Do not disturb.
That is the mutual message of a contract reached this week by the Gowanus Arts Building, an artist cooperative, and management of the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott chain hotel next door, who have been feuding for more than two years in a dispute that has prompted a campaign by the artists for a boycott of the guest house and a battle over a proposed bedbug-themed mural that the hotel argued was aimed at scaring off customers. The new agreement will end the boycott in return for a $25,000 dance scholarship donation.
“The spirit of the settlement is that we are going to have a collaborative effort going forward,” said Marc Freud, of Troutbrook Company, the firm that developed the hotel at 181 Third Ave. between Douglass and Butler Streets and owns the building. “We are trying to weave into the fabric of the community.”
The scholarship money will go toward classes at Spoke the Hub, a dance studio in the art building.
The terms of the settlement, when signed, will swear the involved parties to a confidentiality agreement, meaning they can no longer talk smack on each other, according to both sides. Fortunately, we spoke to both Freud and Elise Long, founder of the Arts Building and Spoke the Hub, mid-week before the signing, which she and Freud said they expected to finalize later in the week.
The peace treaty comes after years of acrimony with three main sources: a wall of the Art Building allegedly damaged during hotel construction, an aborted mural project on the wall of the Art Building, and complaints from the hotel that artists were upsetting guests with late-night drum circles. The demand for peace and quiet from the new neighbor ruffled feathers at the Arts Building, where people were quick to point out that the drums long predated the arrival of the hotel in the industrial area.
“They’re been drumming there for years,” Long said.
Before the Fairfield Inn opened, construction work on the hotel severely cracked a wall of the arts compound, artists there claim.
Then, in 2013 Groundswell, an arts organization that enlists teens to paint socially conscious murals around the city, approached Long about painting a mural on the Arts Building’s wall, which now overlooks the Fairfield Inn parking lot. The organizations initially got the company’s stamp of approval, according to members of Groundswell and the Arts Building. But in order for Groundswell to get the mural done, Long had to get the cracked wall fixed in time, so with Troutbrook’s assurance of reimbursement, she spent $25,000 on the repairs, she said.
At the 11th hour however, Freud nixed his support of the mural, disagreeing with the design and complaining that the required mobile scaffolding would take up needed parking spots during work hours, according to members of Groundswell and the Arts Building. Groundswell found a new location for its mural, but the Arts Building was left high and dry, the two groups say.
“All along the way, Marc Freud was rude and disrespectful,” said Amy Sananman, founder and executive director of Groundswell. “Elise lost the project and was stuck with the bill for fixing her wall.”
Shortly after the mural snafu, Long said one of her tenants in the Arts Building, who had held regular drum circles for years, received a letter from the hotel saying guests were complaining about the noise, according to the arts maven. Enough was enough for Long, and she decided to ramp up her campaign against the hotel with a combative mural to replace the Groundswell piece that fell through, she said. The design she and her comrades settled on depicted giant bedbugs crawling up the walls of the Arts Building, accompanied by giant text asking, “Got bed bugs?” In response, the hotel sent a strongly-worded cease-and-desist letter threatening legal action for what it considered to be a libelous suggestion that it was dealing with an infestation.
Not so, said Long, arguing that the artists wanted to push the envelope with the piece but that there was room for other interpretations.
“We wanted to come up with the grittiest, edgiest Gowanus artwork we could,” Long said. “But we never suggested they actually had bedbugs. It was just a piece of artwork.”
The dispute continued at a slow simmer, with a “Boycott the Marriott” banner hanging from the Arts Building as recently as Sept. 8, but a year after the hotel threatened legal action, both parties say they are looking forward to putting the strife behind them.
Freud declined to specify whether Troutbrook would take responsibility for the damage to the Arts Building, but the company’s donation to Spoke the Hub is notably the same as the stated repair cost.
— with Carla Sinclair