George Emilio Sanchez, creator of the arts alliance First Amendment Sanctuary Spaces (FASS), carries a pocket constitution with him wherever he goes.
“I personally never leave home without my U.S. Constitution,” said Sanchez during a FASS press conference on Wednesday. “It’s not a joke,” he continued. “That’s how this thing happened, because I had it in my pocket.”
Gathered in the lobby of New York Live Arts, members of FASS — including representatives from New York Theatre Workshop, Danspace Project, La MaMa, Topaz Arts, Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX), WBAI Radio, Abron Arts Center and New York Live Arts — joined Sanchez to recognize the upcoming 227th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
And while the constitutional milestone was the catalyst for the public assembly, the conference also served as an opportunity for the group’s members to reaffirm their dedication to using their performance spaces and cultural connections to foster awareness and protection for the rights outlined in the Bill of Right’s 1st Amendment.
During his opening remarks, Sanchez voiced the group’s concerns about recent violence against journalists and the labeling of the American press as the “enemy of people.” “We as a network of people want to stand,” said Sanchez, “affirming the right of freedom of press, freedom of expression, freedom to gather publicly, to assemble, in peace and non-violence.”
Sanchez first launched FASS in the weeks following the most recent presidential inauguration. “We were concerned about how artists and art making would be supported by the administration,” he said. “We were concerned about freedom of the press. And our concerns have seemed to become more than concerns, but realities.”
“We want to have a foot ahead, we want to be proactive,” he added. “We didn’t want to wait for something to happen to come together.” In doing so, FASS has resulted in an “intentional community” built around the idea of creating a “sanctuary space” for the 1st Amendment in New York City.
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“It’s a symbolic use of the word sanctuary,” said Sanchez, “but also embodies what the word sanctuary really means, and that is to provide a safe space, a safe haven for anyone, whether you are target or not.”
Since its founding, the collective has grown to comprise a consortium of 35 performing arts spaces and places of worship from all five boroughs.
The group is still in the early stages of its existence, but it has already started to see some effects of its efforts. Marya Warshaw of BAX noted that at the beginning of every performance they announce that they are a 1st Amendment sanctuary space. The identification, said Warshaw, “almost always engenders conversation about what that is.”
In closing remarks, Warshaw spoke of the power of joining forces with other organizations. “It’s important to ally ourselves. And by standing for the 1st Amendment, we are also allying ourselves with other movements that are focused on freedom and focused on anti-oppression,” she said. “Alliance is what makes a difference, because when you’re by yourself and trying to make a difference, very little happens. When you’re combined with other efforts, that’s when change really takes place.”
Below is a complete list of the organizations involved with FASS.
Abrons Arts Center
Bowery Poetry Club
Caribbean Cultural Center (CCCADI)
Chen Dance Center / H.T. Chen & Dancers
Dixon Place Gibney Dance
Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics
Judson Memorial Church – New York City
La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
New York Live Arts
New York Theatre Workshop
Performance Space 122
The Riverside Church in the City of New York