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#3WTotal update #4: Great news! TOTAL DROPPING!


It’s been a while since the last update but GREAT news: the #3WTotal list is finally DROPPING.

Since the last update (November 2014):
•Unfortunately, a couple of new names have still been added to the list. But!
•Some people are removing their name from the list.

Here is an excerpt from an email I received this morning, from the Department of Labor:

“A conference was held at this office last week in regards to claims filed….a preliminary resolution was reached between all parties. We are currently unable to share the specifics of the pending resolution with you due to privacy concerns.”

Great, right?

Now what?
If you are a 3rd Ward instructor and you are still owed money from your 3rd Ward days, email me for the above-quoted contact from the Department of Labor.

The new total: I hope that lots of settlements are occurring with EVERYONE, members, students, and instructors, on any and all fronts. This is what you deserve!

I began tracking this total because I wanted to give visibility to every person who felt that 3rd Ward walked out on them financially. Not every person sought to collect or get their money back, and adding your number to this list was never meant to suggest anyone on it would be actively pursuing a claim. But.

Did you get paid?
I hope the now-lower total means that this visibility is making a difference, and now the project and the number must evolve. Unfortunately, settlements are often private, and I don’t want to get it wrong. So for today I will say the total is going down and will update the number once I hear back from you on this:

To anyone–members, students, instructors—who made some effort to collect—if you do not believe your name should be in the total anymore, just let me know to remove your name, no questions asked about why.

I am considering hosting an informal gathering for anyone who wants to talk about this project. Is that you? If you have any interest, let me know.

In the meantime, please keep sharing this project with people you know who might have a story or experience to share. I am continuing to research and follow interrelated stories and will keep you updated.

Stuff I’m writing lately

Thank you,

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5tags Interview: Ashley Zelinskie


A few years ago, Ashley Zelinskie crowdsourced her first Makerbot kit, with the idea that the 3D printer would help her realize her contribution to a widely known conceptual artwork by Joseph Kosuth, One and One Chair. Her idea was not just to print a chair, but to render the alphanumeric characters that formed the 3D design code itself. In this way, she was rendering not just the chair in 3D, but the chair’s code, as well. The lace-like design of thin letters and numbers were a challenge for Wall.e, her first Makerbot, and as she struggled for days and weeks (and then months and years) to push this technology and other printers to create the work, she learned how to hack the printers, tweak her designs, and moved into an entire body of work, Reverse Abstractions.

This series (constructed with 3D printers as well as other fabrication processes) continues to express the duality she exposes with One and One Chair. In Reverse Abstraction, familiar objects (a 3D hexagon) or familiar artworks (Mona Lisa) have become self-referential renderings that point back not to the artist but to themselves. She’s also created works that render nondimensional concepts, like pi, in 3D.

As a conceptual artist, Ashley’s work synthesizes art history with tech and distills millions of lines of code into very deceptively “simple” objects that she  calls “art for computers.” On the occasion of her first exhibition, Return to Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 11, in Brooklyn), we talked about some of her favorite things: art, tech, and of course, Spock. The following is a lightly condensed transcript of the conversation.




RG: Why is your show named Return to Tomorrow?
AZ:  Return to Tomorrow is the name of a Star Trek episode from the original series The Enterprise is guided to a distant, long-dead world where survivors of an extremely ancient race – existing only as disembodied energy—desiring the bodies of Kirk, Spock and astrobiologist Ann Mulhall so that they may live again. They get robot bodies! You can watch it if you want. I thought it applied to my idea of transcribing the essence of humanity into something robots can understand.

RG: What is your idea of the essence of humanity? Are we an ancient race?
AZ:  No, I don’t think we are yet. But I do think that Art is the essence of humanity and that collectors work very hard to protect these little pieces of time and culture. I am trying to make work that will survive into an era of technology that will push these “ancient” ideas forward for audiences that haven’t been born yet. “born.”

RG: “Born?”
AZ:  Humans that haven’t been born or whatever is next to be created I guess would be a good word. Robots aren’t born, they are created. But maybe they will be born. Who knows. That is part of the struggle of making art that hopes to be relevant even in the future. Why is there no robot emoji for times like this? ???? I guess that will do.

RG: Your idea is to transcribe the essence of humanity, but your art is often created from objects that were created by hand, then mediated through a computer and machines. (I can’t see the emoji because…you know. I am vintage.)
AZ:  Haha. Oh. Yeah, I like taking old works of art, old ideas that are reused throughout history and making them relevant to today and tomorrow.

RG: But if art is the essence of humanity, isn’t art something that should be made by hand?
AZ:  Why does it need to be made by hand to be the essence of humanity if the machines making it are made by human humans? Even if those machines are made by machines it’s kinda like, what is natural, right? Like everything is “natural,” it comes from the earth, we have no where else to get it from. We just make it into something different. Where does that line end? Sorry that was a tangent, let’s get back to being not stoned.

