L.I.S.A. Project NYC: How Wayne Rada Secured The Future

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Photography by : Ken Caruso

Text by : Ken Caruso

September 5, 2014

I remember the first time I walked through Little Italy looking down the side streets on my quest to find Ron English’s latest work “Temper Tot” of Little Italy. I love this mans work, he is one of the true master painters of our time and his work is so realistic on canvas and walls. I went down to Wynwood Walls in Miami last year and found his piece to be just mind blowing. I’ve collected his work over time, some uniques, some paper, and even his vinyl toys that all have a great sense of humor. So when I heard about this epic mural and even saw a crude picture of it I just had to see it with my own eyes – but nothing prepared me for the reaction I would have when I finally came upon it. It was almost like when Charlton Heston comes upon the blown up Statue of Liberty at the final scene of the original “Planet of the Apes”. Little Italy was still banged up because it was just the week after Hurricane Sandy and there was still no electricity. My jaw dropped and I just thought to myself “this is fucking amazing.  I even swore with my inside voice, imagine that.

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The scale, coloring, shading, expression, 3 dimensional look and execution was all Ron – a master who always mesmerizes me with his talent and his humor – but actually I think with Ron his humor proceeds his talent. At that moment in time I wasn’t familiar with The L.I.S.A. Project (Little Italy Street Art) or who was the commodore of the ship. That was soon to change when I met Wayne Rada.

Wayne is a very passionate man, no matter what he is doing, if he believes in it you can hear the passion when he tells his stories. So to say he’s very passionate about his newest mission to beautify Little Italy with some great art on the streets and bringing back the tourism of yesteryear with L.I.S.A. would be right on point. He is what us Goombahs call a made man. That is, when you are welcomed into the family and sponsored. Except the family isn’t the mob, but the Little Italy Merchants and business owners, and I’m happy to say he has the full backing and acceptance of the entire community…but that didn’t happen overnight.

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So on the heals of Shepard Fairey’s recently completed and newest mural addition, the L.I.S.A. Project is getting some beefy muscles that they’re able to flex to get all the shit done that a 501(c)3 non profit group has to contend with to prolong its existence and eventually prosper.

I recently sat down and broke bread (what yooz expect were in Little Italy biooootchs) with its founder and main curator Wayne Rada at his favorite eatery “IL Piccolo Bufalo” on Mulberry. I met the owner and gracious host Al Catenaccio who also is the treasurer for the Little Italy Merchants Association. He also made damn sure that I ate well. BTW the Buffalo Mozzarella was to die for, but I digress. Here is the interview in full with Wayne Rada.

Ken: Ok Wayne, from the beginning for all my readers and followers out there. Give me the background story and how the hell all of this came about?

Wayne: Right so I’m sitting in my living room and at the time I was contracted to do promotion for the New York Comedy festival (Wayne’s background includes management, promotion, and organization for comedy clubs and comedians). They usually have me handle the downtown scene since I’ve been living down here. Anyway Caroline Hirsch (owner of the famous Caroline’s Comedy Club) said we would like to figure out some cool ways to promote the comedy festival this year, being August of 2012. So I’m sitting there, alone and boo hoo-ing because I was just dumped in a relationship and I lost four of my comedian clients that I was managing at the time due to circumstances beyond my control (Wayne had the misfortune of managing the great Greg Giraldo who died in 2010 of a overdose, Patrice O’Neal from Opie and Anthony fame died from a heart attack in 2011. The same year Mike DeStefano died of a overdose and finally in 2012 Todd Lynn died of a heart attack. It was so bad that his father begged him not to tell anybody this, thinking people wouldn’t want to work with him, thus leaving us at the scene he has set.) So I just turn and look at the great Ron English print that I own “Marilyn with a pair of Mickeys,” great fucking image by the way, and it just made me smile. I mean I was miserable but it just made me chuckle to myself and then it just dawned on me….

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Lightbulb moment?

