Warren had all but given up on the beer when someone suddenly handed him one, then another. "Thanks!" he beamed, but as he drank, the atmosphere at this recent benefit, called Art for Air, had developed a Bingo-like quality.
The crowd, mostly from Williamsburg, vied for the chance to snatch up works from 130 famous and not so famous artists, for the price of a $250 ticket. Almost all of these works were worth hundreds, even thousands more, and some were created specifically for the benefit. But art on the cheap wasn't the goalthese patrons and artists were contributing money towards Art for Air's lawyers and educational costs to help stop new power plants slated for Williamsburg.
As the MC called out the first 10 names, the crowd stayed buoyant, cheering when their friends' names were called, and groaning when someone else chose their selection. Toward the end, however, they'd grown weary, but the organizers of Art for Air were joyous: they had sold over 120 works and were much closer to getting rid of the power plants they say are threatening Williamsburg residents' quality of life.
Warren, along with artists Kathleen Gilray and Lisa Mordhorst, started making calls to artists and friends to donate art, time and money two months ago and Art for Air was born. They all live in the same building, a former cold storage facility on Kent Avenue, not far from two power plants. Artist Deborah Masters also lives in that building and is a founding member of Stop the Barge, an association formed to stop the siting of power plants along Williamsburg's waterfront. Masters said that the stack heights of these power facilities aren't high enough to prevent pollutants, some of which can trigger asthma, from going someone's apartment. "The stacks should be 300 feet to avoid going into residential buildings, but this one [the 79.9 megawatt floating barge plant to be built by New York City Energy, LLC] will only go to about 107 feet, practically in our faces," Masters said.
This worries artist and Williamsburg resident Dread Scott. "Sure I'm concerned, I have a 4-year old," said Scott, who contributed a print of the actress Hattie McDaniel, best known for her portrayal of "Mammy" in Gone With the Wind. The print shows McDaniel with the words "If White People Didn't Invent Air What Would We Breathe?" written across her smiling face.
Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki may not have invented air, but they are riding roughshod over environmental laws say Williamsburg residents. "This energy crisis is all about air conditioning," said artist Eve Sussman, who also had a piece in the benefit. "If our city government could convince office buildings in Manhattan to turn town the power by just five degrees, it would make a huge difference." But Giuliani and Pataki don't want the energy situation to escalate to the emergency levels of California, and have said that without these plants, New York City could face an energy crisis by this summer.
But Peter Gillespie, a Williamsburg resident and member of the group Neighbors Against Garbage, and Art for Air's fiscal sponsor, said there are alternatives to building more plants. "Conservation has been pushed to the side," Gillespie said. "Existing plants should be made more clean before you start building new ones. The State is manufacturing a crisis to push privatization and to override environmental laws--there's a lot of money to be made in a deregulated market."
There's also a lot more money to be spent fighting these plants. While the benefit on May 10th raised almost $30,000, this fight has a long way to go. Another plant is in the works, this time, a 1,000-megawatt electricity and steam generating plant that a private developer, Gas Alternative Systems, will build. "We'll most likely have to do another benefit," Warren said.
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