RG: Do you consider the art object to be the idea or the thing that is created from the idea?
AZ:  No, it is the idea. Most art now isn’t even made by the artist, people just don’t know that. I don’t think that matters anymore though, because we expect artists to make artwork in many forms, and we can’t be pro craftsmen at everything.

RG: Please explain Reverse Abstraction. What is it?
AZ: Reverse Abstraction is a series I have been working on for a while now.  I am finally getting to show it all at once in one large space so YAY. It stems from the idea of Joseph Kosuth and Plato before him, how the same idea is passed on through generations in different forms. Joseph Kosuth and Plato (and many others) questioned the idea of the true nature of objects. What the reality of these objects actually is, is it the object or the idea or the image? Kind of like that question you just asked about art.

RG: We tend to see technology as cold, something we only observe indirectly, in its effects. In creating art objects that have their own aesthetics but are also technology-based, are you trying to help people see the beauty in technology?
AZ:  Well, Kosuth posed this question with a chair, a picture of a chair, and a definition of a chair.  I do it with one object—a chair that is made of its own computer code. I would like to people to see the beauty in technology. There is so much beauty in the way things work. When learning about how computers “think,” I have so many AH HA moments, because it is the way we think, too. Weird, right… since we made them… we created in our image. #god
They think in math
and math is very logical
and well organized
so it is very satisfying to my OCD tendencies
and makes for nice clean art.



RG: How is the chair made of its own computer code?
AZ:  The chair started out as a 3D model on a computer, that is a file like any other file. It is made of code, like the matrix almost. The computer sees all your files as code. I just took the code that is hidden beneath and placed it on top. Art can be anything now.

RG: Technology is leading us to create more objects made by machines, do you see that as opening up what “art” is—what about video, multimedia, light, sound based art, etc.?
AZ: We are past the constraints of figuring out realist painting, we know vanishing points and perspective. Now what is left to figure out is ideas. Ideas can be anything, technology is allowing us to have new ideas and create new things. So artists need to put down the paint brush and pick up the mouse.

RG: But all ideas are not art, so then, what is art?
AZ:  Art is exploration. Exploration with no intention to be logical.

RG: How should we be viewing or experiencing art differently if we don’t have to worry about rooms and boxes to create the context for us, “This Space Contains Art.”
Is it possible to be illogical inside technology? Maybe I mean “how can we,” or “how will we” experience art, and not how “should” we?
AZ:  I think as artists we always need to question how we are viewing art, it should always be changing and evolving, how we view art and the art itself should never be stagnant.

RG: Everyone has ideas, and explores those ideas. does that make everyone an artist?
AZ:  I think everyone can be an artist… but it takes time. Because artists’ ideas are informed by art history, by a language that has been established. But that isn’t to say that not everyone can learn it.

RG: Our friend Pema Rinzin [founder of the New York Tibetan Art Studio] would say that for him, art is about creating work that conveys joy and emotion and energy to the viewer, through his painting. He places critical importance on the artist’s style as a signature. Do you think his objectives for art can be achieved without the human hand creating it? Would the work feel that same energy if it was designed with a mouse?
AZ:  Yes. I don’t think for him it would be the same. I think it is important to him that he does the painting. But do I think it is possible to achieve his goal in another way, yes.

RG: I should go back and ask you the basics.
AZ:  My fav color is green, I like cats, I am 27 years old, I live in Brooklyn.

RG: You don’t have a cat.
AZ:  I have a gecko.

RG: Exactly. Do you like real cats or internet cats?
AZ: Both. But Patrick isn’t allergic to internet cats, so those are the ones I keep.

RG: If art can be printed by a computer, how does that change the nature of an artwork as one of a kind. Can I say, “I love this, but I want it smaller?,” does art from computer code make the forms more mutable or change exclusivity?
AZ:  Artwork has been printed way before the computer. I use the same format as printmakers and photographers. You create an edition and you stick to it. Printmakers and photographers can make more prints if they want to, but it is frowned upon to re-edition and devalues the work.So artists don’t do it.

RG: There is an analog that if I wanted to buy the master, I would have to buy the code, didn’t Kosuth’s piece include directions?
AZ:  Yes, Kosuth sold the directions to create his piece. The chair and the photo and definition were different sometimes. The same chair was used, but didn’t have to be. The art was the idea, and the idea was written on a paper, and that is what was collected (eventually the chair too, but not intentionally). I do make unique works too. Right now my works are low editions of three. Some works (that make no sense to be multiples) are unique. Or things that are a bitch to make, I only make one. I tried editioning some of the works to try out applying the idea of printmaking and photography to 3D printing because for some reason people think that this is a new idea somehow… that there could be multiple of something so easily. I am reminding them that we have been through this already.

