El Barrio: A Space Spectacle

These are harsh times, that perhaps need to be described by using harsh words. Such is the case of the working title of a series of videos uploaded by El Barrio/Spanish Harlem’s poet laureate Papoleto Melendez, whose new youtube channel documents last week’s viewing of a cherished “community space,” heretofore managed by Taller Boricua, for interested prospective managers.

Because of what City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito has referred to as widespread complaints about Taller Boricua’s management of a first-floor community space, the city’s Economic Development Corporation has opened it up to a “Request for Expressions of Interest” by groups or individuals who might utilize the space in a manner “vibrant” enough to satisfy the needs of the community.

Papoleto’s citizen journalism captures the tension in the room as EDC representative Jose Figuereo shows the space to representatives of interested parties as if it were a condo in a struggling real estate market. InĀ segment #2, at about 4:30, Figuereo encourages participants to submit any questions not covered in this poorly attended event through e-mail, ostensibly as a way to more efficiently use the showing time, but effectively taking information about particulars of the space and the process out of the public information sphere (i.e, Papoleto’s video camera).

Segment # 2 takes place mostly in the upstairs theater, a space that has been controlled by EDC for several years. The city’s complaint about underutilization of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center holds the 40-year-old arts group primarily responsible, but Taller has not managed the theater space for some time now. At around 8:50 architect Warren James asks whether the theater space will get soundproofing. Figuereo answers, “The space is not getting any soundproofing; it’s basically one of the reasons we’re looking to find an operator of both spaces…”

This begs the question about the under-utilization of the space(s) in the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center. Why did the EDC never move to soundproof the upstairs theater and make its use more efficient for the community? Why does it need to solve the problem about the space’s under-utilization by finding a manager for both spaces (upstairs theater and downstairs multicultural space)? Wouldn’t the space need soundproofing if one manager wanted to hold simultaneous events?

At around 5:50 of segment #7, inserted above, Figuereo is prodded to answer questions posed by Felix Leo Campos, Juan Gutierrez, Papoleto, and Marina Ortiz about. for example, the rent the city receives for the space, something he should probably know off the top of his head, but Councilwoman Mark-Viverito interjects to say it will be posted later online. At around 12:10 it becomes obvious that Papoleto and others are more interested in pointing out that the EDC has not been transparent about the space with the community than in actually presenting a “vision,” and Councilwoman Mark-Viverito walks toward the door in apparent frustration.

But let’s consider what’s being asked here. Don’t the questions posed by these long-time members of the community constitute a “vision?” Are they not envisioning how the space operates by asking for information about the nature of the city’s ownership of the space? To question whether they were legitimate participants in this space spectacle called an “expression of interest” is a matter of semantics. When a technocracy speaks of “vision,” it is actually obscuring vision, limiting information while accusing opponents of spreading disinformation.

So, when Felix Leo Campos asks whether the EDC is entertaining “ideas” or asking for “proposals,” he is pondering the difference between an RFEI and the more common RFP (Request for Proposals). “Right now you’re asking for ideas. You’re not asking for proposals,” says Campos. “We are, we are,” says Figuereo. “The idea can come in the form of proposal.”

Now we get the idea.


2 thoughts on “El Barrio: A Space Spectacle

  1. The Gold Tie Predicament

    La cosa se esta poniendo fea — really fea. Interpersonally hablando, the payaso misero with the golden tie has all the vivacity of a tourist guide at a morgue. Can anybody tell me why the powers that be send payasos like this — clowns that are overdressed, uncooperative, underinformed and shadey-looking? Can anyone tell me why this particular payaso is a “sad clown,” and not a joyful spirit? Why is this payaso exhibiting what Nietzsche disparagingly called “the spirit of seriousness?” And, what about the dead giveaway, the gold tie? Doesn’t that say it all?

    The definition of the situation is as clear as daylight. There is a hidden agenda here, and the last thing the powers that be want to do is open up the “process.” The last thing they want is to attract interest. The payaso is dampening interest, so the City can control the process, and thereby the outcome. He is sad, wretched looking, unhappy, and boring, very boring. And, he sports a gold tie. That says it all.

    But la communidad does not benefit from deals done behind the scenes, off stage, off camera, by “secure” Internet hookup. The community’s local interests are not served by privateering City Hall payasos that sport gold ties.
    What’s going on here? These are the same folks who sell city lots in el barrio to wealthy developers for about a buck a block. This ain’t only spectacle, as the author said, this is predicament. Like apartments being turned into unaffordable “condos,” the public spaces are being transformed into something new and different. That’s my take, which you can read any way you wish.

    When you have a sad clown — muy, muy triste y feo — running the show, you know you’ve been tricked into showing up at a city funeral, not a community wedding.

    I’ll leave you with a question. When is the last time you (or a man in your life, if you be a woman) sported a gold tie to a community event? I suspect you all have more civismo than that.

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