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Letters, 5-5: Ranting and Defending the Russell 'Rave'
P.S. 122 Board Steps in it, and it's not a Performance Art Piece
Commentary from David
White and (in defense) Lucy Sexton and Donald Guanieri
(Editor's Note: Next
Wednesday, the Federation of East Village Artists or FEVA and P.S.
122 will hold what they are calling a "benefit performance party"
and "Rave Revue" to benefit their organizations and honor P.S. executive
director Mark Russell, who "resigned" earlier this year. The following letters
from David White, Lucy Sexton and, again, White, copies of which
were obtained by the Dance Insider, address community concern with
this event and its intentions. White, the former longtime executive
and artistic director of Dance Theater Workshop, rants the event,
Sexton defends it, and P.S. 122 board president Donald Guarnieri,
asked to comment on White's letters, rants the Dance Insider. Other
than Guarnieri's letter, P.S. 122 did not respond to a request for
comment forwarded through its publicist. White's letter was sent
to, among others, the board of P.S. 122.)
As a longtime colleague
of Mark's, and a faithful follower of and advocate for P.S. 122
during my own time in New York, I have to say that I am sickened
by this insensitively gratuitous, ill-timed revue fundraiser masquerading
as a celebration of the recently assassinated executive director.
Mark should indeed be honored for the abiding inventive vision and
constant struggle of his long tenure and for all his extraordinary
accomplishments on behalf of so many artists. A glorious wake at
the appropriate moment in a career (this is certainly not it) is
one thing; dancing on the grave of the bludgeoned is something altogether
Here are some questions
off the top of my head, just for the hell of it -- and by the way,
I haven't spoken to Mark in months: Was Mark forced to agree to
this in order to keep any semblance of his limited severance? Why
is FEVA (the Federation of East Village Artists) involved with P.S.
122 in this morbid event? Do the participating artists understand
their problematic position, beyond being rightly appreciative of
and indebted to Mark for at least some portion of their careers?
And for some real Area 51 stuff, has Steve Oakes, the P.S. board
member really behind the curtain in the putsch, made a deal with
(performance artist and one-time candidate to succeed Russell) David
Leslie (they've been seen out in public together, as Page 6 might
say), or anybody else for that matter, to assume the fallen mantle?
I don't have any particular
right or obligation to go around asking these questions, other than
my abiding love and respect for Mark Russell. What truly bothers
me is that, over all these months, nobody else has.
-- David R. White
at Large, Dance Theater Workshop
Lucy Sexton here. I
wanted to write you in response to the e-mail you sent out regarding
the party to honor Mark Russell. It was forwarded to me because
I am one of the artists both performing in and helping to organize
the event. I really want to answer some of your concerns and questions.
I should clarify that while I served on P.S. 122's board for many
years, I resigned (amicably) two years ago.
I first heard about
the tribute to Mark from the folks at FEVA -- who I should add had
heard from artists and community board members and others about
the need for such an event honoring Mark. I felt that P.S. 122 should
definitely be part of the group putting the party on. That idea
may have come from several directions; in any case the FEVA folks
proposed it to the P.S. board and the event was launched. (I feel
it's important to know the genesis of the event to make it clear
that it was not some fundraising scheme cooked up by the P.S. board
that Mark was somehow forced into.)
My own motivations and
hopes for this event are as follows. First I want Mark to know how
much he has meant to this community of artists downtown -- and I
felt that it was important to send him and the world that message
now, within months of his resignation. I want the P.S. board to
see that as well, to see how very much he is respected and valued
by NY artists. I also want the board to use this event as a way
to let the artists know that they also respect Mark, and that they
are committed to keeping P.S. 122 the place that Mark has built
it to be.
As far as it being a
fundraiser -- for both P.S. and FEVA -- I can only say that above
all I am committed to the artists that P.S. 122 serves and whatever
is good for them is what I want. And certainly raising money for
P.S. and FEVA is good for those artists. P.S. 122 is also Mark's
legacy; he will always be the founder and creator of P.S. 122 and
the best way to honor him would be for P.S. to continue to be the
space he built it into.
I've stayed in touch
with Mark as we've been planning this event to make sure he's okay
with what's going on. I think it will be an amazing night, one that
will help to heal Mark's wounds, and to reassure frightened artists
that P.S. will continue to be P.S. I want only the best for Mark.
And I want only the best for the artists that P.S. serves. Hopefully
this will further both those desires.
As for any 'backroom
deals' with David Leslie or anyone else, there are none. David is
working quite hard on this party and, like myself, is being paid
nothing to do so. Please discontinue any slanderous and untrue rumors
I'd love to talk with
you more about this if you'd like.
-- Lucy Sexton
Hi Lucy --
Thanks for your reasoned
reply. I first want to say that I don't in any way consider anything
I wrote slanderous or untrue, particularly regarding David Leslie.
I simply reported Steve and David's being seen together, and wondered
out loud about implications -- this primarily not because of David,
but because of Steve who has had a clearly vitriolic animus towards
Mark that poisoned the structure of P.S. in Mark's last year. As
for all of us who would like to see P.S. continue to play its pivotal
nurturing role, it is not at all evident to me that it can do that
with the existing board in place. More likely, P.S. becomes a self-laudatory,
rental-driven venue as a kind of East Village Off-B'way house. Variety
Arts for the performance art set, if you will.
Everything you say regarding
Mark is true and should be done, with one pointed exception. P.S.
122 should withdraw from sponsorship of the Revue, and remove itself
from the receipt of any benefit proceeds from the event. Let the
celebration and so-called healing take place, without the overt
reminder (not to mention salt in the wound) of who was responsible
for the profound hurt and harm to the community in the first place.
Finally, Mark's legacy
is in no way determined by whether he raises money in the Revue
or not for the sorry present state of P.S. 122. His legacy has been
written large in stone, blood and Ron Athey's backside for years
now, and no one is going to forget that, certainly not the artists,
his colleagues or historians. The point is his legacy is not over,
only temporarily aborted by P.S. 122's short-sighted, self-destructive
leadership (and their co-dependents). And perhaps now held hostage
contractually by those same mediocre directors, who might well have
demanded Mark's participation in this celebration if he was ever
to have his severance benefits see the light of day. I'm just speculating
here, mind you, but this sort of walk-the-plank bondage is what
this kind of board does best.
Here's to the future
of artists everywhere. I know you're acting out of the best of motives,
as are most of the artists who treasure Mark, but you won't convince
me about the Vulcans in charge.
-- Love, David (White)
Dear Paul; (sic)
I have only one comment.
I did not realize the
Dance Insider was in the habit of printing false and misleading
information. Perhaps a conversation with the people who actually
make decisions for PS122 (sic) may be more appropriate.
-- Donald Guarnieri
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