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Old P.S. 64 seal-up leads to CHARAS murals cover-up

BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK | The large-scale murals honoring the legacy of CHARAS and its founders have become the pride of the Loisaida community. Created over several weeks in November by artists affiliated with the Thrive Collective, they extend across a long wall on E. 10th Street between Avenues B and C, on the rear of the old P.S. 64, the former CHARAS/El Bohio Cultural and Community Center.

The former school building — in which the cultural arts center thrived from 1979 to 2001 — was auctioned under then-Mayor Rudy Guiliani and bought by Gregg Singer, a private developer, who himself has recently been “evicted” by the courts; Singer has been cited for default on his mortgage, and an auction of property was ordered for March. However, the auction date has now been postponed, and it’s not clear what the new auction date will be.

A few weeks ago, however, while the structure’s front entrance at 605 E. Ninth St., between Avenues B and C, was being given a much-needed safety overhaul, one mural has been taken down and another partially cinder-blocked over.

The original Armando Perez mural. (Photo by Bonnie Rosenstock)

“The goal of this art work was safety, cleanup and community coming together to beautify our neighborhood,” said David “Daso” Soto, one of the prime movers of the art project, and owner of Piragua Art Space across the street from the murals. “Community members take pride in it and bring their friends to see it.

“Art is a symbolism of the love we have for CHARAS and all of the founders, who are part of this wonderful legacy of activism through art,” he added. “It’s public art, but I didn’t know it would be cinder-blocked over.”

The wooden doors and lintel that the Armando Perez mural were painted on were removed as part of the work to seal up the building. (Photo by Bonnie Rosenstock)

Daso went on to say that many people have been advocating for the building to be sealed because of the real possibility of injury and arson, with young people breaking in to have parties with loud music.

“Chino [García, one of the founders of CHARAS] and his people wanted it to be sealed,” he noted.

Surprisingly, the murals have been highly respected, with a minimum of tags.

“But as soon as they put the cinder blocks over one of the murals there was graffiti,” Daso observed. “This was an anti-graffiti project, utilizing street art and graffiti art as a way to deter vandalism.”

The cinder blocks that were added in one area — to secure a spot with wooden doors — partially cover the image of a woman who symbolizes Loisaida.

“I wanted to celebrate Hispanic heritage,” artist Marissa Molina explained. “It has pride, fierceness and energy that represents the Lower East Side.”

Asked what can be done about the cover-up, Molina declared that she “is excited to go back and fix it.”

“Technically, it won’t be a problem,” she said. “I’ve painted on many different surfaces.”

Three wooden panels — two doors and a lintel — that featured the name of Loisaida legend Armando Perez, created by Charlie Elo, were removed and slated for the garbage heap. However, according to anonymous sources, who do not wish to be named, the three Perez panels are safe.

“They were thrown out by the building’s workers, found, rescued and now stored in an undisclosed location,” the sources stated.

As of this writing, a mural of poet and activist Bimbo Rivas’s name is in place and now sports a lock. The doors are made of metal, and the construction workers sometimes use them to enter and exit the building.

The locked metal doors with the Bimbo Rivas mural are used by workers to access the building. (Photo by Bonnie Rosenstock)

This reporter spoke to William Fowler, deputy press secretary for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, who e-mailed the following: “H.P.D.’s Demolition Unit was issued an immediate emergency declaration by D.O.B. [Department of Buildings] to seal the building, and a contractor was retained by H.P.D. In addition to sealing the building, as part of the original scope of work, our contractor is installing netting over the building’s dormers because deficiencies were identified by D.O.B. This work remains ongoing at this time.”

In an e-mail, City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represents the Lower East Side, wrote, “My office has been in touch with D.O.B. and H.P.D. to confirm recent reinforcements to ensure the building is not a physical danger in its current state while working to preserve as much of the public art as possible. With conditions at the building resulting in local residents’ injuries, it’s urgent that CHARAS be returned to the community to become, once again, a place that is a sanctuary — open, vibrant and a home for arts.”

The Thrive Collective artists donated their time and money for supplies for the project. However, donations are now welcome for the restoration of the murals.

The 10th Street mural project has inspired other artists with great history at the CHARAS organization, dating back to the 1990s, said Daso, who, along with Seth Tobocman, is organizing another mural project on the front of the building on E. Ninth Street.

“These visuals,” Daso said, “will also reflect the legacy of the activism through arts and music by memorializing those who have made a positive impact in the Loisaida community.”

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