Manhattan's One and Only Cultural District 

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There aren't many cultural districts in Manhattan—only one, in fact. One recognized, endorsed area of the city that has been cordoned off as a haven for the city's most storied cultural institutions.

For those New Yorkers who love music, dance and Off and Off-Off-Broadway theater, you've surely already walked this district—along East 4th Street and the surrounding blocks—perhaps without realizing the area's cultural significance. This is the epicenter of the Fourth Arts Block (FAB), an organization that has been charged with establishing, protecting and promoting the artists, art groups and buildings that have made the East Village the hotbed of creativity it is. For the last six years, FAB has worked not only to preserve decaying buildings in the area, but also to coordinate the marketing efforts of its members, recently opening a street-side ticket booth—sort of like TKTS—where passersby can receive discounts for tickets to member shows.

While arts organizations across the nation have been suffering through the worst recession in generations, FAB has brought a community together to brave the tough times as a united front. Its executive director, Tamara Greenfield, sat down with The L to talk about the past, present and future of Manhattan’s one and only cultural district.

The L Magazine: How did FAB come to be?
Tamara Greenfield: Well this block has had a history of being a home for the art of different immigrants for the last 100 years. A lot of these buildings were set up as theaters, Yiddish theaters and union organizing halls. And these groups served as a home to the immigrant groups that came to this city. The history of organizing these groups goes all the way back to the late 1950s, when the Cooper Square Committee fought a plan to tear down this whole area to build a superblock of sorts.

But the more recent history begins at the end of the Giuliani term. The city started to unload lots of city-owned property, like community gardens, and the Cooper Square Committee with all the artists, launched a unified effort to keep the arts groups here. This organization coalesced in 2001, and then that became a formal organization in 2003 and as we all worked together, and started securing political support, we managed to convince the city to sell off eight properties at $8 a piece, locations that would become permanent arts facilities.

At the beginning of 2006, once the buildings had been sold, FAB was able to finally get funding, since funders now knew that this district was really going to happen. And later that year, the first paid staff person came on board, with the mission of organizing this community.

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