AS220 at 25

By GREG COOK  |  August 13, 2010

CRENCA: My last 800 bucks. That's all I had. And I wanted to do something. And I put it down on the rent and bought some supplies and hoped that we could figure out how to pay the rent the next month. And that's how [AS220] started.

RICHARD GOULIS, former AS220 gallery manager: [AS220 above PPAC] was a catacomb of rooms, lots of different rooms here and there. Some were studios, some were just all-purpose type of things, there was a larger central area that was the main performance space. [For "American Free Circus,"] Garland [Farwell] took all these rooms and got all these individual artists and groups of artists to do things in these individual rooms. I built a box, sort of a long coffin-type box, it wasn't shaped like a coffin, but it was long enough for me to lie down in. I just spoke incessantly, nonstop, sort of stream of consciousness, for I think it ended up being three or four hours, maybe more. There were holes at the ends of the box with a little cheesecloth covering it so you could put your ear up to the end of the box and listen to me. I remember Bert coming in at one point, he's like, "I don't know what you're doing in there, but I want to be a part of it."

CLAUSEN: The folks at PPAC very politely, they were kind of taken aback at some of the extreme events we had, like the "Final Incision" night. They had sculpture of something that smells bad, which was a dead pigeon, a used tampon, and some other stinky horrible thing on crucifixes. And performances that were religiously irreverent, culminating in Sleep Chamber playing. They were just burning tons of wormwood and had this enormous droning music that if you stepped out of PPAC and walked five blocks away you just heard it. It was so loud and so intense you just sort of felt the building was going to beam up or something.

CRENCA: One of the board members came outside and they thought there was like a satanic worship going on in their building and informed [PPAC director] Lynn Singleton. And Lynn politely told us we were probably going to need a new space, even though he was in support of the idea. They were great. And they were right. The walls were getting all graffitied all through PPAC. We couldn't control it. We didn't have security. And we were on the third floor. And we were literally letting anything happen.

ED TALBOT, early AS220 resident: [At AS220's new location on Richmond Street] there was no electricity to speak of. We managed to find one fuse box, and I was an electrician by trade back then. I got some fuses and put them in the fuse box and that turned the lights on. That was really a good sign in the beginning. Then after that things got done a little bit at a time. One of the artists who rented space at AS220 snaked out the sewer line, which needed to be done. Real nitty-gritty things that needed to be done. Eventually a local plumber brought up a water line from the basement. The basement of the building had about three feet of water in it, because the sump pumps hadn't been running and I guess most of downtown the groundwater is right there. That was a problem. It was an incredible mess. Over that first year we overcame that sort of stuff and eventually even had working rest rooms and eventually even a shower. And of course all of that was being overlooked by the local authorities. I think there was a certain amount of sympathy from the [Rhode Island State Council on the Arts] and some of the local politicians unofficially. Even the police tended to be fairly benign to us.

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