ASL Building Doomed: 100 Years or Less

Open Letter to the Art Students League Membership and The Resistance

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As the proposal stands now the ASL is turned into an artifact.   It is being readied for placement in nothing more than photographs of where it once was. I have three ideas for addressing the problem faced by the membership of the ASL. Each one recognizes the status of the existing conditions.  Each has an outside chance of keeping ASL a part of the New York City artist community.  All three would be a slam dunk.

PART I

A concern of every institution of learning is to reflect effectively on its experience. This responsibility now remains posited firmly before the entire membership of the ASL. At present, to “not vote” or to vote “NO” has been predefined as an act of futility, if not the essence of an”absurd vote”. This has made the members of the ASL part of a radically changed society, but more importantly it is now required to fully assess the terror of this new condition, but look on the bright side. The coalitions of those who resist “the project” have an opportunity to establish new principles for adoption by a more innovative, possibly energized ASL board and membership. These principles arise from the three new realities embedded in the project and revealed in the ongoing evaluation of its proposals.

Without doubt the members of the ASL are of “the 99%” of citizens of this city and nation.  The ASL will therefore re-dedicate its aesthetic vision, art and talent to the recognition of social inequality and to the best of its ability, take the steps needed to move toward its eradication as a social pathology in this city and this nation.

  • Never has the seriousness of this issue been more clearly revealed than in the value of residential and commercial floor area defined by this project.   Over one third of all renters (2/3 of all residents) in NYC now pay over half of their income for rent.  Rent has increased by 8.6% from 2007 to 2011 while the cities median-income decreased by 6.8% in the same period. [1]  The income gap in Manhattan is comparable to areas of great social distress such as Sierra Leone.  None can present the beauty and dignity of being poor with greater clarity than the artist.  This truth must remain in the heart of ASL.

PART II

The second fact revealed by “the project” is equally disturbing to any rational observer not blinded by the ways gold can darken our future. The nature of membership in the ASL society has been revealed as a token, each participant a mere actor on a stage of their choosing, but damned by their will to lead.  In the face of this great change the value of the ASL society is strained by clouds of tradeoffs, exchanges and quid pro quo rationalizations.  If there is to be art, the artist must see the truth.  The leaders of the ASL have delivered nothing more than a sense of hopelessness and for this the members of the resistance should be saddened, yet resolved to move forward with new leadership.

  • The resistance to “the project” recognizes the capacity of great wealth to overwhelm the old and weak with its power.   With this knowledge the resistance to “the project” will pledge their unyielding energy to a new purpose.  The resistance to the project and membership of the ASL therefore call for the resignation of the board, not in distrust, but with common recognition that new leadership is the only chance the members might have to recover from the overwhelming sense of worthlessness bestowed upon the history and legacy of the ASL by the current board.

PART III

The third strategy has value in two ways, first, if heard by the developers and deemed reasonable, it offers an overwhelming motive to maximize the projects potential and therefore give pause to re-evaluate.   This may yield the time to assess the ability of “the resistance” to move the following proposal forward.   It offers the possibility to acquire a briefly postponed vote in order to obtain a serious review of a wholly new future for the ASL.

A innovative proposal has yet to be fully considered.  It is one that is equally controversial, but it suggests a vision for art in our society is now required to leap into the future as opposed to being “bought out” of it.   In reviewing the literature and the law, the only way to assure that the ASL will survive as an institution is to completely reinvent itself.

  • The resistance therefore offers to yield to “the project” all of the land held by the ASL in trade for a doubling of the equivalent floor area in perpetuity and in a manner that will meet the needs of artists for the next millennia.   Charge the developers with the responsibility to provide for the ASL a superior space, dedicated to the future of fairness and to the truth that art brings to life and society.  The ASL has the opportunity to weave its belief in this unique part of human energy into the mission of urban development.  The opportunity for a rebirth is the rarest of all gifts.  This is the true offer; it is not in the few coins now tossed on the table.

A personal note:

In reviewing the literature and the law it is highly unlikely this option could inject the ASL into the future, it is however one that must be reviewed.   The reasons for the “unlikely success” of this option is that half of the resistance to the proposal as it stands is resistance to change itself.  It is therefore extremely difficult to establish a majority view toward inclusive forms of change.

Nevertheless, it is highly important to retell and remind all who can hear, that the history of New York City is filled with the energy of institutions in buildings that are no longer here.  Far too many of them remain lost to a hope that parts of the human spirit cannot be crushed forever. Like MAS, the ASL should be an institution capable of recognizing its fate and therefore return to the challenge of art.


[1] See report released by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the “State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods 2012”

Author: Rex

I conduct urban planning services and related research for community-based organizations and other change agents on development issues and concerns.

2 thoughts on “ASL Building Doomed: 100 Years or Less”

  1. Here’s the link to the court case on project….

    http://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/iscroll/SQLData.jsp?IndexNo=650522-2014

    I believe the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) will be launching an attack on Manhattan landmarks and the ASL project will be used by both sides.

    The REBNY will be building an argument that suggests the city is keeping too much of its architectural history in stasis via landmarks and historic districts. This will build toward law suits that will say the city’s landmarks policy constitutes a “taking” of property by preventing investors from getting the “highest and best use” of their property. This sets the bar higher on future designations and might call for the city to pay compensation.

    If I was on the board, I would suggest the real choice is to present to the architects and developers a new project that would not require cantilevers to produce “view” and not “history’ as purchase suggests.

    In this situation I would give the ASL building and the lot to the developer in trade for a brand new building for the arts as part of a larger and more ambitious design. Frankly, they could take the entire façade of the ASL and any other elements of historic relevance and rebuild it into or inside a new structure to sustain the ASL legacy as well as its future. As it stands now the Board sold out for another few years, maybe 50 before it goes broke and the whole mess starts over. My thought was to fire the board for short-termism and make a deal that will keep the arts at that location for posterity.

  2. Summary of letter to ASL Members from Beth Kurtz on March 10, 2014

    RE: $31.8 million Extell cantilever transaction with Board of Control

    People who chose not to vote on the issue, were effectively disenfranchised by the
    Board. The decision to abstain was NOT counted as a “No” vote

    The Feb. 12 vote approved the cantilever deal 1,342 to 227. The total of 1,569 votes is hundreds shy of the some 2,000 active members.

    None of the 431 abstentions were added to the number of “No” votes

    What about the League’s other 4,000 members who didn’t cast their ballots?

    Their abstentions should have been counted as “No” votes on the transaction,

    Members were misinformed — they were told that not voting would be a “No” vote and this violated the by-laws of the ASL constitution.

    How many members abstained because of that statement?

    Call to Action

    Those who abstained from voting to have your “No” vote count. Download, print, sign the following Derivative Action form: http://aslunite.org/DA_Form.pdf to join a class action in NYS Supreme Court that seeks to suspend the execution of the Cantilever agreement.

    The Art Students League of New York has been run on democratic principles for 139 years since its founding in 1875. should remain that way.

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