By J. Taylor Basker
Westbeth has been mired in controversy since its first rent strike in the 70’s and the attempt to turn it into a co-op in the 80’s, which created divisions among its residents that still persist. The latest fight is over the Gallery, which was given to Westbeth artists when a resident petitioned HUD for both the Gallery and Community Room spaces for Westbeth residents. The Gallery was run independently by the visual artists; it maintained its own finances, and all income was returned to the operation of the Gallery. WARC, the Westbeth Residence Council (not an actual tenant association but a small group who operate spaces provided by the management), took over the Gallery in the 90’s. Its income went to WARC, and the Gallery had to request funds to operate. The early Gallery Directors Ellen Rosen, Cliff Richards and myself, ran the Gallery through an active Visual Arts Committee, who decided the schedule and curated the exhibits giving preference to Westbeth artists, the initial purpose of the Gallery. Two group exhibits per year were held for all Westbeth artists: the winter Holiday Show and a Summer Exhibit. Many exciting exhibits were curated by this committee with large attendance. All disciplines were invited to participate: musicians, dancers and writers were actively involved.
Jack Dowling later took over and eventually the Visual Arts Committee became inactive. Westbeth artists no longer decided the Gallery agenda. Exhibits were solicited from the outside, for substantial fees, and the money went to WARC. Soon there were no group exhibits for Westbeth artists and even the well-known Holiday Show was cancelled. After an uproar from the visual artists, the Holiday Show was recently restored. However, the Summer exhibit for Westbeth artists was archived. A group of Westbeth artists just submitted a Biannual Visual Arts Exhibitions proposal to restore two group shows for Westbeth Artists but it was REJECTED. Additionally, outside curators, paid much by WARC, rejected many Westbeth artists for the Holiday Shows. Previously, all art was accepted in the Westbeth group exhibits. If one is a resident of Westbeth, one has been certified as an accomplished artist, so all were welcome.
The current committee evaluating art proposals for the Gallery includes many outsiders. WARC continues to collect much money from the Gallery yet Westbeth artists are sidelined. Residents who want to use the Community Room have to pay fees for what should be free community space. WARC also does the landscaping, runsv the profitable Flea Market, Print Shop and Painting Studios. While WARC has made many improvements, and initiated programs as the “Westbeth Icon” series celebrating our accomplished senior residents, they have a good deal going, some of their members collecting fees. It is hoped by many that the new President of the Board, Ellen F. Salpeter, will address these egregious issues.