In the late 1990s, the owners of the American Bank Note Company Printing Plant complex, a vast former printing plant in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, struck a deal with the Point Community Development Corporation (the Point) to convert a portion of the mostly vacant building into art space. The Point agreed to recruit artists to lease studios there. In return, 3,600 square feet of space was donated to the Arthur Avilés Typical Theatre (AATT), a contemporary dance company centered on Latino- and LGBT-themed works, which had been operating from the Point’s community center across the street since 1996. AATT moved into the second floor space of building C (841 Barretto Street) and held its first performance on December 11, 1998.
Central to the revitalization project was AATT founder Arthur Avilés, an award-winning dancer and choreographer who previously performed with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and Charles Rice-González, a writer, community and LGBT activist, and prominent member of Gay Men of the Bronx (GMOB). Avilés and Rice-González, both Bronx residents of Puerto Rican descent, founded the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!) in the Bank Note to serve as a home for AATT. With help from artists in their circle, BAAD! grew into a vibrant performing arts venue geared towards women, people of color, and the LGBT community. In a borough where, as one New York Times reporter noted in 2006, “you can count the gay-friendly bars on one hand,” the opportunity for freedom of expression and community at BAAD! was particularly important for LGBT artists and audiences.
“Many of [Avilés’] dances inherently involve gay life and issues…reflecting in part the difficulties of being a gay Puerto Rican in the Bronx. Perhaps, it is suggested to him, he is making the most political kind of statement of all by simply presenting that life on stage, without choreographic subtitles.”
A 70-seat performance and workshop space in the Barretto Street wing hosted programming of various kinds, such as annual arts festivals like BAAD! Ass Women, The BlakTino Performance Series, and Out Like That!, the latter being the only such festival in the Bronx to celebrate the works of LGBT artists. In 2002, BAAD! formed the Bronx Dance Coalition and began publishing the Bronx Dance Magazine. Later initiatives include Get Tough! Get BAAD! (2010), a film series related to a series of citywide gay bashings, and the creation of the BAAD! Muse/Artist in Residency Project to support the development of the borough’s artists.
In 2013, due in part to rising rent, BAAD! relocated to its current space, a chapel on the grounds of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Westchester Square, where it continues to provide programming, classes, and festivals. While no longer located in the South Bronx, BAAD! keeps its connection to its former neighborhood, where Avilés still lives, through its free, monthly TransVisionaries performance series in local restaurants and cafes, which features trans and gender non-conforming artists of color.
This entry is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.