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Adventures in Organizing and Art: A Conversation with Damon Rich and Damaris Reyes

Public Programs

Adventures in Organizing and Art: A Conversation with Damon Rich and Damaris Reyes

March 9 2008

Damon Rich, artist and founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), and Damaris Reyes, community organizer and executive director of Good Old Lower East Side, Inc. (GOLES) discussed the evolution of their collaborative work—successes, mishaps, obstacles, and accomplishments. Since 2003, Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side (PHROLES), a project of GOLES, and CUP have teamed up to create projects that explore the workings of architecture, regulatory power, and historical narrative. These projects include: “Public Housing 101” (2003), a semester-long urban studies curriculum with City-as-School High School; “PHTV: What’s Up with Public Housing?” (2004-present), a public access television program; and “Abuse of Power: the SPURA Story” (2006-2007). Reyes and Rich introduced their work and discussed what inspired their unique collaboration, discussed how organizing and art can work and what can go wrong, the possible roles of artists in advocacy, and how the Lower East Side’s history of activism and art movements provides a rich context for raising these questions.

This discussion is part of the Museum as Hub initiative, organized by Hub Fellow Elise Youn. For more information visit

Damon Rich is an artist and the founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP). Trained as an architect, he works at the intersection of policy, design, and the public. Appropriating languages and devices from art and design, he uses combinations of video, sculpture, graphic design, and photography to examine the politics of the built environment. His work has been exhibited internationally at venues including the Storefront for Art and Architecture, ApexArt, and SculptureCenter (New York City); the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin); Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst (Leipzig); and the Netherlands Architecture Institute (Rotterdam).

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a nonprofit organization that helps people understand and change the places where they live. CUP brings artists and designers together with community-based advocates and researchers to create public projects ranging from high-school curricula and outdoor installations to Web sites and TV shows. Recent projects include an exhibition on the urbanism of Knoxville, Tennessee; historical signage for a Brooklyn hip-hop clothing mecca; and the redesign of public school classrooms as nomadic environments.

Damaris Reyes is the executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), a tenants’ advocacy organization. She is a lifelong resident of the Lower East Side and has been involved in activism around public housing issues for more than ten years. Previously, as the director of organizing for Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side (PHROLES), a project of GOLES, she worked to educate and empower residents about the issues that plague public housing. She has been involved in building several coalitions, including T.R.A.D.E.S. and Rebuild with a Spotlight on the Poor. In November 2006 she received the Helen LaKelly Hunt Neighborhood Leadership Award from the New York Women’s Foundation for her work and commitment to the Lower East Side.

Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) is a neighborhood housing and preservation organization dedicated to tenants’ rights, homelessness prevention, and community revitalization. Founded in 1977, GOLES has worked with residents and neighbors to preserve quality affordable housing, as well as to prevent displacement and homelessness. Through organizing, advocacy, education, and training, GOLES has helped tenants learn their rights, save their homes, and preserve their community. GOLES provides free services to tenants who live between 14th Street and Delancey Street, and from the Bowery/4th Avenue intersection to FDR Drive, as well as to all public housing residents on the East Side below 14th Street.

Artist Talks