Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The EVAC, an arts venue, replaces FlyeLyfe on 1st Avenue after 1 day in business — why?

Reporting and photos by Stacie Joy

The EVAC is in the works for 215 First Ave. just south of 13th Street. 

According to Steve Hirsch, who's opening the EVAC (East Village Art Collection), the space will be an art gallery with music, spoken word, painting, sculpture, photography and "maybe even a small Calder show." 

"We want to work with the community and showcase East Village artists," said Hirsch, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as having a 25-plus year career in apparel design and merchandising and being "an industry innovator." "There are no galleries on First Avenue in this area."
The EVAC's arrival means that East Village-based artist and entrepreneur P.J. O'Rourke's FlyeLyfe, which moved to this storefront from 11th Street last month, will not be continuing on from this location — after just one day in business. 

According to Hirsch, who was involved with securing the new FlyeLyfe storefront with the goal of expanding the brand: "We had a change in the business plan. We're no longer working with P.J. O'Rourke — we're going in a different direction." 

And this quick turn of events took O'Rourke by surprise. In an interview and subsequent email exchange, O'Rourke described his version of the story. He didn't mention Hirsch by name, referring to him instead as his "so-called business partner," who first bought a print from O'Rourke when he was still hustling his T-shirts, hats and other original designs from the L train.

Hirsch, he said, helped him secure the first FlyeLyfe storefront on 11th Street before Avenue A and First Avenue.

"When it came time to scale up, he offered 215 First Ave. if we signed a partnership. I obliged hesitantly, but obliged nonetheless based on his word of helping it scale 'worldwide.' The new LLC was signed on Jan. 26, and the grand opening was March 19," O'Rourke said. "After hiring a few employees, he decided to make a very authoritarian person in charge of handling and managing employees. The employees were intimidated amongst other things with 'even if you’re not here, you're being filmed.' All this time of preparation, my job was to be the artist and not worry about any of the management and set up at the shop."
O'Rourke said that he "had to put faith and trust into the process." While the grand opening day on March 19 was a success, a "verbal altercation" the night before between a friend of O'Rourke's and Hirsch at the storefront apparently soured relations. Hirsch and the "authoritarian person" allegedly said that the friend wasn't welcome in the space. 

Later on the opening day, according to O'Rourke, his "business partner" then shut down the space.

"I immediately left ... in complete shock. I even came back a couple of hours later and was berated by the authoritarian figure and completely undermined. He said 'you just fucked up, I have been talking to local artists, and we have no problem turning this into an artist space without you,'" per O'Rourke. "I went back to get my stuff ... Not only had they locked me out, but my belongings were also inside and my partner told me it was his. They papered up the entire store, and now a couple of weeks later, they are trying a fly-by-the-seat art gallery, while leaving my livelihood at stake. And that's factually what has happened to me at this point. I really just need to get my stuff back so I can make my living again."

In a follow-up call, Hirsch, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as director of operations for FlyeLyfe, denied this version of the events.

"I have no comment on what Mr. O'Rourke had to say. Mr. O'Rourke's statements are not facts," Hirsch said. "He presented his version of the story, I presented something different." 

He then ended the call by saying "this conversation is over."

For now, O'Rourke is in a holding pattern. You can follow the FlyeLyfe website or Instagram for updates. In the interim, O'Rourke said that he has been working on creating NFTs.


Anonymous said...

This story is a perfect example of why words / phrases like "working with the community" should be outlawed. Who are these people? On the basis of this story, if I were an artist, I would stay miles away from them. I have been impressed while walking around with the galleries that are operating on East 2nd Street (alerted to at least one by an EVG story). These people--watch your back.

Anonymous said...

Well this sucks!

Anonymous said...

Time to lawyer up!

Anonymous said...

Consider it a blessing PJ. This crew seems whack. Looking forward to the return of the donut shop...

Giovanni said...

Talk about an inauspicious opening. This galley could be the next Empire Biscuit. It has all the makings of a really bad reality TV show. They can call it “This Conversation Is Over.”

This reminds me of “The Restaurant”, the really bad reality TV show starring Rocco DiSpirito about his short-lived restaurant on 22nd St. and Broadway. The place was really hot for about a minute and it was closed a year later. And then Rocco basically disappeared from planet earth. Anthony Bourdain even created an award in his honor for most wasted restaurant career. Somebody better call NBC in a hurry and sign these guys up.

