Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #368

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Thursday, May 30, 2013


Rev. Pike elected as president of Arts Club


By Sabina Mollot


Photo by Lauren Slusher

Reverend Tom Pike, rector emeritus of Calvary Church and former city landmarks commissioner, now has a new title to add to his résumé, president of the National Arts Club.


Pike, who'd been the club's vice president since February, was unanimously voted in by the club's board of governors at the NAC's annual meeting earlier this month. The election wasn't much of a surprise though as Pike was the only candidate. The club's former president, Dianne Bernhard, stepped down after her two-year term was up, instead preferring to chair the Fine Arts Governance Committee.


Pike's term however won't be up for another six years, since the club's membership recently voted to increase term periods.


This week, Pike said his goal was to focus on the arts, now that litigation between the club and its former president, O. Aldon James, seems to be - Pike hopes - winding down. Recently, a court sided with the club in its efforts to evict James, his twin brother John and friend Steven Leitner from apartments they've controlled at the club's park-side building.


As the club itself winds down for the summer - though it's open for member use, no major events are planned - Pike said he'll also focus on bringing in new members, especially younger members.


To do this, he said, there will be more music and arts experiences geared towards a younger audience as well as more opportunities for young artists to get their work seen at the club's galleries. Forming collaborations with local art schools is a plan.


"It has tremendous potential," said Pike. "Young artists have a hard time showing their work and the National Arts Club is there to promote the arts."


A recently instituted artist-in-residence program is also something Pike is working to raise funds for.


Financially, the club has been healthy, with 174 new member applications through a drive organized by Arlene Harrison, president of The Gramercy Park Block Association, and Pike described the club atmosphere as being "very optimistic and friendly." This was even the case at the annual meeting, which was a far cry from the raucous meetings of the past that involved elections. "It was a nice change," said Pike. After the last election, Bernhard took over after James stepped down amidst charges he'd misused club funds and apartments and harassed anyone who crossed him. After investigations by the district attorney and the attorney general, the D.A. didn't find enough evidence to pursue criminal charges. However, a lawsuit filed against James by the A.G. is still pending.


The latest vote, meanwhile, is already being seen as a symbolic end to a contentious relationship between the club and the Gramercy Park Block Association and the Gramercy Park Trustees, two groups Pike is a member of. Though the groups have been at peace for a while now, beginning with Bernhard's election as president, there has been a more recent attempt to collaborate on projects. Recently, a major GPBA event was held at NAC, which was followed by the Block Association's membership drive for the club.


Arlene Harrison whose relationship with Pike has stretched to over four decades, said, she "could not be more delighted" to see Pike at the helm at NAC.


She noted how years ago, numerous Gramercy Park residents left the club during the time when the club and the park trustees were duking it out in a series of legal actions, "since they didn't want their dues going toward NAC lawsuits against their own property." But, she added, with Pike as club president, he's become "the bridge" between the community and the club. "He'll be talking to people, listening to people, respecting people," she said. "We all win with Tom as president."


Pike, who still does some preaching at Calvary Church, has an extensive background in the arts, having worked in development at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney, and has also been an advocate for historic preservation. For 17 years, he held the title of landmarks commissioner under Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani and Bloomberg. He taught art for years at Marymount College and is also an artist himself.


Currently, Pike has his some of his drawings and paintings on display at Calvary Church on the corner of East 21st Street and Park Avenue South.