The Lo-Down Culture Cast

Conversations with culture changers in downtown New York City. Hosted by Arts & Culture Editor Traven Rice.

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Episodes

Jeames Fuentes

9 hours ago

9 hours ago


This week's episode of The Lo-Down Culture Cast features pioneering Lower East Side gallery owner James Fuentes.
Host Traven Rice spoke with Fuentes about how growing up in the neighborhood influenced his creative aesthetics and the intention behind the gallery, which he opened in a live/work space on St. James Place in 2007. Those were the early days when the Lower East Side was just beginning to be recognized as an art gallery neighborhood.
Fuentes was born on the Lower East Side to Ecuadorian immigrant parents and was raised on the Lower East Side, residing in the Vladeck Houses during his early years, and later in the South Bronx.
The gallery moved to its location at 55 Delancey Street in 2010 and quickly became a lynchpin in the gallery scene. Its final exhibit in that space is a large group show curated by Arden Wohl titled "A Study in Form (Chapter Two)." The show closes on May 25th and a block party will ensue.
Since its inception, James Fuentes has "championed a gallery program that is led first by exceptional contemporary artists who are atypical from the conventions of their field. The gallery is known for its focus on humanity, history, and society with a non-exclusionary approach, positioning itself as a leader in the field as our contemporary institutions seek to do the same. In the spring of 2023, the gallery opened an outpost in the Melrose Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles, and in March 2024 it inaugurated its new location at 52 White Street in Tribeca." 
 
 

Photographer Alain Levitt

Monday May 13, 2024

Monday May 13, 2024


For this edition of The Lo-Down Culture Cast, host Traven Rice speaks with photographer Alain Levitt. Alain is well known in the neighborhood as an artist and the co-owner of the beloved restaurant Bacaro. Alain recently celebrated the publication of his first official photo book, "Alain Levitt, NYC 2000-2005," edited by Tim Barber. It features a series of photos of the downtown "creative class" in New York during the early 2000s and serves as a celebratory time capsule from this time period. Along with the book, Alain has a solo show at the gallery Whaam! (15 Elizabeth St.) on view through May 25.
Alain talked with Traven about his arrival in early 2000 from Los Angeles. He ended up on the Lower East Side, working for the NY Post as a street photographer and then later at the (in)famous bar, The Cock. From there, he went on to co-host a party at The Hole, a bar where all sorts of creative people crossed paths and hung out, and eventually became co-owner of Bacaro with his wife, Kama Geary.
Living Proof NY writes, "In the early 2000s, New York’s economic landscape created a world in which one could survive off of little. Artists, skaters, graffiti writers, poets & musicians inhabited the city, organically creating style & culture in a way that permeated into the life of the neighborhood. Common streets became legendary as the 14 block radius of downtown New York housed a thriving underground scene flourishing in a carefree time of unhindered creativity. At this time Alain Levitt was hanging out in the Lower East Side on a daily basis with a small film camera on his person. Spending the early 2000s living amongst the people, Alain shot the downtown New York Scene during an era that laid the foundations for events & people that went on to deeply influence the world of skate, graffiti, art & culture. His debut book 'NYC: 2000-2005' is a collection of these photos."
Alain writes that he "grew up free range on the west side of Los Angeles. Skateboarding, Graffiti, Raving - the trifecta of 90’s subcultures- helped inform his world view and gave him a home amongst the outcasts. The same world he would focus his lense on after moving to New York in 2000.
Not yet a photographer, Alain picked up a camera out of necessity. His first job in NY was shooting street fashion for his sister’s, Danielle Levitt, Sunday style column in the New York Post- a job that required carrying a camera 24/7. Alain recalls showing up to Max Fish and being gently made fun of for his oversized Paparazzi rig. His second job, at the infamous gay bar The Cock, gave him a front row seat to a wild NY that was quickly being choked out by Mayor Giuliani and provided enough income for this budding photographer to only work two evenings a week. More time to run the streets. Alain quickly found his community on the Lower East Side. Alife by day, Max Fish at night. And after starting a bi weekly party, with Spencer Sweeny, at The Hole, Alain planted his seed in the downtown scene."
 