RG: Do you find technology is where all of the unanswered questions are?
AZ: Yes, I get to decide what the rules are, which is cool. But then you have to pave the way, which is hard.

RG: Where do you come up against limits and frustrations in making? The way a painter is confined to canvas size, is there a comparison? What is that?
AZ:  Code density. Code is really long, lots of letters and numbers. People don’t realize how much code goes into seeing a jpg on the computer. Hint hint, it’s millions of characters. So fitting the code on the objects is always a challenge. Also yea, I would love printers to get bigger and laser cutters to get bigger, obvs.

RG: Is an object always printed with all of the code that comes from its shape?
AZ:  Not always. Sometimes it is a math joke, like pi having the numbers of pi on it. Now I am working on a portrait series where the code is DNA. So I am branching out from just self referential objects, but that was just my Reverse Abstraction series. I have many more rabbits in my hat. ????

RG: Shape and code are not inherently colorful. Are you expressing ideas that don’t rely on color or are there technology limits. Would you use color differently if the technology were already easier, I think that’s the question? I can’t see that thing.
AZ:  It is a bunny. But yea right now I am focused on idea and form, so my work is mostly white or black, sculptures. I have a series of paintings that are laser cut, they have color. AndI have an exhibit coming up at the 3D print show in New York. I am making colorful sculptures for that, but I don’t use color unless I have a reason to.

RG: Tech has completely changed our lives. But do you think we get too immersed in the changes to see them?
AZ:  Not at all. Ever talk to your grandma? She will make it clear to you. Older people don’t hesitate to keep you in perspective to how different things are.

RG: When you started trying to print this chair, you were creating art with technology sort of before the technology existed that could make the object to match your vision.
AZ:  Yes. Don’t remind me. It happens a lot. Frustration.

RG: What is the thing you need now that probably won’t exist until tomorrow? Need/want?
AZ:  An affordable large metal printer, because most of my sculptures cannot be cast, and I would like them to be in metal. I can print them in metal,  but the scale isn’t there yet, and neither is my wallet. (At this point,shout out to my sponsor, Bold Machines.)

RG: Why do you identify with Star Trek, and how big a fan are you?
AZ:  Okay Star Trek, yea, I like that. It is a show all about what I am doing, which is hypothesizing about the future, but so so far in the future that anything can happen, so your imagination runs wild. And sometimes you actually hit on something that ends up happening.

RG: Tell me about Spock?
AZ:  I am in love with Spock. His ears are sexy. Leonard Nimoy is in the hospital right now. So sad, chest pains.

RG: I saw that and thought of you.
AZ:  Hope he is okay. If he dies I am going to cry. They better shoot him into space to be reborn. [Post-interview: LLAP, Leonard Nimoy].

RG: Do you think you will be reborn as a robot?
AZ:  I hope so. Robot legs can run way faster and robot hands can smash things easier. It would make taking out the trash a nicer experience. And robot body = no more gym.

RG: What about robot sex?
AZ:  I already have a robot I have sex with. It is made by lelo.

RG: Yes, but you are not the robot.
AZ:  Maybe sex will be more of a program you can run, endorphin-inducing program.

RG: Okay but isn’t that BORING!?
AZ:  That is how your brain works already.

RG: Endorphin inducing program.
AZ:  Read a Nero book. Love is just chemicals in your brain telling you that when you are around someone your adrenaline goes up and your brain dumps dopamine. We live in the matrix already. There is no spoon. You can get upset at this fact, or you can embrace it. I don’t think it makes love any less valid.

RG: Did we go in a circle? If human experiences are basically just programs, why does art matter?
AZ:  Because art and love are the programs that make us more than machines, more than animals, more than survival. Maybe less love. Love = reproduction. But art= what? Why art? What purpose does it serve? None. So why do we do it. That is what makes us human. The nonsensical art program that we run to no end.

RG: And the nonsensical human program.
AZ:  /loop

RG: I have to go start the human work program now.
AZ:  Okay. I have to go to the gym from my non robot ass because I ate a KILO of cheese when I was in Mexico.
Ashley Zelinskie is a conceptual artist based in Brooklyn. Return to Tomorrow opens March 11 and runs through April 15, at Kingsborough Community College (Arts & Sciences Building, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York, 2001 Oriental Boulevard, Brooklyn, NY 11235. 718/368-5449.)

5 tags is an occasional interview series, subjects are asked to choose 5 tags to represent themselves.  


