By Jon Schuppe
EAST HARLEM — A dispute over the use of a city-owned East Harlem arts space is drawing the local community board deeper into the fray, with leaders considering ways to fight plans to evict a 40-year-old Puerto Rican arts group.
Community Board 11 first got involved in October, when it heard that the city Economic Development Corporation was seeking new tenants for the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center at 106th Street and Lexington Avenue. The move would effectively force out Taller Boricua, which has rented space there since 1992, holding exhibits, artist workshops and a popular Salsa Wednesdays dance class.
The EDC was apparently reacting to complaints that Taller Boricua was charging unfair rents to artists who wanted to use the center's exhibition spaces. One of the people voicing those gripes was East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. She asked the EDC to consider opening the space up to more tenants.
Taller Boricua complained to the board, whose chairman, Matthew Washington, likened the issue to a landlord kicking out a tenant without letting the tenant know why.
Washington was also upset that the board was not consulted.
He asked the EDC to stop the process and give Taller Boricua a chance to respond to the complaints.
The EDC refused, but offered to extend the deadline for applicants, which could include Taller Boricua.
Now the board seems to be leaning increasingly in favor of Taller Boricua, and is trying to decide how to try to stop the EDC.
The board's executive committee was scheduled to discuss the issue Wednesday night.
The dispute has also divided the community along generational lines. Older and more established artists and community groups have lined up behind Taller Boricua, while a newer generation of artists said the organization is stifling growth.
The EDC’s application deadline is Dec. 17.