Update: A DOT spokesman says, "We will continue to monitor this location and look forward to discussing with elected officials." Here's Durham's full statement:
Since Saturday, April 28, I have been protesting the theft of the art installation space in Petrosino Square by the New York City Department of Transportation and Citibank . The City administrators and the corporate bank have placed bike-share docking stations on top of the officially designated space for Public Art. Georgette Fleischer and I had stopped the bike-rack installation on Thursday night, April 27th, but DOT secretly placed the racks during the middle of Friday night.
If bikes are operating from the stations on Memorial Day weekend , Saturday, May 25, I will lock Spring Studio for one week or until the bikes are removed, whichever comes sooner. In good weather I will have classes outside with a nearly nude or nude model, depending upon the model's fearlessness. I will leave messages on the phone, 212-226-7240 about the times for the sessions in the park. I will have all of the morning classes in the park if it is not raining. They will be free to anyone who wishes to draw. I will also bring free materials for passersby. The studio will be open for Karen Capelluto's show during the gallery hours, 5:00 to 6:00 pm, M-F. If the bikes remain I will reopen downstairs on Saturday, June 1, raise the prices, and cancel all plans to stay in New York City beyond the two-and-a-half years left on my lease here at 64 Spring Street.
The historic reasons for an art installation space here in this Park are overwhelming. The fact that the Park was derelict in appearance but inviting to avant-garde and experimental artists since 1985 makes it a sacred place for everyone who is aware that their artistic output was influenced by the Fluxus movement. Just about everyone who makes art today, as well as most performing artists, express Fluxus ideas.. Think of Lady Gaga and her elaborate settings. Even the newspaper reports of my protest are couched in Fluxus concepts and language: "Elizabeth Hellman's ballet-inspired protest..." and "In typical SoHo artist style, a woman is staging a protest near the bike rack, standing in a statuesque pose every day..." I love these descriptions that assign empowerment to the performer herself, to the genuine and truthful intention of an artist who moves and communicates. That vision of the artist comes right out of SoHo.
The idealistic thrust of the artists' settlement in the loft buildings in the cast-iron district was central to the economics and politics of Virginia Admiral, the woman who organized 226 Lafayette in the early 1970's. It is thanks to her, my friend who died in 2001, that I have my business in the basement here. Before she died, she said,"Keep Minerva in the basement," a statement that could be viewed with sisterly cynicism or with a sense of humor that knows the value of real estate. The corner of Spring at Lafayette is to me the most valuable real estate in the world. But it will lose all of its value and charm if it becomes a bicycle depot. How did I get to be so lucky to have spent 21 years working on this corner? Now that the city has changed so much, is it time for me to go away and die in an obscure corner?
Virginia wanted the Park to be green. She meant plantings. It took years for the Park to be rebuilt into the inviting space that it is now. The decision was made to put art works out in the "PLAZA" area, and to leave the fenced-in green area quiet, free of even artistic speech. Outside, in the north triangle, people gathered around the first work installed and took pictures in a touristy way without annoying the locals who live and work here and who sit in the enclosed green space. Actually, I think that most of the locals were proud that tourists were enjoying the art. There are many Parks Department papers proving that the north triangle of Petrosino is designated for temporary art exhibitions.
Besides the historic, philosophic, and esthetic arguments for the removal of the bike stations and for the insistence on the continued presence of Art in Pertosino Square, there is a more profound and potentially more volatile reason to keep bike shares out of the park. For me it is the ultimate right-of-way turf war. I have been walking along the side of the park for over thirty years. For twenty of those years I have walked to my business at 64 Spring Street. I have rarely encountered mounted bicyclists on the pavers. If the bikes are being parked and taken out, my pleasant walk to work will become a hazardous journey. Already, the presence of the bike racks has opened up the possibility to many riders that they may ride on the sidewalk which is Park land and not a bike path. As I do my protest daily, I call out to mounted riders to "please walk your bike." One man stayed on the sidewalk, still mounted, then circled back in the street and called out to me, "I know you. I used to live where you live at 86 Kenmare, and you are easily the most annoying person in world." Half an hour later I saw him riding in the street in the bike lane and we both smiled and waved at each other. Another said that I need to get laid. (Everyone needs to get laid.)
My problem is with Mayor Bloomberg, the DOT and Citibank. While many people are working on this, I feel that I have my own little war with them. It is either them or me. And, hey, he spends his weekends in Bermuda, while I am here all week long, and the weekends too. I was willing to go to jail to stop the pushcart from operating in the park, but I will die for this outrageous violation of the law and of the will of the local residents, both renters and owners of property, and shopkeepers who share with me the traditional cultural values of New York City.
I am asking you, all the people I know and love, all of those who love the studio, to support the accomplishments of the art movement that occurred in SoHo at the end of the last century and to insist to Mayor Bloomberg, the DOT and Citibank that Petrosino Square be protected from commercial activity and from moving vehicular traffic (bikes), and that its front triangle be supported as the Parks Department has designated it to be, as a space devoted to art installations. I am asking those of you who have power and connections to do what you can. If you can't help me in this, I will have done everything in my power, and I will be living with a deep sense of disappointment and disillusion.