Monday Apr 22, 2024


We spoke with Roxy Hunt, Co-Founder of The Lower East Side Film Festival (LESFF), for this week's episode of The Lo-Down Culture Cast. Roxy talked with host Traven Rice about the festival's beginning, founded in 2011 in an interactive storefront, and how they have continued to engage devoted movie fans by creating unique live experiences and surprising programming for the last 14 years.
The festival features the innovative work of creative, up-and-coming filmmakers, and showcases those low budget, independent films. They offer a week of curated films, panels and parties "with a focus on diversity, originality, quality, and impact." And they always find new ways to celebrate counter culture spirit.
The team's production company, BFD Productions, recently launched the Stay Indie Project as a way to connect visionary independent filmmakers with development, financing, and production support. Their first cohort includes four narrative feature projects and two documentaries, all at various stages of development and production.
Learn more about the festival and get tickets here.
If you know local "culture changers" that you think deserve to be spotlighted on The Lo-Down Culture Cast, send us a note here: tips@thelodownny.com

Hester Street Fair

Sunday Apr 07, 2024

Sunday Apr 07, 2024


Host Traven Rice spoke with Hester Street Fair's manager and producer Janine Ciccone for this week’s episode of The Lo-Down Culture Cast. Hester Street Fair kicks off its 15th year next weekend down at the Seaport. Formerly located at Seward Park on Hester Street, off Essex Street, it moved to the Seaport four years ago after losing their lease. 
It's been an incredible incubator for small business over the years and The Lo-Down has featured many of the vendors that have successful "brick and mortar" shops in the neighborhood today. Some of the creative food, fashion and art makers that started at the fair include, Melt Bakery, Cheeky’s, Kopitiam, Round K, Petee’s Pie, Party Bus Bake Shop, La New Yorkina.
In a preview of what's ahead, they write: "As always, the 2024 season will offer visitors a world of creativity, craftsmanship, and culinarydelights. Visit veteran vendors like Hanzawa Market and Red River Vintage for a trove of vintage treasures, or indulge yourself with exquisite handcrafted jewelry from Mottive and Eden’s Harvest. Turn up the heat with Cantina Royal Hot Sauce, or turn down the mood withThe Mantel NYC’s signature candles. And discover goods from a lineup of new vendors this year like ceramics from Dune Brooklyn, beauty products from Clear Morning Wellness, and brownie delights from Snack Lab BK.
And to our beloved food enthusiasts: indulge in a culinary voyage from the savory delights ofTacos El Guero to Brooklyn’s own Big Mozz, who will make their triumphant return in a newly revamped food truck. For cheese connoisseurs, Sunday is your day to cruise by ColuccioCooks for a taste of Southern Italy with their Caciocavallo Impiccato — a delicacy dating back centuries. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing gooey, soft cheese suspended over a grill, be sure not to miss."

Ellen Weinstein

Monday Apr 01, 2024

Monday Apr 01, 2024


Host Traven Rice spoke with Author-Illustrator Ellen Weinstein for this week's episode of The Lo-Down Culture Cast. Ellen's vibrant picture book, Five Stories (for children and adults alike) is being released this month. The story features five children, from five different cultures (Russian, Italian, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Chinese) through five different decades, who grow up in the same tenement building on the Lower East Side of New York City.
Ellen is a third-generation resident of the LES, and the story begins with her grandmother and continues to the present. Her grandparents and great-grandparents came to the Lower East Side as part of the Great Wave of Immigration from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.
She writes: "Research for this book was conducted over eighteen months, during which time I met with and interviewed historians, curators, and librarians at the Tenement Museum, Eldridge Street Synagogue, Henry Street Settlement, Seward Park Library, and the principals and students at Public School 1 and Public School 42. I asked my neighbors and friends about their stories of migration and the stories of their parents and grandparents. While listening to all these different stories, I found they had much in common."
The book is a love letter to the neighborhood and a poignant depiction of the diverse cultural heritage that continues to make the Lower East Side such a fascinating place.
 

Pat Enkyo O'Hara

Monday Mar 25, 2024

Monday Mar 25, 2024


Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, PhD, is the Abbot and co-founder of The Village Zendo, a contemporary Zen center based in downtown Manhattan. A Soto Zen priest and modern day American Zen Teacher, O'Hara integrates traditional meditation and koan practice with social engagement and peacemaking. 
A Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, she taught for many years at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, centering on new media technologies, media ecology and social justice. Her focus is on the expression of Zen through caring, service, and creative response. (Host Traven Rice has studied formally with O'Hara for many years.)
Roshi O’Hara’s writing has appeared in Tricycle, Lion's Roar, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma and other Buddhist journals, as well as her books, Most Intimate, A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges and A Little Bit of Zen. Her numerous talks can be found on YouTube here.
She was an early pioneer in the field of teaching Zen - and Engaged Buddhism - in America. Today she continues to encourage practitioners from all walks of life to incorporate social action, compassionate care-taking and creative expression into their daily practice.

