Common Room Editor
Kim Förster Editor
Common Books, New York, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Urban Design
8 x 8 inches, paperback, 128 pages
ISBN: 9780988290600
Suggested Retail Price: $26.00

From the Publisher. The book Arts for Living takes a close look at the Abrons Arts Center as a case study for an architecture designed to address issues of public space and community life. The center was built during the 1970s fiscal crisis and designed by Prentice and Chan, Ohlhausen as a cultural institution with new educational facilities intended to enable, foster, and serve the everyday activities of the local low-income population. With essays by Alan Moore and Kim Förster, an interview with Lo-Yi Chan, and photographs by Jason Fulford. Edited by common room and Kim Förster, and designed by Geoff Han. Published by common books. Lo-Yi Chan will guide a short tour through the Abrons Arts Center followed by a conversation about building public architecture between Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, David Smiley, and Lo-Yi Chan, moderated by common room (Lars Fischer, Todd Rouhe).

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Ames Gerould

Arts For Living is a case study of the Abrons Arts Center, which is situated on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Abrons Arts Center was founded through Lyndon B Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative, the idea being that a community arts center could resuscitate through art a traditionally poor working-class immigrant neighborhood. Obviously, some convincing needed to take place to demonstrate that a very open and public community arts program could in effect lift poverty from a targeted area. The thread reaches further back, however, from 1975 to 1914 when a philanthropist couple bought the lot on the corner of Pitt and Grand streets and built a community playhouse. That same lot transformed the Playhouse to the Abrons Arts Center, a very fitting metamorphosis.

The Abrons Arts Center, part of the Henry Street Settlement (a nonprofit social services agency), was designed by the firm Prentice & Chan. This book is a collection of interviews with the various figures who worked on the center from its beginnings through the course of achieving its mission. The original art instructors as well as Lo Yi Chan from Prentice & Chan are interviewed. The connections and relationships to similar institutions such as Cooper Union are discussed. The involvement of artist Gordon Matta-Clark is spoken of. The impact that the Vietnam War had back at home and its direct effect on the Abrons Arts Center are detailed.

The book design in itself is even interesting. It should come as a surprise that the book was printed in Amsterdam in 2013. It looks, sneakily, as if it were designed and printed in the 1970s. The type and graphics are set in tri-color; the layout and the condensed formatting, as well as the paper stock and binding of this book, are all reminiscent of the printing and imaging technologies available in the ’70s.

The design and production of Arts For Living is cleverly in sync with the construction methods employed in the Abrons in the 1970s. The renderings as well replicate the technologies of the time.  The book is illustrated throughout with original documents such as flyers, notices, maps, and posters from the Abrons Arts Center, and Common Room Studio has cleverly expanded the discussion with its own material to better illustrate the case study about this largely unacknowledged community center.

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