Arcade’s fire

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Penny Arcade has been shaping the bohemian culture of Lower Manhattan for more than three decades, but lately she’s found herself with a problem: there isn’t much bohemian culture left in Manhattan.

“It used to be that you came to New York because you loved art,” she told GO Brooklyn. “Now, the people moving in don’t like live art. They don’t want bands playing in their neighborhood. The artistic culture they participate in is high-end food and wine.”

While Arcade, 56, is still feeling out the cultural currents of Brooklyn, her husband, musician Chris Rael, has had a studio in DUMBO since 1996. Rael is in awe of the way the neighborhood has changed.

“Back then, you had to walk to Brooklyn Heights to do your laundry,” he recalled.

The couple often looks to Brooklyn for the culture that’s missing in Manhattan. While Rael counts Park Slope’s Barbes and Superfine in DUMBO as two of his local favorites, he usually arrives without a plan. “One of the things I love about Brooklyn is that it still has ethnic neighborhoods. When I go out there I’m not going to go to one place in particular, I like to let Brooklyn happen to me.”

By playing a show at Luna Lounge on June 17, Arcade and Rael hope to attract “like-minded people,” be they performers, musicians or art lovers: “We’re fighting back against the cultural amnesia. We want our artistic community.”

The show will, according to Arcade, “represent what the East Village used to be about.” That is, an intergenerational scene of artists and performers who all collaborate and come from unique creative backgrounds.

As the evening’s headliner, Arcade (whose given name is Susana Carmen Ventura) will bring to the stage the comedic, rock ’n’ roll-infused performance art she’s been cultivating since the late 1960s — when she ran away as a teenager, landed in New York and starred in Andy Warhol’s film “Women in Revolt.”

For her first show at the new Luna Lounge, Arcade said she hasn’t yet decided what she’ll perform, but “it will be intense, theatric, comedic and harrowing.”

After all, that is what she’s known for. In a review of her 2001 show, “Sex, Politics, Reality,” a British newspaper said that, “she combines the anarchy of Lenny Bruce with the pathos of Judy Garland.”

Earlier in the evening on June 17, Rael will perform with his traditional-Indian-music-inspired pop band Church of Betty, joined by tabla player and collaborator Bobby Singh. The bill also features two Brooklyn-based acoustic musicians: Scott Matthews, an Australian-born songwriter who has collaborated with Morrissey drummer Spencer Cobrin, and Clint Michigan, a 26-year-old folk-pop artist.

Part of what draws Arcade and Rael to the Brooklyn scene is the loss of their own creative space — in order to keep their apartment, they had to give up their adjoining studio, a place where they say, “the entire old underground of New York was rehearsing, having dinner or just talking,” citing friends like Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright. “And now it’s over, as the last nails of what was one of the most important artistic movements since World War II are going into the coffin.”

Luna Lounge owner Rob Sacher faced similar problems on the Lower East Side. He decided to move his venue out of the neighborhood at the end of its lease in 2005 because “rents were too high and the artists were long gone.” Sacher, who loves the Williamsburg art scene, noted it produces more art than during the glory days of the Lower East Side.

So why do Rael and Arcade stay in Manhattan?

“The cheap rent,” said Rael, who, like a handful of longtime Lower East Side residents, still clings to his rent-controlled apartment, even though landlords and developers try to force him out. “It’s brutal. It’s been an assault.”

Penny Arcade will perform with Church of Betty, Scott Matthew and Clint Michigan at 7 pm on June 17 at Luna Lounge (361 Metropolitan Ave., at Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg). Tickets are $10. For information, call (718) 384-7112.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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