Bingo. Wouldn’t it be cool if the week before the festival we put up a couple “tongue and cheek” or funny murals to promote the comedy festival and to utilize street art? Street art was getting a great buzz at the time. Exit Through The Gift Shop had been out for about a year and a half (the Banksy movie) and it would be cool if we did something like that. I went into my room or my office as I like to call it and printed out some images of funny street art. Next day I went to Carolyn’s for a meeting with her and Louis Faranda. I said “hey is this a cool idea or what?” They said yeah, okay, but who would you like to work with? Well that was easy because the artwork that I printed out was of Ron English, Hanksy, Gilf NYC and a couple others. Ron was our big dog, our rockstar, Gilf, other than loving her political work I chose because I wanted to have a female in the mix, and finally Hanksy.

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He was just emerging with his tongue-in-cheek images (a cross-pollination of Tom Hanks and Banksy) so he was perfect for the comedy promotion. Then the next question was “why Little Italy?” I had read a story about Tristan Eaton because I was a collector and big fan of Tristan’s with his solo work and also Trust-O-Corp. He had tried to do a mural here in Little Italy with the then-current PR representative of Little Italy, but the PR made a critical mistake and Tristan wasn’t able to do his mural that he initially wanted to. What I learned from that article was who the president of the Little Italy Merchants Association was, and that Little Italy was registered as Historical Landmark so you couldn’t put any billboards up. However, the owners of the buildings were aloud to paint anything on there building walls. So I thought ok, Louis Faranda was Italian and grew up around the corner from here. Carolyn Hirsch grew up in Brooklyn and was Italian. So I have two Italians in charge of the festival and Little Italy needs something on their walls and who doesn’t want to be a part of the NYC Comedy festival. Finally I put them all together and get the green light. So we get right on it with are first round of murals. Hanksy, Gilf and a couple others and of course Ron’s “Temper Tot” (which I might add he completed in only 9 fucking hours) that guys a beast and I know for a fact because I ran the boom. Anyway to make a long story short that was the last week in October and Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on us and Ron split right after he finished to upstate NY on Sunday. Then Sandy hit on Monday. Then the blackout happened. After a few days without power the merchants came down to assess the damage and throw out their rotten food. The city was a mess, but tourists still came down to take pictures of the art on Mulberry. When the merchants and residents saw this they realized we were onto something. During the following months we did several more murals timed around the holidays. After Triston’s mural of “Aubrey on Mulberry” it just took off from there.

Can you fill us in on all of your accomplices?

Oh my team, definitely, I am nothing without my team. There’s Rey Rosa Jr. who is my photographer, webmaster and social media director. R.J. Rushmore who’s the co-curator and artist liaison. Christian Santiago is our official videographer and then there’s the Little Italy Merchants Association with my patron saints President Robert Ianniello, V.P. Ralph Tramontana, Treasurer Al Catenaccio. It’s these guys plus Triston Eaton I owe everything to. There would not be a L.I.S.A. Project without them. The merchants came on board because of Triston’s success. Louis Faranda is the guy who got the comedy thing going which grew into the LISA Project. R.J.Rushmore was the guy who got me Ron English and keeps me on the straight and narrow and Ray Rosa was the guy who brought all the coherency together with the social media and the website and photography so I could get these sponsors.

Do you have any input on what the artist produces or how does that pitch usually go?

Absolutely not. I will help them navigate through the business owners and what wouldn’t be appropriate to paint because this is a family community, but the first thing we ask our artist is “what would you like to paint?”

Ok walk me through some of the logistics of getting a mural completed?

Usually it’s a 30-90 day process. First we discuss who we want as a artist. Then we discuss what the artist wants to paint. Then we find the space for that artist and talk to the business owners and all come together on a common ground. So some can take up to 90 days with the exception of Beau Stanton, because he wasn’t your usual street artist, it took us up to a year to get that completed. But here’s the thing Ken, when I tell an artist that I want to work with them I always keep my word. It may not happen right away but my word is solid.

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How many murals have you overseen with the L.I.S.A. Project?

40 or 45. It’s over 40 because google maps has a street art map and we had to catalogue and give them all the locations of the murals. So it’s safe to say 40.

How many of them are permanent?

Because some are doors and gates I would have to say about 75% are permanent.

How did the now iconic Audrey of Mulberry by the fucking awesome aerosol artist Tristan Eaton come about?

