Gallery Expected to Remain Closed Until At Least March

RIVAA Gallery's Forced Closure Threatens Black History Month Show

Updated 9 weeks ago David Stone
The now cancelled "Connections" exhibit included "... the only excellent copy of the Salvator Mundi  in New York," according to Tad Sudol.
The now cancelled "Connections" exhibit included "... the only excellent copy of the Salvator Mundi in New York," according to Tad Sudol.
Photo courtesy of Gallery RIVAA

A planned reopening of Gallery RIVAA, 527 Main Street, has been cancelled, The Daily has learned, with the crisis extended until at least March and forcing the relocation and downsizing of the annual Black History Month show and threatening the galleries tenure on Main Street. Longstanding as well as newer problems outside RIVAA's control are the causes.

What's gone wrong at Gallery RIVAA?

The Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association's struggles began virtually at inception as an art-minded collective brought a vision of Roosevelt Island as a creative bridge between New York City communities to life.

It was always a long shot. Neighborhoods as small as ours don't often make a home for high quality art, but the pioneers made it work, starting with refurbishing the dilapidated interior of a Main Street storefront abandoned by Bigelow Pharmacy.

RIOC's support, lead by President Rob Ryan, was critical. Recognizing the importance of having a presence like RIVAA as a fixture on a rapidly declining Main Street retail corridor just made good sense.

In time, the favor was repaid  as the artists collective joined forces to stage RIOC's annual Fall for Arts and create the one of a kind Motorgate Gallery.

Then came the administration of Leslie Torres, where so much went wrong that longtime residents predicted the end of Roosevelt Island as it was originally envisioned.

Among other questionable moves, RIOC signed off on a master retail lease with Hudson Related that promised to revitalize Main Street, a promise so far only partly fulfilled.

With that deal, Gallery RIVAA's identity devolved from RIOC beneficiary and partner to retail tenant. Yes, retail, including rent demands for the first time, although RIVAA kept up its end of the bargain with RIOC, continuing enthusiastically - and voluntarily, i.e., free - cosponsorship of Fall for Arts, Motorgate Gallery and more.

But something else was transferred along with control of Main Street rental space: an aggregation of infrastructure neglect that plagued many tenants, including RIVAA.

The gallery had struggled with a balky heating and air-conditioning system for years. Appeals were made to RIOC for a fix, but as then President Steve Shane told me in 2010, along with free space for RIVAA came responsibility for maintaining the units.

When Hudson took over, the free space ended, but responsibility for the broken equipment didn't.

With portable space heaters and fans, RIVAA maintained the gallery in usable condition, hosting numerous exhibits and routinely acting as the only attraction drawing international and national visitors to Main Street.

But the string of survival finally ran out with the start of December's brutal cold spell and continued until hopes for reopening were dashed with the arrival of a whole new problem falling - or we should say dripping into Gallery RIVAA.

Leaking pipes in apartments overhead in Rivercross sent water running down the gallery's walls.

They have not been fixed either.

Gallery RIVAA Stalemate

So far, neither RIOC nor Hudson Related has stepped up to ease the pain, although both still benefit from rent payments required from RIVAA and both bear some responsibility for the closing, RIOC for passing on damaged goods to Hudson and the real estate giant for demanding that a small nonprofit that offers huge benefits to the community live with intolerable conditions without concessions.

According to RIVAA President Tad Sudol, impossible conditions continuing at 527 Main have forced the relocation of the group's traditional Black History Month exhibit to a smaller but far more welcoming space at the Octagon.

Octagon's management recognizes the intrinsic value of hosting art in its complex by providing dry, heated accommodations in a main floor gallery as a community service.

Gallery RIVAA's survival as a fixture on Main Street is now threatened. The challenge of meeting rent demands on a monthly basis was difficult enough while the space was usable. Faced now with a crisis expected to extend until spring at least, the gallery may have no choice other than to shut down with no rescue in sight.

A short term fix bringing a temporary reopening will not guarantee the survival of one of Main Street's most beneficial icons.

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