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#3W Total, Update #3

What’s the total?
To date, I have received information about outstanding memberships, course fees and instructor invoices of: $72,301. This is only an estimate.

Cultural Weekly published an essay I wrote for its new column, “Art in Context.” I address the way 3rd Ward treated instructors and members as well as the ways New York City is contributing to accelerating problems that gentrification in causing around Bushwick for makers/artists. I sincerely welcome your feedback on this, in any form.

An attorney I know has volunteered to speak with any/all of the people who are owed money by 3rd Ward; her firm may end up representing some of those people who are interested in pursuing refunds and payments for their services. Email me ( if you’d like this contact info. If you have collected or settled in any way, I’d love to hear your story.

The #3WTotal research project has received kind support from Brooklyn/NYC media. (Thank you!) Here are a few links:
Brooklyn Magazine
Village Voice
I appreciate you trusting me with your stories. I hope that by gathering this information I have helped to create a voice for this community. I am continuing to research and follow many interrelated stories that connect to the 3rd Ward story and will keep you updated. In the meantime, please keep sharing your stories and sharing this project with anyone know you who might want to contribute.


About this project:

#3WTotal is an ongoing research project gathering information on former “maker-education space” 3rd Ward and the debts it owes to teachers, members, students and vendors of 3rd Ward in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. If you would like to share your 3rd Ward story or experience, send an email to:

To follow this project, please join the mailing list, here, or check this page. Feel free to share or forward this post using this link:

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#3WTotal, Update #2

What’s the total?
To date, I have received information about outstanding memberships, course fees and instructor invoices of: $70,573. This is only an estimate.

What’s the backstory on this number?

After 7 years, 3rd Ward ceased operations in Brooklyn on October 8, 2013, without warning instructors, members or students. (The new Philly location also closed around this time.)

Instructors received an email the next day directing them to contact Nick Alexander, the company’s CFO, with any questions about their invoices.

To date, 51 teachers who worked in 2 states have reported outstanding invoices to #3WTotal adding up to $49,447.

These invoices range from $100 to more than $6,000 and reflect up to 2 months of unpaid work.

The payments received or collected for all 51 teachers since October 8, 2013: $0.

The number of teachers who reported receiving a response of any kind from CFO Nick Alexander: 0.

At least two instructors filed claims with the Department of Labor in New York, but no significant action has been taken on their claims.

At least one instructor filed a lawsuit in small-claims court and eventually settled with Jason Goodman out of court. Jason pushed the instructor to sign a confidentiality agreement but the instructor, luckily, did not sign.

3rd Ward began a crowdsourced investment campaign through on September 26, 2013, and accredited investors pledged $375,000 of investment capital before the campaign was cancelled around October 9, 2013. 3rd Ward reportedly needed a minimum of $1.5 million just to keep the doors open.

The investors and directors of the company at this time included not just founder and CEO Jason Goodman but high-profile venture capitalists, sophisticated real estate developers, tech entrepreneurs and billionaire Tony Hsieh (of Las Vegas’ Downtown Project, and many, many other projects).

Despite having an experienced CFO on staff, an education director with a corporate-finance background and access to guidance from a host of sophisticated investors, Jason Goodman told the Village Voice that he believed until the very end the company could be saved and that closing the doors was a decision made only at the  last possible minute. (Even though the company was in so much debt that $375,000 could not keep the lights on long enough to pay, say, the instructors.)

It’s hard to believe Jason actually believed at anytime in October 2013 that his company could be saved, given the fact that in September 2013, he was already thinking ahead…

While the fundraising campaign was ongoing and Jason Goodman claims he had no idea his company was about to close and leave many people unpaid and in limbo over refunds, workspaces and memberships, he quietly transferred his one substantial asset to his partner, Frida Kamau.

The couple currently rents three cabins in Montauk for up to $350 per night on Airbnb.

The January 2013 purchase price Jason Goodman paid for the Montauk property: $705,628. The September 2013 price at which Jason transferred the same property to his partner: $0.

The unpaid total debts reported by teachers, vendors, students and members to date: $70,573.

In March 2014, sometime after negotiations ended with at least one other potential buyer, multiple sources report that Jason Goodman moved the company’s equipment offsite and sold it himself, in cash-only deals for which he received thousands of dollars.

“If no savior comes forward, 3rd Ward’s assets—the woodworking tools, the sewing machines, the computers—will be liquidated, and Goodman says creditors, including former students, teachers, and members, will be reimbursed. The organization’s biggest creditor, according to Goodman, is a bank.”—The Village Voice, October 14, 2013.

Of the money raised from the equipment sales, the total amount instructors, members and students have reported receiving to date: $0.