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That was all Tristan’s idea. He actually pitched it to us. He was creating that new style after TrustoCorp and he needed like any good artists to execute it on the street. So he rang me up and said let me send you something I’d like to do on the Cafe Roma wall. I told him “well you know they really like that Hanksy piece.” The owner would guard it with his life, and one time I actually witnessed him telling a woman who was about to deface it with lipstick say “if I see you mark that piece I will break every finger on your hand,” and he didn’t smile at all.

I find it ironic but also heartening that at one point this was considered just vandalism back in the day, and now these elderly business owners are protecting this and embracing it and clearly seeing the beauty of it all. Walking around Little Italy the other night when it was beautiful out I was just checking out all the art on the street and every time you passed a piece someone, from somewhere around this globe was snapping pictures or posing in front of all the art. But Tristan’s Audrey did resonate the most with every demographic.

Yes exactly, but you could see the dilemma I was put in to break the news to Buddy the owner of Cafe Roma. Then when I finally explained it to him he got it and it was finally a go.

So then Tristan goes ahead with the “Liberty” mural. Again his idea??

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Absolutely, it’s actually only half of the project. It’s called Liberty and Justice. If you turn around you’ll see a blank wall opposite the mural. His justice is an image from Italy called the Palace of Justice and when he’s ready we’ll do it.

I actually bought that printed release because one I love Tristan’s work, I mean that dude is a beast.

Definitely a beast.

And second because my daughter loves Audrey Hepburn.

I know you bought that because I saw you post that on Instagram and thought to myself “This guy is cool,he actually supports the arts and speaks highly of art. So I started following you right then.

Ok speaking of prints I hear your going to be releasing Ron English’s “Little Italy Temper Tot?”

Indeed, one thing people don’t realize is in the tots ripped jeans all the shredded ends are actually Italy’s boot. It was Ron’s homage to Little Italy.

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Holy Shit! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that image, I never picked that up. That just shows you the man’s brilliance.

Exactly. Well the print release that we are doing is out of the Freshly Baked Gallery in Jersey City. We’re doing a blog announcement with you of course. Then next week with freshly baked and the week after we put out a press release. Then the following week which should be around Sept 18 we should release the print, give or take a couple of days.
The reason we’re releasing prints of these murals is because as you know nothing is permanent – this is NYC and at any moment the buildings can be sold and replaced. So we want to archive and preserve the murals and create a lasting memory of the L.I.S.A. Project. Second, this is our way of giving some money back to the artist. God damn, I’m just so happy to be able to pay these guys something for all they have done. Now don’t get me wrong, we buy all the paint, we pay for all the boom lift and we feed them, and damn they eat well. It is Little Italy. Last because we are a ligit #501(c)3 charity. We applied for our status and it takes a long time to receive that status. So I’m a charity and like all charities I have to raise funds to keep this beast moving, thus we get a percentage of the profits.

Are there any other prints that you have on tap?

Absolutely. We are doing a print with Buff Monster, Beau Stanton, Lechie, Osmo, Chris RWK. All the iconic images that you see up we are trying to get to print. We’re going to start with all the images you see on Mulberry street first.

Coming off the heals of the just recently completed permanent mural for the L.I.S.A. Project NYC is Shepard Fairey’s “We Own The Future,” making me feel like the stakes have just been raised while drawing the attention of some powerful people. Shepard is of course one of the most visible and clearly the best known street artist internationally with his OBEY posse. My question is how, and why?

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Why Shepard Fairey? I came to the conclusion this way. When I walk over to Little Italy I tend to visit all the artwork and make sure non of it got tagged. I go down to Bowery and the make a right onto Rivington and there on top is a rouge piece that Shep did. Walking past it over the years you can see how time had taken its toll and I thought it was a shame because Shepard really is woven into the fabric of NYC and he really deserves a nice mural. So I started the conversation with the L.I.S.A. team and we started looking for buildings. The owners of the building that had the Ben Eine “E” on its gate had just changed hands from a Asian family to an American owner. This was a iconic area where the Ramones would always hang and CBGB’S was up the road. The Bowery is NYC and was always gritty. So I thought how cool would that be for Shep to do. I start talking to the owners about Shepard and he had done a mock up of “We Own The Future” and when I should the owners this it just resonated with them. The message mattered to them deeply. So six mock ups later we had an agreement. Shepard was very generous in donating a majority of the budget, the L.I.S.A. team gave their work and effort, and the property owners gave us their support. So here we are a week later with a huge Shepard Fairey mural which is literally a gift to the city. You can say Shepard did it for whatever reasons, (apparently people have started throwing stones) and people can give criticism and even say that were a bunch of phonies. But you know what? That’s all horse shit and you can quote me on that.

