CHARAS Seeks to Boost Legal Defense Fund After Court Win

News   CHARAS Seeks to Boost Legal Defense Fund After Court Win The CHARAS El Bohio Community Center, which recently reopened its Bimbo Rivas Theatre space, has adopted a theme from Republican President George Bush's strategy: turn to a religious organization to seek support for its agenda. That said, they're not exactly approaching Billy Graham...

The CHARAS El Bohio Community Center, which recently reopened its Bimbo Rivas Theatre space, has adopted a theme from Republican President George Bush's strategy: turn to a religious organization to seek support for its agenda. That said, they're not exactly approaching Billy Graham...

The decidedly liberal CHARAS has tapped the Reverend Billy's Church of Stop Shopping for a March 11 funding effort designed to boost its legal defense coffers. CHARAS has been at odds with its former landlord, City Hall and its new owner, developer Gregg Singer over the sale of CHARAS' building to Singer at auction.

While President Bush also plans to approach both fringe and mainstream groups, the CHARAS program goes a step further, with one of its supporters, Chino Garcia, being "given sainthood" during an 8 PM performance by Reverend Billy and his Gospel Choir.

Tickets are $20, "but CHARAS supporters need only pay $6." According to CHARAS, all offerings will go to CHARAS legal defense fund. The Church of Stop Shopping is located at 45 Bleecker at Lafayette Street. Tickets can be reserved at the box office a (212) 529-4530 or by visiting REVBILLY.com.

* As reported earlier, a Manhattan Jury recently blocked Singer's eviction proceedings of CHARAS aimed at removing the art group(s) housed in the former PS 64 on the Lower East Side. Singer is expected to appeal.

CHARAS issued a statement stating that its snapshot of the jury revealed that jurors found that Singer's testimony "wasn't credible."

The blocked eviction was rare good news on CHARAS' home front, where members of the extended community center family have existed in what amounts to a state of siege since Singer purchased the property from the city in 1998.

The CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center reopened the Bimbo Rivas Theatre during the New York City Fringe Festival last year. As the long term occupant of the former New York Public School 64, CHARAS claims it has a right to buy the building and the group has demonstrated every time Singer has attempted to show it. Present Company artistic director John Clancy and CHARAS Community Center organizer Susan Howard reopened CHARAS' Bimbo Rivas Theatre as one of the five Fringe venues at CHARAS. Located in the facility's basement, the theatre is named for Bimbo Rivas, a popular Lower East Side poet and playwright. The Latino Theatre Workshop was conducted in the Bimbo Rivas for several years before problems with the ventilation system forced it to close.

The court trial in New York City was considered a key factor in the fate of CHARAS which has been fighting to stay where it has been located for more than two decades. As the long-term occupant of the former New York Public School 64, CHARAS claims it has a right to buy the building, and the group has demonstrated every time Singer has attempted to show it.

The squabbling over control of the building has always been intense but never more so than when CHARAS founder and Lower East Side Democratic district leader Armando Perez was beaten to death on April 4, 1999 outside his estranged wife's apartment in Queens. That unsolved case has served to galvanize the Lower East Side arts community, especially due to the perception, which CHARAS has certainly not discouraged, that Perez was struck down while fighting with "City Hall."

Singer brought eviction proceedings on July 20, 1999, a year to the date from his purchase of the building at auction for $3.15M. CHARAS' court room strategy was based on proving the center's value as an integral aspect of the community while Singer was seeking to minimize the center's effective uses of the space in favor of his own.

— By Murdoch McBride