ABC No Rio: Our World and Welcome To It
The History, Mission, Purpose and Activities of ABC No Rio

ABC No Rio is a community center for art and activism. Our gallery and performance space was founded by artists committed to political and social engagement and we retain these values to the present.

We trace our genesis to The Real Estate Show, New Year's Day, 1980, an intervention in which more than thirty artists occupied an abandoned building and mounted an exhibition addressing New York City housing and land use policies. That show was quickly shut down by the police, the artwork confiscated. The City was forced into negotiations with the artists and offered them the storefront and basement at 156 Rivington Street. That space became ABC No Rio.

Over the years ABC No Rio has been host to an incredible range of artistic expression dealing with war, homelessness, drugs, sex, violence, and the politics of housing and real estate, among much else. In the mid-eighties No Rio helped energize the burgeoning East Village performance scene and was instrumental in the resurgence of spoken word and performance poetry. In the late-eighties No Rio became active in the hardcore music scene, instituting a policy of not booking racist, sexist or homophobic bands. ABC No Rio is one of the best-loved punk venues in the world.

Our space has always been available to community and other organizations for meetings, work-shops,forums, benefits, and other community services. Groups that have used the space include the New York Committe for Democracy in Mexico, the Coalition to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the National Lawyer's Guild Mass Defense Committee, Direct Action Network, and many others. Throughout the nineties ABC No Rio was closely associated with the New York City squatters' movement. ABC No Rio has also provided space and other resources to Food Not Bombs and Books Through Bars.

We seek to facilitate cross-pollination between artists and activists. ABC No Rio is a place where people share resources and ideas to impact society, culture, and community. We believe that art and activism should be for everyone, not just the professionals, experts, and cognoscenti. Our dream is a cadres of actively aware artists and artfully aware activists.

Recognition and support for ABC No Rio is and has been widespread and intense. In 1990 Kunstlerhaus in Hamburg, Germany mounted the show "10 Years, Seven Days," a celebration of ABC No Rio's first decade. The founding of ABC No Rio played an important part in the "Cultural Economies" show at The Drawing Center, and in the summer of '98 ABC No Rio volunteers reviewed and appraised our own history for the "Urban Encounters" exhibition at The New Museum for Contemporary Art.

When the City sought to evict ABC No Rio in the mid-90s more than 2,500 people signed petitions and hundreds of letters were sent to City officials on No Rio's behalf. ABC No Rio supporters in Prague protested the attempted eviction at the U.S. Consulate there. In February, 1997 five of our supporters in New York were arrested demonstrating their willingness to defend ABC No Rio.

In 1997 our tenancy issues with the City of New York were favorably resolved and presented ABC No Rio a tremendous opportunity. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) offered to sell us our building at 156 Rivington Street for one dollar if we raise the money to rehabilitate the building and dedicate it to community use. Our Capital Campaign has raised almost $500,000 for our Building Renovation Fund, and we've expanded our facilities and programs. On June 29, 2006 we acquired title to the property.

ABC No Rio's community is defined by a set of shared values and convictions. It is both a local and international community. It is a community committed to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action, collective processes, and to nurturing alternative structures and institutions operating on such principles. Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and an expanded vision of possibility for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and societies. It includes punks who embrace the Do-It-Yourself ethos, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism. It includes nomads, squatters, fringe dwellers, and those among society's disenfrachised who find at ABC No Rio a place to be heard and valued.

Individuals take part in ABC No Rio activities and programs as volunteers, as artists and performers, and as audience and supporters. They are drawn to ABC No Rio as a place where differences are tolerated and celebrated, and they find acceptance without having to hide or compromise their values, beliefs, or idiosyncracies. Some of our volunteers are still in high school; some of our volunteers are homeless; sometimes people volunteer at ABC No Rio when they're finding their way back from a difficult time in their lives; sometimes travellers just passing through New York end up spending their days volunteering at ABC No Rio. Our community is expansive and inclusive.