Fuck bro..let it fly. You think I’m scared to print that? (laughing)

(Laughing) Yeah I know you. Well all that horse shit, well that’s all gonna be forgotten and what will be here next week, next month and for years to come will be that mural. And I might add one exciting thing about this is that the owners had such a positive experience from the whole thing that if Shepard wants to paint a new mural over this in 3 or 5 or how many years to come from now, that wall is Shepard’s to paint something new on it. It’s now considered Shepard Fairey’s wall and the L.I.S.A. Project supports Shepard and the Obey Posse 110%. I mean Shepard understands how important it is to have a mural in downtown Manhattan but so does every other artist that has worked with us. It’s because of the ghosts of Warhol, Haring, and Basquiat and then going back even further to the ones who inspired them: the pioneering graffiti artist such as Dondi, Lady Pink and Zephyr, just to name a few.

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Last week the Wall Street Journal had a small but nice article with 4 great pictures in it about the L.I.S.A. Project NYC. I’ll bet you felt like a proud father that his favorite child is finally being validated and recognized?

Yeah exactly. It made me feel real good. He did a decent job with the story but unlike you he didn’t ask me enough questions about my team. But that being said people that are important think that I am important now and perception is everything.

Has it opened any doors for you? aWhat is the end game for the L.IS.A. Project?

About the doors, we’ll see but as for the end game it’s a yes and no answer. I mean I never want it to end but I do want it to have a crescendo every year. We have expanded outside our perimeters and are even slated for Brooklyn and Bushwick. Also we have a collaboration that I’m very excited about with The Museum of the City of New York and Sean Corcoran, curator of the City as Canvas exhibit. The mural is going to be painted by the greats Crash and Daze.

That should be fucking hot.

Definitely, and we’re already in discussions with the Mayor, NYC and company to create the “Lower Manhattan Arts Festival” for June 2015. That’s going to incorporate Soho, Little Italy, Lower East Side, Chinatown, East Village, Financial District, TriBeCa and South St. Everything cool about lower Manhattan.

Actually that’s everything cool about the whole island. I used to think after Union Square everything got boring but I’ve moved the bar up to Madison Square Park. After that its all just destination spots.

(Laughing) We’ll that’s for you to decide. But the inspiration that I got for this was the Citi Bikes. I know that they can be a pain in the ass but they really work. People pay to go ride around the city, so let me give them something cool to go look at. Then while they’re in the area they can stop and take photos, grab a bite to eat, shop, buy a cool t-shirt or whatever. Just spend some money and support all the local retailers. Because in the end it all matters, it’s all important. The music, the arts, the culture, everything. Everything that makes this the greatest city in the world.

On that note I would like to thank Wayne for the great stories and believe me I had to fucking edit and trim this bitch because he loves to spin a great tale. Also I want to thank Al Catenaccio for his gracious hospitality and food. So please go down to Little Italy and support the eateries and shops while you check out all the great art that Wayne has helped facilitate. Also you should be quite pleased with some of the new artist that are slated to beautify the area but I’ve been fucking sworn to secrecy or I’ll be swimming with the fishes. Peace.

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Cover Photo Credit: Rey Rosa Jr.

Ken Caruso is the ANTI Society’s in-house street art and photography expert. He is a decorative artist and owner and operator of Alternative Interiors in New Jersey as well as an avid collector and graffiti hunter. He also has his own radio show on Friday nights “Live…Without a net” on chestnutradio.com. Follow him on Instagram  @djkcaruso.

  • postulio

    Is there a list w/ locations of all of these? I’m in the area a *lot* and have never seen most of these =/