Friday, September 19, 2008


UP FRONT News September 11, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."


By Tom Weiss

I am one of what may be a small group of people who have lived in all five boroughs of New York City; I now live in the no longer "hidden" borough of Staten Island. And, while I think much of the Democratic and Republican machine-dominated politics in S.I. needs to be cleaned up (which is a major reason why, although I am a registered Democrat, I am running as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Congress in the now very visible 13th congres- sional district, which includes all of S.I. and parts of Brooklyn), when it comes to the arts and other phenomena, Staten Island is a breath of fresh air. (And I have lived in lofts in the artsy neighborhoods of Soho, Noho and Tribeca, now among New York's most over-developed and gentrified communities.)

For sure, another reason I am running for Congress is to empower those of us who will resist the real estate developer power-and-money grab which has the North Shore of Staten Island, in particular my working class ethnically diverse neighborhood of Stapleton, in its crosshairs. I live a few feet from the vast acreage of the Homeport, the naval base that becomes a tourist attraction every year during Fleet Week. The Homeport and the adjacent streets have the predatory developers and their (I choose the possessive "their" intentionally) politicians, e.g. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Councilman Michael McMahon (the Democratic Party machine candidate for Congress) interested in their glitzy "Downtown Staten Island Plan." The plan, which was presented at a Democratic club meeting in Westerleigh some weeks ago by the not very grass roots "Downtown Staten Island Council", would, if implemented, lead immediately to increased homelessness in Staten Island. These geniuses seek for example to eliminate an entire block of businesses and residences (including mine) along Stapleton's (S.I.) Canal Street (and, in case Manhattan is interested, there is a Canal Street in the South Bronx) to create a "greenway" to the Homeport. Bloomberg talks environmental "green" but he rules in the interest of cash green. My answer to that idea: Hands off Canal Street!!! Even if the Quinnberg/McMahon-controlled Staten Island Community Board 1 remains silent.

And I think I will have the support not only of my Canal Street neighbors but of an increasingly politically visible civil rights leader, Rev. Demetrius Carolina, the Martin Luther King follower who is the pastor of the First Central Baptist Church in Stapleton, of which I am a member. Rev. Carolina, who has already introduced me as a congressional candidate at a recent forum (for later soundly primary-defeated Democrat Steve Harrison), is, aside from myself, among the first to raise "gentrification" as a major political issue in Staten Island. Rev. Carolina doesn't only read the Bible; he also reads UP FRONT News.

Rev. Carolina is also an arts engine, as services at FCBC are full of performance art, mostly gospel music and dance. And last spring, with his family, he walked around the corner from the church to The Cup - a combination coffeehouse/nightclub that is a major performing arts venue and gallery well known not only for "major artist" events but also for poetry and music open mics - and read several of his poems at an "UP FRONT News presents" event earlier this year.

Staten Island is certainly a center of the small "d" democratic "open mic" tradition. The Cup has regular open mic events on Mondays and also the first Thursday of the month "Come Vibe with Us." There are open mics at The Everything Goes Bookstore Cafe and a weekly one (Mondays) at a Stapleton bar called Martini Red. The Martini Red event runs by Lower Manhattan time standards, generally casually starting after 10:00 PM and - because music- ian performers are allowed up to three songs, which can be a long time - sometimes don't wind up until 3:00 AM. There is no question, however, that they are entertaining. I enjoy reading my poetry there and, unless it gets too late, I also enjoy performers like guitarist Paul Strayfer and singers such as Frank Giallombardo and Jaclyn Shaw, among others. To be sure the First Amendment is put to the test by "Terrible Tim", who can expect banishment not only at houses of worship but in any venue that has children present. He would also not be appreciated at a feminist event. He is good with rhyme and I think his verse would sound better if he more carefully tuned his guitar.

I've produced two UP FRONT News presents events at The Cup which have featured performers including two of the greats of rock 'n' roll and the blues, singer Joy Ryder accompanied by guitarist Michael Packer, both known around the world and both residents of Staten Island. David Peel, for a time a musical colleague of John Lennon, at my invitation, performed at a Cup open mic.

Also featured at UP FRONT News events at the Cup and elsewhere (which always include an open mic), aside from Paul Strayfer and Jaclyn Shaw, have been poet Jack Freedman, story-writer Maria Loginova, poets Jackie Cassen, Eric Hines, Pia Garber, Henry Dennis, Ellen Aug-Lytle (Manhattan) Jeniene Lilly (Bronx), Evie Ivy (Brooklyn), Robert Dunn (Queens), Piedad Guzman (Manhattan), Jim Feast, Bruce Weber (both Brooklyn) and others. Open mic performers have included Staten Islanders such as singers Frank Giallombardo and Jennifer Sprosty and classical pianist former Queens resident Peter Schultheis, poet Adrianna Goffredo and comedienne Mary Dimino.

A few weeks ago I received a call from an art activist named Nima Beckie who invited me to a meeting of "SIcoLab" (Staten Island Collaboration). In fact SIcoLab is generationally beyond the "under 40" reported in the Staten Island Advance. SIcoLab (which has some membership overlap with the Council on Arts & Humanities for Staten Island - COAHSI) , however, is clearly a steadily increasing-in-size network of artists, including writers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers, etc., focusing on grass roots creativity - the kind of thing perhaps missing in the new Tribeca, and probably on Sutton Place.

SIcoLab had a "Homeless Art Gallery" exhibit in Silver Lake Park last July, a concert/party at Gallery6 in Stapleton after Hurricane Hannah left town and is sponsoring an all day "art happening" event called "Bridge the Gap" on September 20 at Alice Austen House Museum at 2 Hylan Boulevard in the Rosebank neighborhood in Staten Island, which will include an open mic. Many of the SIcoLab participants are from Staten Island's North Shore and the event is in part intended to bridge whatever "gap" there may be with Mid-Island and South Shore.

And in what may be something of a NYC dwindling tradition being kept alive in the arts in Staten Island, there is no cover charge. Not even for the "bridge and ferry crowd."
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