Boycott Ends at University of the Streets, 5C Cultural Center Still in Limbo

Kirk-Jones Quintet Street UniversityDan Glass Kirk-Jones Quintet at University of the Streets

The boycott of University of the Streets is over, a group of musicians announced in a statement posted by Brooklyn Vegan today. But it’s not necessarily back to business as usual for the jazz venue: its director, Saadia Salahuddeen, said it would likely head in a new musical direction in the coming months to help pay the bills.

“I’ve always supported the musicians that can’t get paying gigs, who are more improvisational, experimental, and given them a place to play,” Ms. Salahuddeen told The Local. Moving forward, she said, “We will service another community of musicians, change our focus to another group that needs attention.”

That shift is a result of ongoing financial pressures on the nonprofit performance space and a result of the negotiations between University and a coalition of musicians represented by the Local 802 union. As part of the agreement that brought the boycott to a close, the venue will end its “pay-to-play” policy, which required bands to pay a fee if too few paying customers came to see their show.

IMG_7699 5C Cultural Center

The dispute began last September after a member of the band Talibam! got into a fight with a University employee over the $50 fee after no one showed up to see the band play. Brooklyn Vegan posted a photo of bassist Kevin Shea with a large cut on his cheek and linked to a Facebook post from Shea saying, “Please boycott this place, they are bad, bad people.” Later that month, Ms. Salahuddeen told The Local that she was “extremely apologetic” that Mr. Shea had been injured.

In a statement, a group calling itself the University of the Streets Musicians Committee (which did not include Mr. Shea, as he told The Local he was not involved in negotiations) said it had shared its grievances with Ms. Salahuddeen in January and met with her in April, coming to an agreement to end the “pay to play” policy. “These musicians have shown again that collective action really works,” Local 802’s statement said.

But Ms. Salahuddeen said that to keep the venue open without the $50 charge (which she described as “a pittance”) she would have to pursue more reliable acts — even if it meant losing some of its grassroots appeal. “We have to find a new balance, so we don’t take a loss every time,” she said. “We’re not funded right now and we have to find a way to pay the bills.”

Meanwhile, another embattled alternative venue, the 5C Cultural Center and Cafe, is trying to get up and running again. After winning a battle against its landlords in March, the center is now undergoing renovations to deal with plumbing and electrical issues at its storefront on East Fifth Street and Avenue C. “There are bureaucratic snafus with the Dept. of Buildings and now the Con Ed. strike- We still aren’t sure when we can open,” read a note posted on its Website last month.

The overhaul will cost an estimated $12,400, according to an application filed with the Department of Buildings in June. Trudy Silver, wife of 5C owner Bruce Morris and occasional performer at the art space, said she had no idea when it would open again, since it was waiting on a permit from the buildings department. “We’re doing our best,” she said. “We want to open as soon as possible.”