The Rebel Diaz Arts Collective (RDAC-BX) is a community space in the South Bronx comprised of 25 artists, teachers and organizers. Established by brothers Gonzalo and Rodrigo Venegas in 2008, the space was converted from a sugar factory into an arts center. Over time, the center has evolved into a Hip Hop Community Center, offering monthly open mic nights, media-making workshops, and a “radical library.” These activities and amenities draw in 500 to 700 kids from Mott Haven and Hunts Point each month, giving them an opportunity to channel their creativity and organize.
Last month, the collective was evicted from their home at 478 Austin Place in Hunts Point on non-payment and vandalism charges. According to DNAinfo, the collective owed back rent dating to September 2012, leaving them over $10,000 in debt. The non payment is due to a dispute: the landlord, Joseph Pogostin, proposed a $1,000 rent increase (from $1,400/month to $2,400/month.) Unable to pay the increased rent and maintain their programs, the Venegas brothers chose to not accept Pogostin’s proposed renewal lease.
Rooftop political graffiti has also been a point of contention. Many of the collective members believe that the eviction case is partially motivated as an attack against their politics. The landlord, however, claims otherwise. In a City Limits article, the landlord claims that the collective is responsible for instigating the newly created graffiti in the neighborhood. Rebutting the accusation, a collective members insists, “We were always having strong dialogues with any of our youths or individuals who came through our doors about respecting our neighborhood.”
Like many NYC neighborhoods, the South Bronx has been gentrifying rapidly: rents have skyrocketed and new, middle-income tenants have moved into the area. RDAC-BX’s rent increase and subsequent eviction speak to the intersection of gentrification and the criminalization of hip-hop in NYC neighborhoods. In the mainstream media, hip hop is seen as a threatening genre of art, riddled with violence, illicit drug use, and misogyny. But hip-hop can also be a transgressive and subversive medium which attempts to dismantle oppressive structures and demand liberation. At the RDAC-BX, hip-hop gives youth a voice. The gentrification of the neighborhood – experienced by the RDAC-BX by their landlord’s attempt to raise rent – is threatening hip hop’s positive impacts on the community.
Since the eviction, collective members and allies have banned together in protest. On the first Friday of March, when the collective intended to have their monthly open-mic night, members still gathered for the show and held it outside of their building. Taking a note from Venezuela’s political history, one of the collective members wrote a song entitled, “Work Like Chavez,” which protests the eviction of RDAC-BX. Here are the song’s opening lines:
“I can’t front, I’m upset that they took our buildin’/ Next thing the Comandante man I know they killed him/ Something goin’ on, I gotta read the signs/Somethin’ telling me that it’s about that time/ Time to step it up cause I smell sulfur/ Still smell the money in this capitalist culture”
RDAC-BX has also started a campaign to pay for a new space. To support their organizing efforts as well as preserve creative and accessible spaces in the South Bronx, click here to donate.