The Legacy of Collective Hardware

The demise, departure, destruction—er, padlocking—of Collective Hardware has resulted in name-calling, accusations, innuendo, bold face lies and controversy. In other words: Same as it ever was. If only this place had collected this much hype in its last few months, they wouldn’t be hocking the hardware now. The closing of Collective Hardware has been volatile, thanks to the aforementioned poor journalism from the mouths of babes who just don’t understand nightlife, try as they might. My emails, Facebook, and cell phone are a battleground of “he saids, she saids” with some “never-evers” thrown in for good—or bad—measure. I doubt the full story of the venue’s downfall will ever come out and, if it does, it will never be believed.

It is hard to summarize a concept as big as Collective. Looking back I guess it’s easy to throw stones and point fingers, but maybe it’s enough to say “they tried.” In a world where acceptance has replaced exceptional, Collective said “go fuck yourself.” They were never polite in their ambitions; they preferred to go through walls rather than around them. They’d often smash a hole when the door would have done nicely. Sometimes things became unreasonable, not logical, extremely dysfunctional and chaotic and, at times, unacceptable. I think therein lies the glory: at its worst it was at its best. All the negatives may have actually been requirements. It was artistic anarchy

The mountain of “ifs” associated with the joint— “if” it was legal or “if” it was safe or “if” it was viable —was not as important as the effort Stuart Bronstein, Rony Rivellini, and crew took to be true to its school. These owners have had accusations and snide remarks thrown at them in poorly researched columns and on the street and are here to speak their piece. If all this negativity were true it would amount to nothing in relation to the ambition that was at the core of Collective Hardware. If rules were bent in order to stay open, get the art up, and stay visible, I say so what?

As the dust settles and we live on without Collective Hardware, one thing is very clear: the owners were never motivated by greed and the place had moments unparalleled in recent times. That in itself is the stuff monuments are made of. Greed is a binding force in nightlife. It lives deep in the heart of all its creatures and, with rare exceptions, creativity is used as a means towards that end. Collective may have gone bust, but not before it showed us that not only is there a path less traveled, there’s a path that’s way more interesting. Creativity for it’s own sake needs no apologies. That which attempts to manipulate, or redefine the status quo, needs no financial reward to be considered a success.

There is a purity in Collective’s demise, a success within its failure. If it hadn’t ended, it would’ve meant that they played it too safe. Sure Rony, Stu, and crew are characters. Who else would throw it all up in the air to chase a dream? We should all thank them for this. So few dreams are chased anymore. I asked Stuart Bronstein and Rony Rivellini to sum it up.

What is the plan? Before I started CH, I wrote a script with my friend Michael Bossion called The Rub. It was a feature based from a short film that I made years ago. I always wanted to make films. Everything I have done lead up to it: set design, the shows that I did at Shine and Joe’s Pub, as well as DJing. I wanted to capture the images and music on something concrete like film because my whole life’s work seemed to be the construction of sandcastles that slipped into the sea just when they where getting started (like CH). It’s like a curse or maybe it’s what I do. I’m starting to feel like it’s what I do. Back to the present. I still have CH productions, which was my pet project, in between plunging toilets and a million other things I had to do in that building to keep it going. Our first project just got released. It’s called Mlarky, or you can find it on MTV.com. It was a co-production with Studio 13, the show was created by Dan Fogler. We are also working on a feature with them called “Don Peyote,” where CH is a character in the film. We already shot that footage. I’m very proud of this project. Dan Fogler is a great talent and I’ve learned a lot from him. Last but not least, I have 1000’s of hours of footage from CH that I’m going to cut into a film. You will be in that one, Steve.

Is it done, done or is there hope? I’m not saying that if a white knight saved CH, I wouldn’t be excited. I always wanted to see it finished, with a restaurant anchoring the business, but I’m not upset that it’s gone. I’m happy that I gave it my all and CH did a lot of good, not only for the art world, but the New York community as well.