About this project:

#3WTotal is an ongoing research project gathering information on former “maker-education space” 3rd Ward and the debts it owes to teachers, members, students and vendors of 3rd Ward in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. If you would like to share your 3rd Ward story or experience, send an email to:

To follow this project, please join the mailing list, here, or check this page. I expect to post another update in mid-October. Feel free to share or forward this post using this link:

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The Project Is the Project: Chiwan Choi and Writ Large Go #90for90



Chiwan Choi calls people out like the punk outsider who’s used to being ignored. Despite LA Weekly hailing Choi as the “Jay Z of poetry” last year (for retiring: he’s since un-retired), he knows independent—non-white—voices like his are often overlooked, and this summer he wanted to do something about it.

For a while after “quitting poetry” Chiwan restricted his writing to nonsequiturs he “published” as social-media status updates. But he’s also a publisher, photographer and teacher whose passion for experimentation and connection through language drove him to create small press Writ Large with his wife Judeth, passion that also inspires them to create social/community experiments such as this summer’s #90for90 in downtown Los Angeles.

With Writ Large (Chiwan, Judeth and two partners), Chiwan has been booking and curating 90 consecutive free events all summer. The group sought to create sustainable, people-sized structures in their neighborhood. Despite drawing big-name talent and a loyal, growing audience, the project has received little media attention. These 90 unfunded events for and with neighbors could not contrast more sharply to Jay Z’s Live Nation-produced, Budweiser-sponsored Made in America festival, held Labor Day weekend with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti as lead cheerleader. The mayor wants to showcase the regentrified downtown as an accessible center of LA’s culture. But to Chiwan and others, a pricy A-list festival that restricts local access to the “people’s park” has nothing to do with downtown LA. Which begs the question that every gentrifiying neighborhood inevitably asks: Who defines culture?

I spoke with Chiwan throughout #90for90, and the following is excerpted from our conversations (on days 33, 55 and 71).


What has surprised you?

A few people had the same story, which goes, “I moved to LA a year or two years ago and I have been looking for people I could connect with, that I could be part of, and I haven’t found anything until this.” They will come once or twice a week. That’s the story. Like, we are all just wandering. And we find connections online, but physically we’re just still wandering alone. Someone says, hey, you can come in here every single night. They’re like, wow, this is what we’ve been looking for. That’s been the eye-opening thing in a positive way. Another has been just the support we’ve gotten. Even when we were getting kicked out of places and moving locations, people didn’t say, “Hey, you guys are wack, this is so unprofessional.” It’s been, “Let us know where to go. We’re with you.” These are people who not only are colleagues but people that I borderline idolize. In a negative way, it’s been eye opening to see how many artists still don’t understand that it’s really not just about them.


In trying to book people?           

Yeah yeah yeah. It’s like, dude, all these things we’re doing, it’s not about just you. It’s really not about you. Stop acting like a prima donna. It’s fascinating how people are so much in marketing mode that they almost can’t see outside of that.


You’re looking at the project in terms of strengthening a kind of fellowship, and they’re looking at it like, I want exposure?

Yes. And they come thinking they’re the star, that they’re doing everybody a favor by being there.


Tell me about the opening?

The first weekend was really wild. We’re really dealing with the personal, using the personal to build community, even community spaces, and using the personal to create art. Our need to be around other people who are willing to open up their internal life to us also, and how much that drives us.


You wrote earlier this year that in rich neighborhoods there’s only room for commerce. Does that describe LA’s Downtown Arts District?

Yes. Downtown Arts District is a very specific area, one of the earliest developed areas of downtown. It originally had housing for artists and stuff like that, and Al’s Bar, but it’s already on, like, its fifth gentrification. So it’s a marketing name now for developers.


Is showcasing that specific area why the Jay Z festival was in Grand Park?

Grand Park is a bit off the Arts District, by City Hall. I have no idea what that Jay Z thing is about. Nobody here wants it. It’s a park that is supposed to be only for local artists. It’s a park that is not supposed to have alcohol. But now they’re bringing Jay Z, and Budweiser is sponsoring it.


Why is the city promoting the arts district now?

The Arts District way back when was a lot of empty buildings and they rented out buildings super cheap to artists. It literally was the arts district. But over the years, this is what you and I have talked about a lot, artists become the first line in gentrification.


They’re used like fertilizer for developers.

Yes, so they make it cool and things happen, people start moving in. It’s like, oh, there’s all these big spaces there I can get for cheap, and people start going in, white folk start going in, and then at some point the rent pops. Then everybody’s out. If we had done this project in a place where developers were [still] trying to gentrify, this would totally be written up as, Look at all these writers going to this town that needs reviving and that needs this and that, so that the neighborhood could just blow up.


Right, like The New York Times was covering art-gallery openings in Bushwick in 2007, but these days the galleries are being evicted. If developers come in and all the prices go up, why not leave?

