The Chelsea Hotel management and architect Gene Kaufman launched a charm offensive last night in the hotel's "Grand Ballroom." Patti Smith came to sing and read poetry to a small media and arts crowd. Tonight, Smith will return to perform for residents. The artist is a longtime hotel alum who launched her career from Room 203. Kaufman and his client, hotel owner Joseph Chetrit, have been taking a beating in the press and in the courts for their renovations of 127 year-old hotel. Smith reached out to Kaufman, helping him to make good on a promise that the hotel would continue to foster the arts. The singer allowed that her gesture doesn’t come without risks to her outside-of-society cred. During the performance Smith said she's received plenty of flack. Yesterday, a New York Times headline highlighted the residents' "skepticism" over management's motives, using Smith to generate good will. Though Smith was performing gratis, she said she came with an agenda: she wants young poets and artists to continue thrive at the hotel, particularly through an artist-in-residence program. She further detailed her hopes for the hotel on her website. The event was held in two large rooms behind the check-in counter, recently re-dubbed the "Chelsea Ballroom." Connected through a large arch, the two rooms were sealed off from each other for years. The more ornate of the two was a management office, and the other room was a studio belonging to Interview cover artist Richard Bernstein. When Bernstein died in 2002, the room was sealed off with yellow police tape to secure the valuable contents until properly inventoried. It’s just such lore that the Kaufman and Co. must contend with, a series of stories that bound beyond the physical space. And it’s lore that has captured international attention. Before the performance Kaufman acknowledged bad press from as far away as Spain. While introducing Smith, the architect's countenance was weighted. He only loosened up toward the last couple of songs. For her part, Smith said that as an artist she likes see things move forward, but remains nostalgic for the old. She recalled old time tenants who longed for the early sixties, and before them tenants who reminisced about the early fifties, and then there were the tenants who mourned the basement flood that destroyed Oscar Wilde's steamer trunks. But Smith said she also wants to help to bring the hotel into the 21st century. She then launched into a song about dreams, questioning the reality of what was, and finished with lyrics professing "people have the power." UPDATE 1/13: Smith canceled last night's performance for the tenants. According to the New York Daily News nearly half of the 80 tenants invited had declined the invitation. Smith said in a statement: "In respect for the wishes of the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association I have canceled tonight's performance. My motivation was solely to serve the tenants. If this serves them better, than I am satisfied."
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Pratt Institute was founded in 1886 by Charles Pratt, who had sold his family’s Astral Oil works to Standard Oil in 1874. It was Pratt’s original intention that the school train industrial workers for the changing economy of the 19th century, and this it did for many years before growing into one of the leading art and design schools in the country. Like any institution, the school has had its stellar moments and its sleepy periods. The art department has been a training ground for dozens of important American artists, and its architecture school once had faculty like Sibyl Moholy-Nagy and experimental designers like John Johansen, Michael Webb, and Raimund Abraham. Pratt even spawned this country’s most important community advocacy organization: the Pratt Center, founded by Ron Shiffman, a legend in the world of community planning. Having weathered a rough stretch 15 years ago, when it was nearly bankrupt, the institute has undergone a transformation under its current president, Thomas Schutte. He has built a sizable endowment, upgraded the campus buildings and grounds (including a Steven Holl-designed school of architecture), strengthened its academic programs, and turned the institute into a design powerhouse with many of its programs rated in the top ten nationally. Typical of its notion of itself as a New York-centered institution, tonight it will honor Marc Jacobs, David Rockwell, and Patti Smith at a special scholarship benefit party. If you want to see how far the school’s industrial and product design departments have come, though, you can visit the new Rogers Marvel-designed townhouses at 115 Third Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Under the direction of Professor Anthony Caradonna, the institute has cleverly used both faculty- and student-designed furniture and household objects to furnish the residence, and has thrown in pieces by famed graduates including Eva Zeisel, Giovanni Pellone, Harry Allen, and William Katavolos.