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East Harlem Committee Endorses Proposal to Tap 1% of Frieze NY Art Fair Revenue

by Mostafa Heddaya on May 15, 2014

Members of Arts & Labor presenting at the Community Board 11 meeting in East Harlem on Tuesday, May 14. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Members of Arts & Labor presenting at the Community Board 11 meeting in East Harlem on Tuesday, May 14. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

At a meeting Tuesday night, the Economic Development, Culture & Tourism Committee of East Harlem’s Community Board 11 (CB11) passed a resolution demanding that the Frieze Art Fair direct 1% of its revenues back to nonprofit organizations in the South Bronx and East Harlem. The vote was unanimous save for two abstentions; the resolution will now be considered at the community board’s May 20 meeting, CB11 chair Matthew Washington told Hyperallergic.

If the proposal passes the full community board, the message will be largely symbolic. “The community board itself does not have any enforcement capacity, we are a government agency, but we don’t have any legislative authority — it’s really about our advocacy,” Washington said.

The proposal was presented by Annie Shaw, Blithe Riley, and Emily Bairel on behalf of Arts & Labor, the Occupy Wall Street offshoot that has also advocated for union labor at Frieze Art Fair and Sotheby’s over the last two years. Frieze Art Fair announced this year their decision to incorporate union labor in the fair’s setup and takedown, and will be exclusively working with union contractors for the fair’s 2015 and 2016 editions.

A map of the Frieze Art Fair on Randall's Island and its environs. (image by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

A map of the Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s Island and its environs. (image by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Arts & Labor claims to have modeled their proposal after New York’s One Percent for Culture program, a citywide initiative to devote one percent of the municipal budget to arts and culture funding that has been backed by a number of major institutions, including the Metropolitan, Brooklyn, and Jewish Museums. (I spoke with District 33 council member Stephen Levin regarding his support of the program last May.) Where One Percent for Culture seeks to direct municipal monies to the arts, however, Arts & Labor’s proposal calls for tapping private funds raised on public land.

The fair charges five figures for booth rentals; with 190 galleries participating this year, revenue is likely to be in the millions of dollars. Arguing that Frieze rents Randall’s Island at a favorable rate (allegedly $200,000 for eight weeks, according to Parks Department testimony cited by the unions last year), Arts & Labor asks in the proposal distributed to CB11′s committee members Tuesday: “What if Frieze New York gave back some of the wealth it accumulates each year to the surrounding communities?” (A representative from Frieze was not immediately available to confirm revenue figures.)

In an interview after the Economic Development, Culture & Tourism Committee’s meeting, chair Diane Collier told Hyperallergic that for three years Frieze has avoided speaking with the community boards representing the neighborhoods surrounding Randall’s Island. Frieze does have a non-profit arm, Frieze Foundation Projects, that has commissioned public works and funds scholastic programs. Collier found such outreach insufficient, stating that in a conference call earlier this month with representatives from the fair, “Frieze couldn’t name the schools they were working with, they didn’t know anything.”

Randall’s Island is proximate to the low-income neighborhoods of East Harlem and the South Bronx, a fact highlighted in a 2012 editorial in the New York Daily News critical of the Bloomberg administration’s spending on the island’s development. Arts & Labor claims thus far to have met with the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Mayor’s office regarding their proposal. “Bronx Council on the Arts preliminarily supported the idea, but nothing specific has been agreed upon, it’s all just a big if,” Emily Bairel of Arts & Labor said.

Update, 5/16 11:02am: A Frieze spokesperson has written in with the following comments:

I am surprised about the comment about school groups as we have always been very clear as to which schools we have been working with. See this press release as from April 17: http://friezenewyork.com/media/files/press/FNY14_Education_Announcement.pdf

This year we dedicated our resources to the reduced ticket prices ($10) for students and young people, the education program, the inclusion of the non-profits in the fair and the majority of the Projects programming – with those projects external to the fair’s tent (more than half the program) being free to access.

On a separate note, we’re sensitive to the local impact that we make and we’re in conversation with the parks and cultural affairs departments about that issue as obviously we are not the only commercial organization to take place on Randall’s Island (or in city-wide Parks) and now the administration has completed those appointments we look forward to taking those conversations forward about where we dedicate our resources to make the best use of them.

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