Tribes is Place Matters' Place of the Month

Dear Friends,

Place Matters is proud to feature A Gathering of the Tribes, the iconic Lower East Side gallery and performance space, as January’s Place of the Month . The mythicized multicultural arts organization has been located on the second floor of 285 East Third Street for twenty-one years. But on January 1, Founder, Executive Director and literary legend Steve Cannon received an eviction notice from his landlord, Lorraine Zhang. Cannon says that the circumstances surrounding the ouster are ‘crazy-crazy-crazy-crazy,’ but he assures us that he is fighting back.

A Gathering of the Tribes presents visual and performing artists, and publishes a world-renowned literary magazine. It has inspired generations of artists, bohemians, political activists, intellectuals, and many of their friends. If you are an artist, an art lover, or a lover of either, please consider rallying on behalf of A Gathering of the Tribes by spreading the word, writing letters of support to Council Member Rosie Mendez at rmendez@council.nyc.gov, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg at http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/mayor.html. Both officials request that you include as much information, including relevant contact information, as possible. Most enjoyably, you can support Tribes by attending an event or performance at the gallery.

Cannon has had a long, complicated love affair with the Lower East Side and the building that houses him and his gallery. While studying among the London literati in the early 1960s, Steve Cannon rubbed elbows with established writers from the BBC, the London Times and “the Oxford fiction set.” But it was their trailing blazing tribesmen - the poets - who really knocked his socks off. So off he went, in 1962, to the Lower East Side, to be part of “anything that had anything to do with the arts.” He was soon active in local literary scenes, including Umbra, a collective of African American writers based in the Lower East Side. In 1970, by then a well-connected and well-respected author, he purchase his building, 285 East Third Street, with the royalties from his best-selling novel, Groove, Bang and Jive Around.

For many years Cannon worked as both a college professor and a professional heckler of any poet whom he deemed unworthy at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Apparently there were many. To rectify the problem, Cannon and fellow Lower East Side poet Bob Holman established the Stoop Poetry Workshop in 1990. It was conceived on Cannon’s front steps and soon operated out of his building. But that year glaucoma claimed his sight, and arson much of his house. After the fire, a co-owner fled with the insurance money.

Cannon persisted with support from the surrounding community. He rebuilt with one loan from the Faculty Credit Union, one against his retirement, and elbow grease from five friends with specialized construction skills. In 1991 he and local poet Gail Shilke published the first issue of A Gathering of the Tribes magazine out of the remains of Cannon’s home. Shilke, many years his junior, supplied the emerging talent, while Cannon promoted them by headlining well-known writers. Highly successful and visually stunning, Tribes is an annual publication with a global readership. Its fourteenth issue will be released in 2012.

Shortly after the magazine was established, Cannon’s friends and neighbors convinced him to open an art gallery on his second floor. After a 1995 Village Voice article immortalized A Gathering of the Tribes, Cannon and his involvement in the burgeoning spoken word poetry scene, the multicultural arts organization became a local landmark.

But the building isn’t a protected City landmark, and more critically, neither is the life inside. Cannon sold the building six years ago with the understanding that he and the Tribes gallery could remain in place. The landlord is challenging this assumption. However, Cannon’s legal team has convinced a judge to issue a Show Cause Order through which the building owner will be require to justify the eviction in court. Although the legal proceedings have delayed Tribes’ displacement, their future in the building and neighborhood is uncertain, and the fabled gallery is now threatened.

January’s Your Place Moments Letters, Lyrics and Lamentations is a poem written by Steven Cannon about his home, a lyric created specifically for Place Matters.

Please join A Gathering of the Tribes at 7pm this Saturday, January 14th, for the opening of their next show, Zero, Infinity and the Guides, by Erin Carmody.

Wishing you all a fantastic January!

Molly Garfinkel, City Lore/Place Matters (placematters@citylore.org )

Here's the poem:

After the fire, out of the ashes
Like the phoenix rose Tribes.
And since artists from all over the world find themselves in NYC

The door here is open to everyone who are lovers of the arts.

Love you madly,
Steve "the blind guy" Cannon

Steve CannonTribes