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Rebel Diaz Arts Collective Evicted from Mott Haven Loft

By Patrick Wall | March 1, 2013 9:30am | Updated on March 1, 2013 10:51am

MOTT HAVEN — The Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, a group of South Bronx artists that hosts hip-hop concerts and youth workshops in a converted factory space, was evicted from its building Thursday.

NYPD officers and city marshals raided the 5,000-square-foot loft early Thursday and ordered the one artist present to leave, collective members said. Then the building superintendent changed the locks, sealing inside thousands of dollars worth of computers and recording equipment.

The collective has rented the loft for more than four years, during which time it transformed the abandoned space into a thriving hip-hop community center, called RDACBX, where media-making workshops, a monthly open mic night and a new “radical library” drew hundreds of youth from the South Bronx and beyond.

During that time, the collective occasionally clashed with the building landlord — most recently, over a proposed $1,000 rent increase, which culminated in the eviction.

“RDACBX has been violently shut down and locked up,” said collective co-founder Rodrigo Venegas, known as RodStarz. “This is a violent attack on a peaceful community hip-hop space.”

The collective plans to hold a rally outside the building at 478 Austin Place, near 149th Street, at 6 p.m., followed by an outdoor edition of their usual first-Friday open mic show, called Boogie Mics.

An attorney for the landlord, Austin Property Corp., said the collective had not paid rent since September, had provoked complaints from neighbors and had painted unauthorized graffiti on the building.

RodStarz, his brother Gonzalo Venegas, or G1, and some friends stumbled upon the old factory on an industrial block near the Bruckner Expressway in 2008. With the help of local volunteers, they cleared out mounds of debris and renovated the space, eventually installing a recording studio, conference room and stage.

Once the roughly 20-member collective was formed, the loft became its home base.

Soon after finding the space, collective members signed a lease with Austin Property Corp., a New Rochelle-based real estate firm.

The landlord and the collective sparred often over graffiti.

While the collective admits to painting on parts of the building, it says the landlord falsely accused members of creating other graffiti in the neighborhood.

The situation came to a head last year when some members painted political messages on a freeway-facing wall atop the building’s roof, according to RodStarz.

Then, in November, rather than renew the lease as expected, the landlord said the rent would increase from $1,400 to $2,400 per month, RodStarz said.

Since then, members have disputed the increase and rent has not been paid. They say they tried making some payments, which were not accepted.

The collective believes it is the victim of burgeoning gentrification in the South Bronx, as well as unfavorable stereotypes often attached to political activists, young people of color and hip-hop itself.

“Hip-hop has been criminalized,” said G1, who with RodStarz fronts the political rap group, Rebel Diaz. “This is a political attack.”

Marc Pogostin, who identified himself as an attorney for Austin Property Corp., said the landlord had “nothing personal” against the collective, which he called “nice.”

Instead, its eviction was the result of six months of unpaid rent, other building tenants who complained “profusely” about the collective and graffiti throughout the building that cost thousands of dollars to remove.

“Their renting the space doesn’t give them the right to do graffiti,” Pogostin said. “They did damage to the building terribly.”

At a street rally Friday evening, the collective plans to demand reentry into the building to collect its belongings and help from local leaders to find a new space.

“The work is going to continue,” said RodStarz, promising the open mic event would proceed as planned Friday.

“It’s just going to be outside,” he added. “The way that original hip-hop started.”