ABC No Rio

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Cover of the book: ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (1985) Edited by Alan W. Moore and Marc Miller. New York: ABC No Rio with Colab. Cover art by Joseph Nechvatal
Interior of ABC No Rio

ABC No Rio is a collectively-run arts organization on New York City's Lower East Side.

Founded in 1980 at 156 Rivington Street, it featured an art gallery space, a zine library, a darkroom, a silkscreening studio, and public computer lab. In addition, it played host to a number of radical projects in New York City, including weekly hardcore punk matinees and the NYC Food Not Bombs collective.[1] In July 2016, ABC No Rio vacated the building in advance of demolition and construction of a new facility for its programs, projects and operations, including the silkscreen studio, zine library, art exhibitions and music shows.



Beginning in the late 1960s, Manhattan's Lower East Side was facing massive disinvestment by absentee landlords—by the late 1970s up to 80% of the area's housing stock was abandoned and in rem (seized by the city's government for non-payment of taxes). By the late 1970s and 1980s, a growing squatter movement and a small but visible “downtown” arts scene developed from within the burgeoning gentrification of the largely Puerto Rican community in the Lower East Side.[citation needed]

ABC No Rio itself grew out of the 1979 The Real Estate Show, organized by the artists' group Colab (Collaborative Projects), in which a large group of artists seeking to foster connections between these communities occupied an abandoned building at 123 Delancey Street and turned it into a gallery to show solidarity with working people in a critique of the city's land use policies—policies that in essence kept buildings empty until the area again attracted investment from developers—and a demonstration of what can be achieved through solidarity. The show was to explicitly "illuminate no legal issues" and it called for "no rights"; instead, it was "preemptive and insurrectionary." The show opened to the public on January 1, 1980; it was promptly shut down before the morning of January 2 by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). In the following negotiations with HPD, the organizers of The Real Estate show were granted the use of the building at 156 Rivington Street. That space became ABC No Rio.[2] The name derives from the remaining letters of a mostly burnt-out Neon sign that was in the front window of the building. It had read: "Abogado Con Notario," which means "lawyer and notary public" in Spanish. But all that remained were the letters "Ab C No rio".[3][4][5]

ABC No Rio was conceived of as an "art-making center," a community-oriented alternative to what its founders perceived as an overly hierarchical art world and gallery scene. It was to be "a place where you could do things that wouldn’t even cross your mind to do in a gallery."[6]

Past legal struggles[edit]

In the negotiations following the occupation of 123 Delancey St, ABC No Rio was given tacit permission to use its current building, located at 156 Rivington Street. ABC No Rio was in legal limbo for decades, sometimes a squat, sometimes paying a small rent to the city. In 1994, the city revoked ABC No Rio's commercial lease and stopped accepting their rent checks. The city planned on selling the building to Asian Americans for Equality for only $4,000. In October 1994, in response to the attempted eviction, a few activists began squatting the upper floors of the building, which had been unused for several years. The squatters' presence stalled the eviction proceedings for several years, along with the community-based protests, which resulted in several arrests. ABC No Rio refused to give up the space and embarked on a project of raising money and reforming their image, to appear to be a more legitimate organization in the eyes of the city.

In 1997, the city agreed to sell the building to ABC No Rio for $1 provided ABC could raise the money to renovate the building and bring it up to code, and that the squatters living in the upper floors of the building vacate to free the space for public use. After three years, the squatters, numbering around 10 and including a young family, left their apartments, which were converted to a zine library, a "Food Not Bombs" kitchen, a silk screening studio, a computer lab, and other artist spaces. Over the years the city changed the scope and price of renovation several times, until 2004 when it was agreed that renovation could be broken into three phases and that the property would be sold when the collective had the funds for phase one in place. On June 29, 2006, the city completed the proposed sale, selling 156 Rivington St. to ABC No Rio for $1, still including the provision that the organization must raise the rest of the money to renovate the building.[7]

Current projects[edit]

ABC No Rio is a collective of collectives; the individual projects enjoy a great deal of autonomy in their day-to-day affairs. Building-wide matters are addressed at building collective meetings. Some of the current projects are:

Development project[edit]

In 2006 ABC No Rio acquired the property at 156 Rivington Street and began planning to build a new multi-use arts center with photo darkroom, screenprinting facility, small press library, computer center, expanded space for art, music, performance, educational and community activities, and meeting and office space for ABC No Rio and other organizations.

Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2018.[citation needed]

ABC No Rio's new building has been designed by architect Paul Castrucci to meet the rigorous Passive House standard for energy efficiency. It will be significantly more efficient than the state energy code requires.

Passive House focuses on achieving deep building energy use reductions. The methods to be employed feature a super-insulated thermal envelope, high performance windows, robust air sealing, energy recovery ventilation and heating, passive heating/shading, and high efficiency lighting and appliances. This will result in an extraordinary reduction in energy use and carbon emission.

