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Downtown culture activists are still in the dark about the mysterious buyer of the East Village’s CHARAS/El Bohio cultural center. The city auctioned off the cavernous former high school that houses the center on July 20, but the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which managed the auctions, hasn’t revealed the buyer’s name. Lower East Side art supporters instead have mounted an all-out campaign to identify the purchaser, screening auction videotapes and calling on inside city sources. In the interim, they’ve brought a little downtown street theater to suspected buyer Gregg Singer’s West 80th Street doorstep, picketing his apartment building and demanding the sale be rescinded. They believe Singer is acting as a middleman for another buyer.

Supporters of the East 9th Street landmark expected the buyer to be identified last Thursday, 45 days after the sale, but the city didn’t come through with the name. The hundred-year old building sold for $3.15 million with the caveat that the building be retained for community use. Current CHARAS chair and District Leader Armando Perez says the designation means little. He suspects the property will be developed for market-rate housing for the elderly.

CHARAS has long embodied the low-rent/high-drama spirit of the neighborhood, providing cheap rehearsal and meeting space to legions of artists, 12-step group members, and politicos–the arts center boasts Spike Lee and John Leguizamo among its alumni. Wednesday’s press conference saw several dozen small-theater producers, filmmakers and performers turn out to testify on the center’s behalf. Perez plans to begin a hunger strike when the sale is completed, saying he is willing to die to save the center.

CHARAS and Suffolk Street’s Clemente Soto Velez cultural center are two of the last refuges of the Lower East Side arts scene; CSV was pulled from the auction block three days before the July auction. CSV president Ed Vega says the building won’t up for sale at the city’s October auction either.

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