By James Maher
Name: Willie Correa
Occupation: Artist, Sound Engineer
Location: East 3rd Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A
Time: 2:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9
I basically had a long history here, but I’ll just give you a quick rundown. I got to the Lower East Side very young — in 1954. I was 2 years old. I grew up and I’ve seen the neighborhood transition. Imagine Avenue C back in the late 1950s. It was still a lot of Jewish stores and stuff like that.
There was a mixture always of different ethnicities. There were the Ukrainians, the Jews, the Italians. My older brother lived kind of through a "West Side Story" thing. He got stabbed. He was going out with an Italian girl. Just like the movie; just like the play. I’ve seen all that. It still has that mixture, but the gentrification has taken it to an extreme.
I was one of the founding directors of the Nuyorican Poets Café, but I’m no longer on the board or stuff like that. I got involved because I’m an artist. [The different arts] at the time all kind of ping ponged off each other. They vibrated off each other and went in their own directions, but it was a mix. I was a sound engineer. That’s why Miguel got me into the café because we needed to hear the poets. Back then in 1974 the audio systems were very poor until I started for them. We started doing broadcasts on WBAI live.
I found the building on East Third Street for them. The structure actually belonged to La MaMa, and [founder Ellen Stewart] basically turned it over to us because we didn’t have enough room at the time.
The neighborhood was going down the tubes. It was a small little bar and we needed the to accommodate all of the interests. So we went back into the neighborhood, took the building, but it took us a long time to come back to the level where we were on Sixth Street, because the neighborhood was diving. It was drug infested. We got a little grant to renovate the building through the city. It was terrible. They messed up the building.
Now I’m working with Taller Boricua in the Barrio, but I still live in the neighborhood. I do their content management. They’ve been around for 40 years and I actually connected with them through the Nuyorican. It’s in the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center on 106th Street. I’m also shooting their work now. They’ve got 40 years of original prints, which nobody can afford, so we’re doing a whole series to make affordable versions.
I’ll tell you one thing — you know the new building that they’re putting up on Avenue A? The Wall Street kids need a place to live and stuff like that, which is cool, but I go by yesterday and you see the sign they’ve got now? It’s this female and she looks like a beached whale. Give me a break. How low can you go? I’m not a woman but it’s low, man.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.