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Flash 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 different.

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

Contributing Producer at Large, Dance Theater Workshop


Dear David,

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 concerning him.

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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