People do leave, then they go to other places where it will go through the same cycle. That’s what developers want. For the artists to go out and do the work. The fertilizing.


Since gentrification tends to disperse established communities, #90for90 feels like an act of defiance against that.

It’s been fascinating that just by being somewhere night after night, we’re disrupting pretty much everything.


Where are we culturally, when gathering people becomes an act of disruption?

Ha. Yes. Once people come, it’s like, wow, this is something so radical. It shouldn’t be. But it’s so radical that, they can’t quite grasp what’s going on. So they come again. And it’s like, holy shit, this is unlike the other night, it’s a totally different type of writer or performance or whatever it is. Then it becomes a thing of, wow, now I can incorporate this into the schedule of my life, or at least a short amount of time. I don’t have to sell anything, I don’t have to buy anything, I just have to show up. It’s a weird thing.




This is not just readings, what are the events?

One night, some of the most incredible bands in LA set up inside the bar and just jammed for a few hours. We’ve had panelists that included people from the City Council office and architects and other people just talking about public space. We’ve had readings, we’ve had this series called Drunken Masters, where we bring in a couple of established writers in different fields. Hopefully they get drunk and then we have random people sign up to present their works-in-progress and get feedback from the writers. We’ve had Super Fan nights where we ask people to come and present the night about something they’re big fans of. We had a reading where everybody read stuff they wrote about the World Cup. The other night we had a Jose Saramago Super Fan Night, where two poets just sat down in the middle of the bar and started reading from Saramago’s books to all these people who were just sitting at the bar drinking, waiting for the train.


Why not get sponsors or corporations to give you money: what’s the power of independence?

The experiment is about partnering with whoever owns the space. In this case, Tara Thomas, the owner of Traxx bar in Union Station. Whatever we work out, we’re two downtown residents saying, hey, this is what we love, how can we work together to create this kind of an environment? Once you bring in outside forces, what you’re saying is, let’s promote it outside of where we are, and try to bring in all these people who have no investment in whatever area we’re in. So, with the Jay Z thing, it’s like, what the fuck are you bringing in? You’re bringing in leeches who come into a community, make themselves money, enjoy themselves, and get the fuck out. How does that benefit a community at all? Don’t get me wrong, at the end of 90 days, if someone was to say, that was amazing, here’s $10 million, a million a year for 10 years, then we’ll take it and change the entire city. But that wasn’t the experiment.


If Budweiser called you and offered you guys beer, would you take it?



Why not?

We’re at a bar, we can’t. But this freedom of not owing anybody anything has been everything. We have no problem scheduling a big event with name people tonight, and then self-published authors tomorrow. We feel completely free to do all those things.


Why not get big-name authors every night? Why put in the little people if you can get all big people?

Big people are boring as hell. The other night, we had 2 first-time novelists. One was a self-published author and one was just published through one of the big NY houses. Once you enter here, we’re all equal. It’s all equal. I don’t give a fuck about your credentials and I don’t care who published your book and how many copies you’ve sold. We care about what kind of dialogue it could start, what you could contribute overall. It’s been really inspiring because I feel like everybody who’s taken part feels a little bit of equal ownership of the entire project.


I’m not trying to conduct this interview in 1994, but we have access to people all over the world via the Internet if we want to form communities. Why do we need communities in person?

We just need a home. We need a home. That’s what it comes down to. When we were planning this, people kept telling us, why don’t you go to this neighborhood, why don’t you go do it in this neighborhood? Things are cheaper, there’s a lot of space. That’s not the point. We wanted to create space where something isn’t. Because this is where we live, we have a stake in it. For people physically to come to a place and see each other and hear each other and hug each other and all those things, it became, holy shit, we are physically not alone. We are not alone. I feel like I have a home here. When we are connecting online, we are seeking something we don’t have. Whereas connecting physically in a space has been like, oh, we do have — this. We’re not here searching for something we don’t have. This weird ownership kicks in that gives people a comfort level, a confidence level to say, I can present this, because this is my home, which is really important.


Social media creates a way to share information but a lot of us are sitting on our computers all the time lonely and disconnected.

Right. So then we start losing the sense of protecting physical space, we are losing the sense of obligation to other people who actually live next to us. Every day that we could just touch base with that, it just magnifies how important that is.


Is this also about visibility, especially for the literary community? Is Los Angeles not a literary city?

It is a literary city, very much so. There’s a lot of indy publishers, an incredible number of great writers. There’s a lot of readers. The LA Times wants to be The New York Times. It becomes a thing of, we need to be a serious literary city, therefore we will just cover serious literary things, or what they deem serious.


You don’t take what you’re doing seriously?

