A circus school’s bid to get back at incoming upstairs neighbor Vice Media for allegedly dangerous construction work backfired dramatically on Nov. 6 when the city, called to inspect Vice, kicked out a half-dozen acrobats living illegally in the non-residential building.
The circus school the Muse is the latest artistic institution getting the boot ahead of Vice’s takeover of two connected buildings at Kent Avenue and S. First Street. The performers are supposed to move out by January. In the meantime, they have gone on rent strike over supposed falling debris caused by renovation work, which is making way for the hipster media juggernaut’s New Years move-in. The conflict came to a head when building inspectors, summoned by the school’s owner to scrutinize Vice, took a look beyond the trapezes and spotted illegal living units built in the warehouse space. The show can go on, but the six artists in residence cannot stay, said the owner, who shrugged off the clampdown.
“We are still allowed to run and have classes, but we cannot be in the back,” said Muse founder Angela Buccinni Butch. “I am fine that they shut us down, because everyone has to be safe.”
The people living there were all staying temporarily, Buccinni Butch said.
The big-top personality had previously said that she was contemplating an early closure because of the supposed hazards of practicing beneath Vice’s contractors.
“I do not know how we are going to continue operating here,” she said. “We feel we are in danger.”
Partial eviction or no, the school is the latest casualty of Vice’s arrival at Kent Avenue and S. First Street, following announcements of the imminent shuttering of indie music venues Death by Audio and Glasslands. The mass exodus is the result of a deal struck with building owner CTA Digital to boot current tenants to make room for Vice, through negotiations and by refusing to renew the leases, Gawker and the Commercial Observer reported.
One Muse teacher said the upheaval is just one example of Williamsburg becoming a no-mans-land for creative types.
“It demonstrates the bigger pictures of bigger corporations pushing out smaller corporations,” said aerial instructor Diane Tomasi. “Rents are astronomical and artists cannot make it.”
For now, the Muse is keeping its $10,000 monthly rent in escrow, Buccinni Butch said. The school had been negotiating with the CTA Digital in an attempt to cancel the lease early, but now she is hoping Vice will pay her group to leave. She said she quoted the media company a figure to cover reimbursing students their tuition, canceled contracts, and moving costs. She doesn’t want to take the landlords to court, though a lawsuit would have merit, she added.
“I could sue them, but that is not my interest,” Buccinni Butch said.
The Muse opened at 32 S. First St. in 2010 after Buccinni Butch’s Bushwick backyard grew too large to contain a newly formed community of acrobats, aerialists, and tumblers, she said. The building owner originally allowed all tenants to live in the building, she said.
“In the beginning, every single person in this complex was living and working in here, because that is how the landlord presented it,” she said. “They eventually started telling people they could not live there and started booting people out.”
The space is part school and part performance venue. Buccinni Butch is devastated that she has to leave the home her group has been working on for the past four years.
“For a while, I could not walk around the space without tears in my eyes,” said Buccinni Butch. “This place was trashed when we took it over, and we made it something beautiful.”
The Muse is planning to move to a new space in Bushwick and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the many renovations the building needs.
Representatives of Vice Media and CTA Digital did not return calls for comment.