Photo of Lower East Side legend Cochise by Clayton Patterson.
Throughout the past year, Clayton Patterson has written about the crucial figures and courageous artists of the Lower East Side. He honored them this week at the Acker Awards at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk Street. I attended the award show. Many guests were familiar faces to me, but others were urban legends I had only heard about on the street. I spoke to Clayton to learn more about the legends, the ceremony, and how he plans to continue preserving the Lower East Side's true essence.
VICE: How did the Acker Awards start?
Clayton Patterson: The Acker Awards is a tribute given to members of the avant-garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in defiance of convention or have served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways. The award is named after novelist Kathy Acker, who in her life and work exemplified the risk taking and uncompromising dedication that identifies the true avant-garde artist. The Acker Awards are granted to both living and deceased members of the New York or San Francisco communities.
What inspired you to create the ceremony?
PEN, the writers group, was soliciting members to suggest names for the prestigious Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. I was pushing Jim Feast. I called my friend Alan Kaufman in San Francisco, and we got talking about awards. Alan, born and raised in the Bronx, is a member of PEN. His latest book, Drunken Angel, is winning him all kinds of high praise in the literary world. In the course of our conversation, he agreed that so many of the artists in the underground and avant-garde world add so much to our culture, but are so often overlooked. We kicked around the idea of an award ceremony, and he came up with the name Acker Awards. Soon after, we were both hard at work making the Ackers happen.
Photo of Clayton Patterson and Bob Holman by Hugh Burckhardt.
How did you choose the cities where the events would be held?
The cities were chosen for their historic linkage as centers for the avant-garde. In time, though, communities in other cities will be asked to participate. The providers of the Acker Awards are Alan Kaufman for San Francisco and me for New York City. The recipients were determined through extensive discussion with members of the arts communities in both cities. This year’s recipients will have the opportunity to both nominate and vote for future recipients of the Acker Awards.
Video by the author.
How do you plan to keep the Acker Awards kicking strong throughout the years to come?
One of our goals was to bring together, in one tent, a diverse group representing as many different factions of the avant-garde, underground, creative scene as we could. To acknowledge, honor, recognize, and give thanks to those special individuals who opened the doors, served as an example, and cut the path making it easier for others to move ahead.
For example, in order for anarchist theater to survive, the Judith Malina Living Theater was forced to leave America and tour in Brazil, where they were imprisoned. The publisher Barney Rosset fought many court battles to get the right to publish outlawed books. Peter Missing, an artist and musician, was forced to move to Europe, because of the cost of survival. Anthony Dominguez, a homeless artist and musician, produces beautiful art under very hard conditions. Joseph Cammarata has done much to bring back the life to NYC Hard Core, and Lucien Bahaj received the award because he has fed and taken care of artists over the years—Zak, his son, accepted the award on his behalf.
Wow. Their rad work really influenced our culture. Thanks for sharing their stories, Clayton.
Previously – Lost at Sea with Adam Mignanelli