When did you accept that Collective wasn’t going to be Warhol’s Factory 21st century? I never wanted CH to be compared to the Warhol Factory. I’m friends with Rony Cutrone and Walter Steading who were a part of that scene, so I knew a lot about it. I looked at CH as an open forum for the cultured, or those that wanted to be. We had no velvet rope, we didn’t need one because the vibe dictated the crowd. Without the rope it seemed to be the who’s who of all the scenes NYC has to offer. Any night at CH you could run in to a writer, director, Nobel Peace prize winners, models, actors, jet-set beatniks, hipsters, uptown socialites, Wall Street moguls, Chelsea boys, and the best of the last New York old school. It was all magical to me. I think the Warhol thing comes up every time a group of artists occupy a space in NYC. I remember years ago the press was calling Dash Snow’s crew “The Next Warhol.” I don’t think we had anything to do with that world except maybe unbridled creative spirit. I guess it’s the press’s only reference point.

Could it have worked? Absolutely. I got the liquor license and one of the top NYC restaurateurs signed on (two weeks before we got evicted). I would love to give the name, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do based on confidentiality agreement. I still think it could be saved, but I’m not crossing my fingers. I’ve moved on.

Would money help you reopen it, or are you thinking of a new location? I’m not considering anything. I did my job, we made it happen with nothing, no capital, and we kept it going, living like cornered rats for two and a half years. It was extremely taxing on my soul. If someone with power, money, and vision wanted to get down, I would raise my eyebrow once again.

In the beginning, myself and tons of other people that maybe you should name, were fixtures there, coming in a few times a week. But over time, people dwindled away. Why did this happen and were the people who replaced them as vibrant? That’s an interesting question. My job—if you can call it that—was to inspire, give opportunity, and curate the people, art, and vibe at CH. I looked at it as an art piece, a circus. I had to. It’s the only thing that kept me sane, because a lot of the time I had to keep the crazies in line. And anyone that knows me knows I’m crazier then them all. I guess some people couldn’t hack it and some people asked for too much and some thought it was a big party. To top it all off, I’m not that easy to deal with. I put the idea before everything and some individuals got lost in the cross hairs. As far as the last team, I will be working with some of them on our productions. There were a few that understood what it took and I am happy to be working with them.

The fire seemed to refocus everyone for a minute but then things slid until the padlock. Is this true or was it vigorously artsy and optimistic ‘till the end? Funny thing about the fire. Rony made me laugh the other day cause I said to him, “Man, we only had 3 weeks of the entire 5th floor building in full operation.” In the basement we had the Monstershop, the main floor was the exhibition space and gallery, the 2nd floor was the hair salon and clothing store and the promising unopened restaurant, the 3rd floor we had the TV station and think tank, the 4th floor held the music studios and the 5th floor was the post production and Eric Foss. For 3 weeks it was amazing to walk up and down the stairs with the whole thing busting with creative energy. So Rony said, “That’s what probably ignited the fire.” I think I agree with him. As far as the last months, there was a feeling that the end was near, but we took the time to work on the productions- less party more work. Although Peter Makebish’s show “In Dialogue” was one of the top events we had, it was good to go out with a big bang I guess.

Is it the end, my friend, the one and only end, my friend? I think so. I’m planning on moving upstate, to learn how to grow my own food. The city just is too much for me full time, I’ll be back and forth.

Tell me a brief history of the fire and its aftermath. I’ve seen so many conflicting tales The fire put the nail in the coffin. We already had many problems before the fire, after that it was just a vicious attack on us from all sides. It was hard to do anything, we just did many fundraisers for good causes and made no money. I was, I hate to admit this, literally living on pennies until the bitter end. I think NYC is just not ready for something like this. In today’s business models there seems to be a need for some major immediate financial return. I was looking to grind out something special. We put our balls on the table, Rony and I. It was selfless. We took pride in giving back to the NYC community. I guess that’s just not the trend these days. Lady Gaga is. What is the legacy of collective? The legacy is that it was a real Collective, everyone donated their time to it with passion. I would like to personally thank every single person that was involved with the project. If it wasn’t for you–and this means you as well, Mr. Lewis–it could never have happened. It was a combination of artists, philosophers, techies, gurus, healers, producers, personalities. It was the NYC I missed and the NYC I didn’t think existed anymore. Rony and I did the best that we could with the tools that we had, to keep it together as long as we could. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart! I hope the experience will not be forgotten by all of you. I will never forget it.

Hey, Rony Rivellini, what would you have done differently? I would have tried a different approach to fundraising, maybe bring in a pro.

What will you do now? I will take some time to reflect, work on the documentary. Maybe take a much-needed vacation.

Is there still art behind the padlocks? And if so will it be returned to the artists? All items will be returned this week

Were there enemies and if so who were they? Time was our enemy and it won.

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