BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
After a group of 17 aerosol and street artists filed a lawsuit in an attempt to save the world renowned “Graffiti Mecca,” known as 5Pointz, in Long Island City, a Federal Court Judge granted them a 10-day restraining order on Oct. 17, which prohibits the Wolkoff family from developing on the property.
The federal action, which was filed on Oct. 10, a day after the City Council approved a special permit that would allow the developers of G&M Realty to build a pair of high-rise luxury buildings on a larger floor area, is the nation’s first in which graffiti artists have sought legal protection for their artwork.
Although Judge Frederic Block did not issue a hoped-for injunction, Marie Flageul, a volunteer and spokesperson at 5Pointz, said the restraining order is a relief and now they are waiting to hear Block’s next step.
Flageul said the outpouring of moral support from community members and tourists keeps their heads high. To stop the developers from building 1,000 apartment complexes that includes a series of concessions – 200 affordable housing units, 12,000-square-feet of artist space and 10,000-square-feet of art walls solely dedicated to the curator of 5Pointz, Jonathan Cohen – the lawsuit alleges to protect the 350 original works of art on the walls of the warehouse because of the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act and copyright law.
Jeannine Chanes, one of the two attorneys representing the group of graffiti artists, said the restraining order prohibits the Wolkoffs from tampering with the building and no artist is allowed to paint on the warehouse for the next 10 days. She said she is hopeful that Block will announce a hearing for a preliminary injunction before Oct. 28.
Since there have not been many cases in violation of VARA, Chanes said Block is concerned with the law because it is counterintuitive, however she said Block is “definitely a judge for the 99 percent [because] he will help stand up for the little guy.”
During the next 10 days, while Chanes and Roland Acevedo, the second attorney handling the case, prepare artists to testify and work out different options for the future of the building, keeping the option of buying the property from the Wolkoffs on the table, 5Pointz remains open to visitors.
Chanes said the Wolkoffs argument in court is irrelevant under VARA because it revolves around the hundreds of millions they would lose from the delay in demolition.
The developers of G&M Realty did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.