FEVA Dream

The East Village's Howl festival collapses amid mudslinging, debt, and broken promises

Leading the charge is Pupello, who downplays the significance of pulling the plug on Howl this year: "The festival hasn't been canceled; it's only been postponed," he says. But his talk of corporate backing and diversified investments leaves some former FEVA dreamers cold—though they're troubled by the various money disputes and snafus, the disaffected are perhaps more concerned that the gritty identity of their iconic enclave has been co-opted as a clean, tourist-friendly brand by business interests. Howl traded on nostalgia for the mean streets of yore, and so does Mo Pitkin's, whose website describes the vibe for its upstairs performance space as "a room that feels like 1959 and Lenny Bruce is about to jump onstage and insult America."

"By year three [of Howl], people were getting up onstage to thank McDonald's, Chase Manhattan, big developers—in other words, the very people Howl and FEVA were formed against," Leslie says. "They can't keep using the name 'East Village Artists' to lie to people and partner with fast-food joints and skyscraper developers." (As of this month, four of the 10 members of FEVA's board of directors could be characterized as artists: Van Cook, poet and Bowery Poetry Club proprietor Bob Holman, poet-critic Greg Masters, and author-musician Rebecca Odes.)

"The original mission [of FEVA] was partly to stop this flood of expensive bars and restaurants coming into the area," says Patterson. "But then Phil builds Mo Pitkin's, and the contradiction was clear. Phil turned out to be the gentrifier."

Wigging out at Wigstock during the 2004 Howl festival in Tompkins Square Park
photo: Aaron Lee Fineman
Wigging out at Wigstock during the 2004 Howl festival in Tompkins Square Park

One thing that all sides share is a tendency to refer to both FEVA and the East Village itself in the past tense. Talk to enough FEVA compatriots—on either side of the contretemps—and one begins to envision Howl less as an arts festival than a commemorative ceremony for the neighborhood that was and the Epcot pavilion that replaced it. Michael Rosen recalls reading Frederic Jameson on the concept of simulacra years ago: "That was the first time I understood Disneyland as an ahistorical force that takes this stuff that was rich and gritty and beautiful and nasty, cleans the whole thing up, and throws it at you as some kind of pablum of a Bavarian village. That's what Mo Pitkin's is. . . . It's a Disneyland version of the East Village," Rosen continues. "It's probably a very smart thing to do, and it's beautiful and sad at the same time."

Hartman also strikes a bittersweet note: "I think the best we can do at this point is try to preserve as much of the past as we can, and I'm doing my share with [Mo Pitkin's] and with the Pioneer." He adds, "I have three kids, I raised them in the neighborhood, and I want them to know what it was like."

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