Article in the East Village Local

Gathering of the Tribes to Be Disbanded?

By STEPHEN REX BROWN, 20 Cooper Square

 

285-287 East Third Street
G.V.S.H.P. - The Gathering of the Tribes building.

The landlord of Gathering of the Tribes says she will now make good on her longstanding threat to send the freewheeling artistic space into exile.

The relationship between Steve Cannon, the blind poet who founded Tribes, and his landlord, Lorraine Zhang, seems to have been contentious virtually from the moment he sold the building at 285 East Third Street to her in 2005 for $1.2 million.

The space regularly hosts gallery openings and music shows; a magazine is put together there, as well. But all the foot traffic, artistic exploration and revelry comes at a price Ms. Zhang says she can’t afford.

“My attorney is going to send him a notice that he must remove all the events from the building or remove himself,” she said.

Steve Cannon
Ruth Spencer - Steve Cannon

Ms. Zhang gave several reasons for following through on her threat to give Tribes the boot.

• Ms. Zhang said she’d received as many as 15 tickets from the Department of Sanitation for not recycling bottles left behind from events at Tribes. However, she could not recall the month any of the tickets were issued. Mr. Cannon said she could not prove that any of the bottles belonged to Tribes, and he added that he was never notified about any tickets. A Department of Sanitation spokeswoman is looking into whether any tickets were issued, though without a date the information is hard to confirm. Update | 2:37 p.m. A Department of Sanitation spokeswoman said that no tickets for failure to recycle had been issued to 285 East Third Street since 2010.

• Ms. Zhang said that in 2007 the building was issued a violation from the Department of Buildings for the events at Tribes, which were considered a commercial activity in a residential building. Mr. Cannon counters that the violations were for an illegal hotel Ms. Zhang was running out of the building. “She had bunk beds in the floor above me and the floor below me,” Mr. Cannon said. “She was renting the rooms for $100 a night.” A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg confirmed that in 2009 a vacate order was served at the building. “The location was being run as a hostel with overcrowding and inadequate fire and safety protection,” the spokesman said. As for any “illegal” commercial activity, Mr. Cannon says that his art space is subject to an exception in the zoning code. He also points to the funding he receives from the mayor’s office, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and other elected officials as evidence that his operation is on the up and up.

• Ms. Zhang says that when she bought the building from Mr. Cannon they agreed to allow Tribes to continue existing, but that the agreement expired three years ago. Mr. Cannon says he did not fully understand the details of the agreement because he is blind, but that his rent checks have been cashed by Ms. Zhang and that he always expected that Tribes would have a home at 285 East Third Street for 10 years.

• Ms. Zhang says she regularly has to hire a plumber to fix the toilet on the second floor because of overuse from the Tribes events. Mr. Cannon’s rebuttal: “I don’t care if I have people running in and out of here. She’s the damn landlord, she’s supposed to take care of it.”

In a phone interview, Ms. Zhang sounded as if she had grown weary of the conflict.

“My attorney is already working on the case to get this done; it’s very disrespectful,” she said. “He’ll say he’s going to fix things, but then everything remains the same.” For her part, Ms. Zhang said she did not want to be seen as “the bad guy,” but that she was in an untenable situation in which she was having to pay an exorbitant amount of money for building repairs and building violations that were the result of Tribes events.

Mr. Cannon, of course, denies this. In the meantime, a “”Holiday Jazz Jam Soiree/Star-Hum” is set to go down at Tribes on Thursday from 8 p.m. to midnight.

“Morgan plays a swanly ukulele and jazzy piano. Franny plays acoustic guitar and geo-pastel piano. Allen plays a mean hungry panther electric guitar,” reads an e-mail advertising the event. “Expect songs of union and love of goodwill whilst we all take our robust red wine swills.”

Steve CannonTribes