8-ball celebrates its anniversary with an 8 month fundraiser

Community organizer and founder Lele Saveri tells i-D about the NYC arts nonprofit's first project, a tee with Come Tees and photographer Daniel Arnold.

by Jack Sunnucks
22 May 2020, 1:36pm

Photographer Lele Saveri is a community organizer and founder of 8-Ball, the downtown NYC arts nonprofit that was established in 2012. Over the past eight years, the organization has published zines, sold them (in a dedicated newsstand in a subway station), started a radio station, made public access TV and thrown parties and workshops. Evidently, the work of 8-ball is never done, and that’s more important now than ever, when the livelihoods (and indeed, lives) of New Yorkers are under threat.

“In critical times like these we all see how important a connection to the community is. We understood this eight years ago when we started 8-Ball and have been solidifying that foundation ever since,” Lele says. “A world without a close community is a lonely world, where the weakest in the society are left behind and stepped on by the most powerful and rich. Since the NY lockdown, our volunteers have been working hard from their homes to keep our community connected, alive and well. We've been running daily workshops, conferences, performances, book clubs, TV and radio shows. We have helped raise funds and awareness for groups and individuals that are working to help others; now we are reaching out to the greater community to raise funds for our own organization and to keep our own community intact.”

To celebrate their auspicious eighth anniversary, the community had planned to throw their usual benefit at Mission Chinese, but as you might imagine, it’s been put on hold. Instead, they’re collaborating with eight diverse artists over the course of eight months in order to raise funds. Each artist has designed their own tee, in partnership with Sonya Sombreuil of COME TEES, and they’ll be for sale for one week only. First up, it’s photographer Daniel Arnold, who has shown at Larrie gallery.

From one PM EST, you can purchase the tees to support 8-ball here. i-D talked to Lele about moving to a digital mission,

Hi Lele! How, if at all, has the mission of 8-ball changed to fit the current situation?
It actually hasn't changed much. The main thing has been moving everything into a digital platform, and we’ve been doing that since the first week of the NY lockdown. We usually tend to balance our production half online and half in person, through events of all sorts. But we always work in service of our community, and do everything we can to share knowledge, provide support and a free platform for creative expression. This is obviously a unique occasion, but we think many communities in this world are often underserved and fed with mainstream rhetoric, so there's always a need for true independent content.

How are the members of 8-ball doing?
We're doing OK. We try to keep each other sane by constantly communicating on messaging apps, video conferences and other ways. Many of us lost our jobs, homes or had to finish their school year online. A few of us have dealt with the virus head on and others with depression. But we have each other, and that goes a long way. I guess that's not much different from what most people are experiencing around the world.

The tee.

How did you alight upon the eight months of 8-ball? It's obviously a big anniversary.
This year was supposed to be a very special year for us. Besides the anniversary, we had just settled into our new space in the East Village, the best one so far, and were very excited to welcome our community in for events. Then this happened, and after spending a couple of months working on helping our community, we realized we needed to raise some funds or we would lose the space. So after some brainstorming, we came up with this fundraising project.

Why did you want to work with Sonya on this?
Sonya is a close friend. We respect the way she works, using her brand as a true artistic outlet, without compromise for the market. We share the same ethos and philosophy, and knew she would have been a good ally for this. We've been doing merch for years, but the way we usually approach it is like a punk band making merch for their tour, very DIY, very cheap. Now we wanted something of a better quality, and she offered her knowledge, and her resources. It all unfolded very organically.

Can you tell us a little about Daniel's work for the project?
Daniel is also someone I've known and respected for a while. I interviewed him for the release of his first book (on our Newsstand) in 2013, and we got along right away. I think he's the new member to that elite club of street photographers that portrays New York's true nature. He respects and understands the city and its rhythm in a way that few others do. When I saw the image he chose, I thought it was the perfect beginning for this series.

How excited are you about the upcoming tees!? What do we have to look forward to?
Very excited! And it may not be just tees, we're still working on the future release, so we'll see! The artists on board are all people whom we love and respect, and for the most have been closely connected to 8-Ball for years, so it feels like a family effort.

What's the best thing about New York?
The diversity of its people, and the strong sense of community that you can find in many of its pockets. NY has gone through so many changes in its short life, and so much culture has shaped what it is today. There's the unfortunate risk that its economy will make life impossible for true independent realities like ours to exist, so we must support each other and get organized for a better post-Covid city.

Lele Saveri