AS220 at 25

By GREG COOK  |  August 13, 2010

CLAUSEN: We took 200 tons of debris out of this building with volunteer help. It was a huge community effort to do this building on Empire Street. A real grass roots development project. We worked with a non-union branch of a construction company. They would knock down a stairway and all the bricks would fall in the basement and they would say, "Okay, take those out."

LAPHAM: We were rehabbing Empire Street and in the Perishable [Theatre] basement there was a toilet that had been abandoned because it was full of shit, like literally brimming. And it had to be removed. And nobody was touching it. And everybody was like, "No way. I'm not doing that." And then Bert walked downstairs with a sledgehammer. I think he announced that he was going to go do it. But he went down and I think somebody came running up the stairs to get away from it. And we just heard a huge crash and he was just shouting in horror.

NEAL WALSH, AS220 gallery director and former resident: It was like '94, so nobody comes downtown. People just leave. It's a ghost town on the weekends. Empire Street in particular was the center of male prostitution in the city of Providence. So you'd be walking down the street and be hit on and offered drugs, cars would slow down and cruise you. And there'd just be people hanging out to see shows and stuff. There was always this weird mixture. You'd have drag queens brawling. Looking out the window at night and seeing people getting blow jobs on the hoods of cars.

CRENCA: Shawn Wallace was extremely instrumental in a lot of the post-purchase-of-the-building-development of AS220. He was in large part the architect of the different systems and stuff for making AS220 work — developing financial management systems, all the technology stuff, even structuring how we booked shows, everything. I think one of the things about what made Shawn coming on full-time [so important] was the changes that happened to me in terms of letting go and trusting. It's very common in the development of something like this where the founder is holding everything in their head and holding the reins pretty tight. It's your baby, you're worried about the values and the ideas being maintained and all this stuff. I had trusted a whole lot of people along the way or we would never have gotten where we did. But I would say it wasn't really until Shawn came on as managing director that I fully started to let go of the reins, or loosen up on the reins.

ADAMS: For a while, there was a strict minimum wage policy for all of the staff, even Bert, everybody worked for minimum wage. I remember distinctly at a board meeting, Bert said, "Hey, if this is good enough for the government, it's good enough for us."

ANGEL QUINONEZ, AS220 teacher and former resident: It was a bunch of us kooks living on the third floor [at Empire Street]. It was sort of like The Real World before The Real World. I wasn't really exposed to all this performance art stuff. You go out, you come back at night and there's this guy with no pants and a chef costume and his butt painted white and he's pouring wine over his body.

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