We don’t. We don’t take it seriously at all, but at the same time, we take it seriously enough that we’re committing a quarter of a year to this project.


The LA Times hired journalist Carolina Miranda (whose writing I like) to start a blog called, “Culture: High and Low.” What do you think the LA Times means when it assigns her to cover “high and low culture”?

I have no idea. I was watching Basquiat again this morning, and there’s a scene where he has his debut show and all these journalists are coming and saying, “here’s a true representation of the gutter.” So I imagine “high” is everything established or white, and “low” is everything else that’s not those two things. The lack of media attention for #90for90 has been frustrating but also fascinating. There have been times where we feel like, if we were a couple of white boys in Brooklyn doing this shit, it would be all over the fucking news. But then we bring ourselves back and go, that’s not the point. We’ve started saying, the project is the project. Which means, it’s just about showing up. It’s just about showing up day after day to say, hey look, we are willing to commit our entire life to this, for the next 90 days. We’re doing it because this is what we love and what we feel we want to create in this town we live in. If you want to join us, join us. If not, that’s okay, too. It’s been probably the toughest time of our collective lives, but at the same time it’s been pretty amazing.


What does media tend to focus on?

I read this NPR thing about how publishing needs diversity. I’m like, publishing doesn’t need diversity. There’s plenty of diverse books out there. It’s you motherfuckers who don’t want to cover anything other than mainstream stuff. People have said, I don’t understand why no one wants to write about this. I’m like, what is there to understand?


Despite a lack of media support, #90for90 is growing?

On a recent weekend, we had over 600 RSVPs, early in the week. One Saturday we had 150 people in the bar. One night there was a reading called Dirty Laundry Lit. The host, Natashia Deon, went through the PEN USA Emerging Voices program. She wanted me to work with her starting about 2 years ago, to help her with diversity of the audiences. She books super diverse and even unknown writers, but it’s still always white folks showing up to the events. We’ve been working with them.


Do you feel like you’ve found your tribe? Given this was an experiment, are you getting the results you wanted/expected?

Yes-ish. In a lot of ways we’ve strengthened the community, a lot of writers we featured have felt like, wow, I feel so included in this world now. But the other part, where it’s, -ish, is that a lot of the problems have been exposed. Looking at all the people we’ve featured, it seems like about 70 percent of the writers have been women, probably around that many have been writers of color, and that’s all good. But an audience of color is still afraid to go to events where there are not people like them on stage. I was joking the other day, like, where are all the Asians in the crowd?


You’re saying they might be afraid to come?

Yeah. They’re so used to a certain thing of like, we’re only allowed to be at events, like events that are socially “Asian events,” whatever that means? So with white authors they feel, maybe I’m not allowed there, I shouldn’t go.


A group of people might come to readings to support fellow people of color, but they aren’t coming back to support a mixed group?

Yes, as audience members. It’s been a fascinating thing to see. Like, I’ll go support my own kind but I feel uncomfortable going to something that’s not that.


Looking at LA media I found all the institutional events, but I couldn’t get a sense of what was happening at a neighborhood level. LA calls itself world-class, the mayor calls LA the creative capital, but what does that mean?

You sent me the link about the alleyway entrance for a building for the poor in New York. Here, developers want to just build bridges from building to building so their tenants don’t have to deal with the skid row people. That will make downtown world-class, in their opinion. People who have been born here or grown up here, we really don’t care about the reputation. But there is definitely a wave of trying to turn it into Paris, New York, San Francisco, whatever it is, in a way that mimics the neutered version of Times Square.


What was the goal in the beginning, why you thought you were doing #90for90?

It was a site-specific plan and the space fell through the day before we started. By then we had already scheduled 50 events, so it’s not like we could cancel 50 events. We had to move to a space that wasn’t ideal but got us going. When we got kicked out of there, after day 15 or something, we found our 3rd space, Traxx bar, which is owned by a downtown resident. She’s owned it for 20 years. She’s an artist herself who has been downtown for a long time. She really understands what we’re trying to do. Since we moved into this new space, we have found comfort and peace, but it’s still not the original vision we had.


So the events were planned with the idea that there would be an ability to fund yourselves, in a joint venture?

Yes. We were gonna pay bartenders and the restaurant was gonna get his take and all that stuff. It just fell through. What we are allowed or not allowed to do as independent artists is totally different than the rules of what Jay Z is allowed to do.


What would happen to your project if you charged a $5 cover?

People without $5 can’t come. We have so many friends who don’t have $1.50 to get on the bus on any given night. $5 may not seem much to some, but for a lot of us, if I spend $5 today, I won’t see you for the next 3 weeks, you know what I mean? Being in the train station, it’s allowing people to ride the train in, ride the bus in, which has helped.


