Avant Midtown

Chashama Uplifts the New Times Square

up at the 57th Street site, Durst shows me through a couple of cavernous floors that used to house Artkraft Straus, a company that made signs for Broadway shows. Much of the space is open, and artists have marked off their turf with plastic, dropcloths, and curtains. A few even built walls with locking doors. Durst can't remember the exact number now using the space, probably 50 or 60. That doesn't include the occasional desperate dancer who comes to rehearse despite the bad floors.

Durst has a dream of turning Chashama into a kind of Real Estate for the Arts program modeled on Materials for the Arts and Lawyers for the Arts. The idea is that developers would donate temporarily empty space, maybe in exchange for a tax deduction, and Chashama would turn it over to artists. "I'm going to try to do it without my family's assistance," says Durst, who's been supporting Chashama in part with family money. "If this is going to happen, I want it to happen on its own. Or with other people's support."

"Like 1 Times Square," she says, as we get out of a cab across the street from it, center of the universe when the New Year's Eve ball drops, currently empty and forlorn. "That's such a vital spot for New York. Even if we just put some window performances in there . . . "

I haven't even touched on the window installations or the outreach program for youth at risk. Chashama has to be the most ambitious new arts group to come along in a decade, a blast of fresh air against the fetid '90s. But last week, a piece of the roof collapsed at the 57th Street site, and Anita Durst was hoping to bunk the second-floor artists in with the first floor. It's a precarious business. I mean art, not real estate.

For information, visit www.chashama.org.

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