We engage our community and respond to our community's needs by staying true to our shared ideals, and by remaining open, accessible, and affordable. Our nonhierarchical structure and the absence of stringent rules and regulations invites and encourages participation, autonomous action, and the generation of ideas and proposals for new projects and events.

The challenges facing ABC No Rio over the coming years are imposing yet manageable. We have moved forward with our new programs modestly and incrementally. In that time the pool of individuals regularly volunteering has nearly tripled, from approximately twenty to almost sixty. Program growth and the development of new facilities will inevitably transform our organization. This process is further complicated by the demands of our capital campaign and our effort to acquire and rehabilitate our building.

We have adapted our administrative and governance systems to accomodate this growth. Impacting changes include an increase in expenses, particularly in fixed costs; diversification of funding sources; and an increased demand on our pool of volunteers. It is important to our volunteers and to our constituency that we weather these changes without abandoning or compromising the principles and ideals that make ABC No Rio special and important to our community.

ABC No Rio is essentially a collective of collectives and committees. The collective is the general administrative body of ABC No Rio; it meets once a month. The collective consists of all active volunteers; an active volunteer is someone who regularly participates in a committee or subcollective administering ABC No Rio programs (HC/Punk Collective, Visual Arts Committee, Food Not Bombs, PrintShop, etc.). There are also support committees which are not program specific such as the Building Committee and the Steering Committee for the Capital Campaign, as well as individuals who help with specific projects or special events.

Each subcollective or committee is responsible for determining who it considers its active volunteers. Active volunteers have voting rights in the subcollectives or committees in which s/he participates, and in the general collective. Subcollectives and committees are expected to resolve their issues internally. Only if a decision is expected to impact ABC No Rio at large is it necessary to bring the matter to the general collective. However, the general collective does have the right to question actions and decisions taken by the subcollectives and committees, and proposals made at general collective meetings may be referred back to the appropriate subcollective or committee. In this way decision-making at ABC No Rio is decentralized and responsibility and autonomy given to subcollective and committee members.

It is expected that every effort will be made to reach decisions by consensus. If a collective member objects to a proposal it must be amended to overcome the objection. Majority vote is considered only if consensus proves impossible and a good faith effort was made to address the objection. The right to block consensus is a privilege given to ABC No Rio volunteers. It's rare for this privilege to be abused.

The ABC No Rio Board of Directors is the oversight body with the legal and fiduciary responsibility to supervise ABC No Rio business. While the general collective and subcollectives are primarily concerned with ABC No Rio programs and events, and maintaining and developing existing and new facilities, the Board takes a broader perspective, and is concerned primarily with ensuring the long-term health and vitality of ABC No Rio, and our effort to acquire and develop the building at 156 Rivington Street.

The Board meets quarterly, or when necessary. At present a majority of Board members are also active volunteers; our Board is generally intimately acquainted with program and administrative operations. Decisions and actions are taken by a majority vote of those present, if there's a quorum, as specified in the by-laws.

Issues that legally require the Board's attention and action are referred by the collective to the Board with a recommendation, and the Board customarily seeks affirmations of its decisions from the collective. Both the Board and the collective review financial statements and approve budgets.

In the Spring of 1998 Steven Englander resigned from the Board of Directors and was hired to oversee ABC No Rio administrative matters and to advise and assist collective members and volunteers to ensure the success of our programs and projects. Steven reports and makes recommendations to both the Board of Directors and the collective, prepares financial statements and proposed budgets, and presents updates on program and building development, fundraising and the capital campaign, and other pertinent information.

The success of ABC No Rio programs are due to both the individual initiative and collective action of ABC No Rio volunteers. Some volunteers demonstrate exceptional expertise, commitment, and/or the ability to motivate others. They are our key volunteers, and are encouraged to put these skills to use.

Rendering of ABC No Rio building at 156 Rivington St.

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ABC No Rio: The Culture of Opposition Since 1980