The hustle and bustle of Manhattan is legendary, but I don’t think it is so poignantly captured anywhere as it is on the Lower East Side. A mixture of struggling artists, immigrant culture, historical landmarks, a yearning for a sense of family and community, and an element of crime and danger has made the neighborhood what it is. However, an evolving gentrification has become more and more prevalent throughout the years, pricing out the people that gave the area its character, and many of them have had to move away. Mom and pop businesses are forced to close their doors as the big boys are moving in. Those still standing can do little other than to turn away from eyesores like the 7-11 that now stands on Ave. A. But there’s one woman that’s not going down without a fight.
Wendy Scripps was born in the Bay Area of California, but moved to Manhattan in 1982. Her mother, a Brooklyn native, told Wendy she was born to be a New Yorker. “Once I got to New York, I knew that was where I was supposed to be,” says Scripps. “It fit like a glove.” Scripps’ parents were both active in the art communities. Her mother was a dancer, well ahead of her time. She was a Martha Graham dancer and the first to teach the art of Bharatanatyam (an ancient Indian dance) in America. Scripps’ father was active in the theater community doing stage design, but also loved rock n’ roll music. He began taking Scripps to rock n’ roll shows at a young age.
Scripps’ father urged her to be active in the rock n’ roll community. “I was bartending and doing security and working in illegal after-hours. My father kept on saying ‘We should buy you a club’.” Although she liked the idea, she didn’t want to get into the headache of having her own club, dealing with things like a liquor license, staff, and overhead. Instead, she decided to start promoting her own shows. And so, Wendigo Productions was born. “We’re sticking to local bands,” says Scripps of the company. “We want to get their faces out there and we invite people in the industry so they can come out and see the bands play so they can get possibly get out there and signed.” Scripps has worked with bands like Killcode, who have since gone on to play arena shows and will be opening for KISS in a couple of weeks. She is currently focusing on New York band Ten Ton Mojo, hoping they will be the next band Wendigo Productions launches.
But musicians aren’t the only artists Scripps is intent on helping. As a part of an umbrella to Wendigo Productions, Scripps has opened an art gallery in the East Village called Art On A. She describes it as an “art gallery set up for local artists and photographers.” Scripps likes to feature multi-media formats. She goes on to explain, “We make sure artists get their fair share too. At a lot of fancy galleries, artists usually don’t get that much. Here, we just cover our taxes and get some money into the business and the rest goes to the artists. We feature art that other galleries might not feature because it’s too avante garde.” Scripps hosts a holiday show at the gallery where they sell nothing over $200 so anyone can buy art for a friend as a holiday present. (Scripps requested a shout out to her Art on A staff: “To Raffaele, Rik Rocket, and the crew, without which none of this would be possible.”)
But for Scripps, this is more than just a mission to help starving artists. It’s about taking back a city. Living on the Lower East Side for over 30 years, she has seen the city change in a lot of ways that don’t make her very happy. “A lot of the landmark buildings are being sold and developed into hotels,” notes Scripps. “The thing I loved about living in the Lower East Side and Alphabet City is that Alphabet was considered the independent village. There were no commercial stores or outlets. Now there’s a 7-11 on Ave A and they’re putting a Starbucks in the neighborhood. They’re pushing out small restaurants and businesses and raising rents. For community boards, for elderly people and halfway houses, they’re turning into condos and those people are going to end up on the street. I have a feeling Its going to start looking like a version of the 80’s where there’s going to be a lot of people living on the streets.”
Scripps also notices some new faces that seem to be taking over her neighborhood. “All the rich kids are moving into the neighborhood, the rents are getting high. Some of the rich kids have bad attitudes and they’re very spoiled. My artist friends have to move out because they can’t afford it anymore and a lot of these obnoxious kids take over our bars and our clubs, and a lot of the good rock n roll clubs are disappearing because a lot of these rich kids want bottle service and fancy stuff. I want to smack them in the face or smack their parents for raising them that way. They have very little respect for anybody.”
To that end, Scripps is embarking on her next project, The Wendy Scripps Nonprofit, where she is hoping to create affordable housing for New York artists. Scripps will be buying small apartments around the East Village and studio spaces out in Brooklyn. The artists who live there would just pay their monthly base taxes and bills and have the opportunity to focus on their art. This program will be eligible to artists of all genres. Scripps is hoping to get her nonprofit off the ground sometime next year.
[Wendy Scripps as featured in “American Madonnas and Liars,” an Art on A exhibit. Art by Robert Butcher.]
“I’m trying to make people understand that there’s still a scene here and I’m damned if I’m gonna let that scene disappear. If I can keep it going, I’m gonna keep it going,” says Scripps. I guess that’s why they call her the Godmother of the Lower East Side.
[Images courtesy of CJ Wendy Scripps. Used with permission.]
Marissa Bergen is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. “Spotlight On Local” focuses on independent underground artists in the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk genres.