Art in the Iron Triangle by Matthew Burtch '82

by Matthew Burtch ’82

next page



You think you’re cool. You’ve got the vintage Harley Fatboy. The 1.5 Ghz laptop. The 28-speed Gary Fisher mountain bike. The Rolex. The Beemer. The invitation to a Crisco party at Jennifer Lopez’s house.

You’re not cool.

I know this for a fact. Because, word up, the absolute freezing-point Ice-Station-Zebra frozen-Bomb-Pop ground zero of serious cool is located in a scruffy building seemingly constructed of equal parts plywood and White-Out, sitting kitty-corner from a Walgreen’s in downtown Richmond, California. Yes, that’s Richmond, as in blue-collar Richmond, part of the overjuiced San Francisco Bay Area but still a place where the economy runs more to nail salons and check cashing outlets than goateed dot-commers discussing stock options over microbrews. Ride the BART train to Richmond, and you’ll see the complexions getting a little darker as the stops go by. The accents a little less ready for prime time TV. The clothes a little sassier. And when you arrive in Richmond’s Iron Triangle district, the word "gritty" pops into your head like a subtitle.

Then you enter the Winters Building at 339 11th St., and you’re in the coolest place in the known universe.

It’s Saturday morning and a dozen or so teens are meeting for the first time to work out the program for a five-month theatre class. This is real Rainbow Coalition stuff: the students, dressed in everything from Raiders jackets and baggy Gap jeans to well-ironed overalls, are African American, Hispanic, Asian, white, and various permutations thereof.

The class begins by forming a circle in which a variety of stomps, shouts, and claps are passed from student to student. After initial self-consciousness–you can see each of the students evaluating the warmups on a personal Peer Cool-o-Meter–the class establishes a real rhythm, which, sure enough, sounds "street." When that’s over, the students perform a trust exercise: the pupils pair up, with one student falling backwards, eyes closed, into the grasp of a partner. It’s not easy going; some of the students can’t quite let themselves go. It’s clear that for these young people, trust is not an easy thing to give.

next page


Reed Magazine Feb. 2001
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Home