You’re inside Union Station?

Yes, inside a bar, at the entrance of Union Station. It’s a private space inside a public space.


Does being in a nontraditional space create problems?

Last night was hard. Right across from the bar, inside the train station, a huge-ass wedding reception was going on. The wedding DJ was just blasting all night. And also, a few of the writers have felt unsafe. They’re so used to reading to their own kind, and all of a sudden there could be the Other sitting at the bar. Not only not their kind, but someone who doesn’t give a shit about what they do, who’s just there to have a beer. It’s kind of terrified a lot of people.

Can you tell or do they let you know?

I had a chat with a writer last week after an event. He took off right after he read, he didn’t even stay for the other writer. He sent me a long email about how, he didn’t mean any disrespect but he just didn’t understand the context and he wasn’t a fit. I was like, you’re basically saying you didn’t like being there with people who are not like you. Last night, too, there were three readers. Each one left right after they read. I could say that’s just dick moves, but it was beyond that. It was, I don’t feel comfortable reading here, there’s something about this that as a writer this is not safe for me.


Is there an incentive to just keep going? Maybe regroup, go get a budget and just continue?

We probably won’t do the exact same thing again, but we’re meeting in a couple of days to sit down and figure out what it is our next project is.



Yes, because if we don’t start planning, we’re all just gonna exhale and not want to do anything for a while. So we have to start planning something when it’s in our minds. We are in this contest (LA2050) that we’re trying to win $100,000 through, for a year-long community publishing project to fight gentrification in Highland Park. We start planning for Grand Park Downtown BookFest #3. I want to open our own bookstore/bar. A few people want to talk to us, they see how many people we can bring to a bar every night without turning the bar into a douche fest.


So then, #365for365?

Certain things have come up that it would be interesting to explore and tackle, like the whole thing with the audience and stuff. Doing all these events, even as we’re trying to balance everybody, certain writers feel superior, certain writers feel inferior, just because of who published them or who didn’t publish them. Stuff like that, it’s just silly.


Part of the project was sort of claiming a little bit of downtown?
Yeah. For a lot of people #90for90 has really galvanized for them the idea that we can make a difference. I think they didn’t quite get it in the beginning. But before each night’s event, we’re like, this is night 30, 40, 50. By the time we’re like, this is night number 70, they’re like, holy shit. It becomes, we are doing something ridiculous. When we say things like, man, I wish we had our own stage, now they hear it differently, because they’re like, yeah, you guys could totally make a space work. They could see themselves in the space, you know what I mean? It’s been strange in a sense that, people always gravitate towards identifying a star, instead of thinking of it as a social, communal thing. That part I get still really uncomfortable with. Like, oh, these are the stars of this thing, instead of, wow, thousands of people have come here this summer. They can’t quite grasp that.


What is the plan for the finale?

We’re gonna do our second LAB•FEST, which was the opening day-long festival we did last year when we opened DTLAB inside The Last Bookstore. It was a 12-hour festival of writers, panelists, artists, musicians. The 90 days ends on the last weekend of September, we’re gonna just have a big old blowout.


And then…?

We have no idea. We were joking that at the end of 90 days, some magic box opens up and sparkles fly out. On Day 91, I’m probably gonna have a breakdown. Seriously, I think it’s coming. Emotionally, physically, everything. I really have no idea. That’s sort of the thing where we just sit around sometimes, we’re completely excited about it. Other times we’re like, why are we doing this?


There is no why! I am going to bring up the emails we exchanged earlier this year. I told you I wanted to write some dumb story from my past, but I didn’t understand the point, why bother. You said, “The point is the ridiculousness of life and how perfect it is.” I said, well, this thing happened, but how is that a story?, and maybe it didn’t really mean anything? You wrote:

 NOTHING means anything! That’s the point. The only thing that means anything was that in some moment in the history of the universe, you existed, and this thing happened.

 I was thinking about the audience instead of just telling the story, which is backwards. I think what #90for90 is “about” is that: Nothing means anything. Just create the thing. Keep creating the thing.

Yeah. Thanks for reminding me of all that. True. Yeah. It’s true. Some days we’re just so physically tired, we’re just, I can’t, it makes no sense.


#90for90 is a series of free events featuring writers, readers, fans, musicians, artists and others produced by Writ Large Press as part of its DTLAB project series. It takes place every night through September 26 at Traxx Bar, in Los Angeles’s Union Station. Writ Large Press is Chiwan Choi, Judeth Oden Choi, Jessica Ceballos and Peter Woods.

This is the first interview in a series called 5 tags. Each subject selects their own tags to accompany the text.

Photo credit for Chiwan Choi: Jason Gutierrez.
Photo credits for #90for90: Chiwan Choi.

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