Punk and hardcore[edit]

Perhaps ABC No Rio's best known project is the Punk/Hardcore Collective. Since December 1989, ABC No Rio has hosted weekly punk/hardcore matinees on Saturday afternoons. For most of the 1980s, the NYC punk/hardcore scene had been focused around the Sunday matinees at CBGB's. These shows devolved into weekly bloodbaths due to gang violence and, therefore, in November 1989, CBGB's stopped hosting them. The new shows at ABC No Rio were carefully set up to be devoid of the violence, homophobia, sexism, and machismo that took over the CBGB's matinees, and to this day follows a policy of booking only independent (i.e., non-major label) bands that do not in any way promote sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on. ABC No Rio is also one of the few places in New York City to host regular punk/hardcore shows that are all-ages. It is often considered the Gilman Street of the East Coast, having hosted and nurtured many of the bands in today's punk scene.

Zine library[edit]

ABC No Rio holds a large collection of zines formerly hosted by the now-defunct Lower East Side radical bookstore and infoshop Blackout! Books. The collection spans over two decades, and features many zines with a radical political perspective, or a focus on punk and other DIY art forms. Some titles include: Love & Rage, Maximum RocknRoll, Profane Existence, Slug and Lettuce, Retard Riot as well as many other less regularly printed or single-issue titles.


ABC No Rio hosts a monthly variety show featuring stand-up, storytelling, improvisation, and sketch comedy. Don't You Find Us Charming? is hosted by the comedy team CHESTER. Details and showtimes are on the site's calendar each month.

Food Not Bombs[edit]

The New York chapter of Food Not Bombs used to cook on the second-floor kitchen of ABC No Rio every Sunday, but now cooks at the Catholic Worker. They continue to serve free food in nearby Tompkins Square Park.[8]

Darkroom Collective[edit]

The Darkroom Collective runs a public darkroom on the third floor of ABC No Rio that is open 3 days a week.

Computer lab[edit]

The Computer Center on the fourth floor of ABC No Rio seeks to close the digital divide by providing a public computer lab to the underserved Lower East Side. The computer lab is made up only of donated computers, and runs almost exclusively free or open source software.

Silkscreening Collective[edit]

The Silkscreening Collective runs a public screen-printing studio, also located on the fourth floor.

Books Through Bars[edit]

The Books Through Bars Collective sends free donated books to persons incarcerated in U.S. prisons. BTB used to meet regularly at No Rio, but in anticipation of the building being closed for renovation have relocated their efforts temporarily. Information on the project can still be obtained at ABC No Rio. (see also: Books to Prisoners)


The Citizens Ontological Music Agenda is a project that hosts experimental music, poetry, and other forms of performance on Sunday Evenings.

Visual Arts Collective[edit]

The Visual Arts Collective co-ordinates shows and exhibitions in the main gallery, as well as the bi-annual building-wide Ides of March group exhibit.

The purpose that drives this collective is to maintain a free and spontaneous environment for displaying art, as well as providing a venue for art which may be excluded from the mainstream due to its radical political content.

The visual arts committee has included Amy Westpfahl, Victoria Law, Steven Englander, Mike Estabrook, Vandana Jain, Julie Hair, Alan W. Moore, Jason Lujan, Brian George, Kelly Savage, Michael Cataldi, Joyce Manalo, and many others.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "The 30th Anniversary of Food Not Bombs: Part 4 Cooking for Peace in the 21st Century". Food Not Bombs. Retrieved August 19, 2019.
  2. ^ Max Schumann (ed.) A Book about Colab (and Related Activities) Printed Matter, Inc, 2016, pp.100-119
  3. ^ Kelefa Sanneh (March 7, 2011). "Fish Tales". The New Yorker.
  4. ^ James Trimarco. "ABC No Rio".
  5. ^ "ABC No Rio | History". Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  6. ^ "BOMB Magazine — ABC No Rio by Shelley Leavitt".
  7. ^ "For $1, a Collective Mixing Art and Radical Politics Turns Itself Into Its Own Landlord". The New York Times. July 4, 2006.
  8. ^


  • Alan W. Moore, "Artists' Collectives: Focus on New York, 1975–2000", Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, Blake Stimson & Gregory Sholette, eds, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, pp. 204 & 219
  • Alan W. Moore and Marc Miller, eds., ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery, Collaborative Projects, NY, 1985
  • Max Schumann (ed.) A Book about Colab (and Related Activities) Printed Matter, Inc, 2016, pp. 9-11

Further reading[edit]

  • Moore, Alan W. (2017). "ABC No Rio as an Anarchist Space". In Goyens, Tom (ed.). Radical Gotham: Anarchism in New York City from Schwab's Saloon to Occupy Wall Street. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 201–220. ISBN 978-0-252-08254-2.
  • Nandini Bagchee, Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side (Fordham University Press, 2018)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°43′9″N 73°59′7.5″W / 40.71917°N 73.985417°W / 40.71917; -73.985417