Inside SoHo’s Frozen Zone: Plywood, Protests, and Paint
On the day after the election, a few locals drinking outside of Fanelli Cafe on Prince Street could be heard debating the reason why SoHo was once again boarded up. One man insisted that the city was headed for another Covid-19 outbreak, and that the stores were preparing that reality; the other man fired back that the neighborhood was on high alert over fear of “Make America Great Again” protesters who felt the election might be stolen. A third man – the younger drinking buddy – explained that this time, the shops were crated up to be shipped to South Beach, Miami for the winter.
By early Wednesday night, though, it became clear the reason SoHo was fully wrapped in enough plywood to look like a Christo public art project was to prevent looters from exploiting peaceful protests like those during the Justice for George Floyd marches over the summer.
It’s like deja vu, with many who hunkered down in SoHo throughout the pandemic feeling as if they awoke from a Covid fever dream and stepped into an election nightmare.
By 8pm that night, the worst case scenario of a president declaring an election “illegal” or refusing to leave office was becoming a reality. The NYPD had blocked off streets into SoHo at Broadway and Lafayette and the historic district became a “Frozen Zone” for public safety and to prevent looting. Later that night, protestors demonstrating to protect the vote were “kettled” on 8th Street and Broadway after an attempted rally at Washington Square Park.
Protest art simultaneously staged a comeback in SoHo on Wednesday night. Boogie caught up with the SoHo Renaissance Crew on the corner of Howard and Broadway, where Amir Diop completed a street long protest mural along one of the boarded storefronts. The crew that banded together during the pandemic shutdown in SoHo never stopped painting the streets as part of the city’s comeback. In fact, they were recently awarded a month long residency at the NOMO Hotel in SoHo on Lafayette street, where the now unused nightclub has become their studio and home base.
Local photographer Kurt Boone was also on the scene snapping pictures and showcasing a sample proof of a book he is developing on the street art scene during the New York City shutdown. That night a group met a fellow street artist nicknamed OneRadLatina, who was working on her own piece. With the help of their new friend, SoHo Renaissance obtained permission to paint the boards on the New York Public Library on 5th ave. the next day.
The role of public art in the city’s comeback can’t be overlooked. Despite challenging times, artists are still drawn to SoHo because of its culturally rich history as a hub of creativity. SoHo’s Post-Covid future remains as uncertain as the election now that the city is embarking on a major effort to upzone the historical district. But for now, the SoHo Renaissance Crew and many other street artists have tons of fresh plywood to showcase their talent. The difference this time, though, is that the boards aren’t really blank; they are already primed with local politics, as it’s small businesses, and artist loft residences that are all at stake with Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning efforts.
All photos courtesy of Eddie Panta.