Veselka the Movie

Friday Mar 08, 2024

Friday Mar 08, 2024


This week on The Lo-Down Culture Cast we spoke the trio behind the new documentary, Veselka: The Rainbow on the Corner at the Center of the World. Filmmaker Michael Fiore, who wrote, directed and produced the film, joined host Traven Rice, along with Tom and Jason Birchard, the 2nd and 3rd generation owners of Veselka, the restaurant, to talk about the experience of making the film right as the Ukrainian war broke out.
The restaurant has been around for 70 years on 2nd Avenue and E. 9th Street and has been a refuge for Ukrainian immigrants, not to mention generations of New Yorkers living downtown, since it's beginning.  As a neighborhood hub focused on community and refugees, we also talked about what it's been like to keep the business running during these tumultuous times.
 

Steven Matrick

Sunday Mar 03, 2024

Sunday Mar 03, 2024


This week on the Culture Cast we spoke with Steven Matrick, Co-Founder of The New Colossus Festival, which is happening at eight different venues on the Lower East Side from March 6 - 10. Over 130 bands from all over the world will be playing at Arlene's Grocery, Pianos, Rockwood Music Hall, Mercury Lounge, Heaven Can Wait, Berlin and Baker Falls.
The festival was started in 2019 in an effort to bring live indie music back to the Lower East Side. Steven manages the band A Place to Bury Strangers and recently started his own label, Dedstrange.
We talked about the challenges of surviving as an indie rock band in the post-pandemic era, and in the new "Spotify-social media-landscape," as well as what new creative models for musicians might look like and we got a preview of some of the lineups he's most excited about at this year's festival.
You can listen to the 2024 Festival Playlist here.

Bonnie Lucas

Tuesday Feb 27, 2024

Tuesday Feb 27, 2024


An assemblage piece in Bonnie Lucas' exhibit, "Small Worlds," currently showing at Trotter&Sholer (168 Suffolk St.)
This week we spoke with artist Bonnie Lucas, who currently has a show at the gallery Trotter&Sholer on Suffolk Street. Bonnie has been creating intricate assemblages, collages, drawings and paintings that deconstruct the cliches of girlhood for the past five decades.  We first met Bonnie in the early days of The Lo-Down (in 2011!) when she had a show that caught our interest at Esopus Gallery. 
Her work is described by Trotter&Sholer as being "focused on feminine themes: domesticity, identity, and childhood. She dismantles feminine objects and reassembles them to new configurations of art."
The imagery and stories she creates with found objects and material she scavenges from dollar stores seem sweet and child-like at first glance, but upon closer examination reveal the disturbing and often violent experience of girlhood in our American culture.
You can see more of her work on her Instagram page here.
Small Worlds is on view at 168 Suffolk St. through March 2nd, 2024.

Hannah Traore

Sunday Feb 18, 2024

Sunday Feb 18, 2024


Kicking off our next series of interviews with culture changers in downtown New York is our conversation with gallery Founder and Director Hannah Traore. She's an up and comer in the NY art and fashion scene who's been widely recognized for taking "old guard" gallery owners to task, especially when it comes to artist representation. Host Traven Rice spoke with her about putting down roots in the neighborhood, becoming involved in the community and what she looks for when deciding to feature boundary-pushing artists in her space on Orchard Street.
One of Hannah's early shows, "Beghairati Ki Nishaani: Traces of Shamelessness, a solo exhibition of work by Misha Japanwala," featured a bold new collection of the young Pakistani artist's breast plates and custom nipple moldings. Japanwala molds the body to create casts that are worn as sculptural garments, and notes that her "practice is an insistence for marginalized bodies to occupy physical space, emphasizing the notion that our bodies shouldn’t need to prove anything other than being allowed to simply exist."
Hannah's most recent show, "Chella Man: It Doesn't Have to Makes Sense," features the 25-year old deaf, trans, bi-cultural artist, Chella Man, and was his first solo show in New York.
Hannah Traore Gallery, located at 150 Orchard Street, opened just over two years ago. It is a space "committed to advocating for and celebrating artists who have been  historically marginalized from the mainstream narrative. Whether underrepresented, overlooked, or  exploited, HTG is building a path forward to share their extraordinary visions with the world." 
Born and raised in Toronto, Hannah Traore developed an affinity for art and an appreciation for diverse  perspectives from a young age. Her mother, an art collector and fiber artist, infused art into every part of  her life while her father, a Malian immigrant, immersed her in his culture, which introduced her to issues of representation in the art world  and beyond.
Hannah was recently included in the 2023 "Forbes 30 under 30" list in Art & Style and Apollo Magazine’s 2023 "40 under 40" USA list. 

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