This is how Eater brilliantly covered one of the greatest public meltdowns of all time:

"Rocco DiSpirito’s post-show trajectory is familiar: He went into the wilderness of television, racking up 92 credits as “Himself” on IMDb. He hawked frozen Bertolli dinners and cookware on QVC, wrote successful cookbooks, and did the occasional private dinner. He made it through the foxtrot and Viennese waltz on Dancing with the Stars. He was well-known, but within the industry, his name was synonymous with wasted potential: In 2007, writer Michael Ruhlman and the late Anthony Bourdain created a Golden Clog award called the “Rocco” to commemorate the “Worst Career Move by a Talented Chef.” A year later, Jeff Gordinier would write in the New York Times that “the word ‘sad’ seems to surface a lot when you bring up Mr. DiSpirito’s curious career arc.”

And now, the punchline: The Restaurant was NBC’s first attempt to take a minor New York celebrity and turn him into a global icon; it wound up nearly ruining the man’s life. But one year later, Mark Burnett and Jamie Bruce tried again, with a different minor New York celebrity, on a new show. They called it The Apprentice."

Unknown said...

Good luck PJ! Hope you get your stuff back!

East Village Community Member said...

I agree with the first comment that this story should serve as a word of caution to any artists or others who are considering working with these people. What is their history and track record working with artists or "the community." Doesn't seem very professional.

Anonymous said...

PJ has changed my life. I came to the East Village as an artist and he really has been so generous with his advice and experience and story telling. He was my first real friend in the United States. He has a confidence in his work that is unbreakable and a body of art that he can proudly stand behind. I am devastated to read this article, because I know how hard he has worked. It is hard to hang out with him anymore, all he ever does is make art and of course, it shows. Its so sad that an “experienced business man” who i am assuming is a lot older than the artist can take such a huge advantage with his money hungry ways. Why is he talking about a Calder exhibition when he’s displaying the shittiest artwork in the East Village on his walls. It sounds like he’s over compensating if you catch my drift......... this is extremely embarrassing for this Hirsch guy. PJ is not someone to sleep on. Good luck finding a more passionate, business savvy and smart artist to work with. What a joke.

Love you PJ, good luck my man!

Anonymous said...

PJ has a story to tell and I believe him. Hirsch says the story is not true, but in place of offering an alternate version, he gives a lame generic different direction reason. He is definitely going a different direction (resembling down), But that is no reason to steal PJs work and designs and equipment and refuse to give them back. And because he is going a different direction, he obviously does not need those things. Seems like the reason is emotional — vindictiveness and greed. It’s not just that he’s going another direction, it’s also that he’s trying to harm PJ.
No artist should agree to have their work displayed in Hirsch‘s venue, and judging by what’s hanging on the walls, so far no artist has.
Do the right thing, Hirsch. Karma can be a real bummer.

Anonymous said...

Putting the EVAC in EVACUATE!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Shame on any artist who would work with Hirsch, and dealers like him, letting him use your work to build his own credibility & business. It will end in tears. Best of luck to PJ.

Unknown said...

What a POS this Hirsch sounds like. PJ has been nothing but honest in all of my dealings with him. Terrible development because this spot is right around the corner from my apartment. Whatever is currently on display is a total eyesore!

Lman212 said...

My brief experience visiting flyelyfe when he was on 11th street was a very positive one. He had a wide array of designs and mashups commenting not only on New York but also the pandemic. The person staffing the store was very outgoing and cheerful. I was surprised that a street artist could have his own store in this day and age, though another artist had a store on that street years ago. When Flyelyfe moved to the store on 1st, I was surprised yet again that a local artist could swing an even higher rent location. But when the Bitcoin sign went up, and I knew something had changed. If there's ever something that makes me see red, it's stories about artists getting pushed around, especially by authoritarian tech bros. What soulless fraudsters they are. I saw Flyelyfe's spray cans, cart, and ladder in there. But they had been pushed to the side like they were about to be tossed out. EVAC appears to be a cheap NFT cash grab now. I hope that their reputation precedes them wherever they go.

Dy_J_Weav said...

PJ’s talent is unparalleled.
I’m glad to see many are rallying behind him.