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The East Village Eye: Chronicling the Spirit of the East Village

The East Village Eye was only in publication for eight years, but the magazine left a huge mark on the neighborhood it chronicled. The East Village Eye, nicknamed the Eye, was a monthly magazine dedicated to covering the art, music, fashion, and politics of the East Village. At its peak, the magazine had a circulation of 10,000 copies per month and was available in New York as well as outposts in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. The magazine was known for its gritty, irreverent tone and its coverage of underground and counterculture movements. The Eye appeared at just the right time, capturing the rise of several influential scenes as they flourished in the bohemian landscape of the village. 

The first issue of the East Village Eye, May 1979; the cover, featuring Jazz musician James White.

The Eye was started by 24 year old Leonard Abrams, the editor in chief throughout the entirety of the magazine’s run. Abrams knew he wanted to “create a community in print,” shaping the Eye into a platform that celebrated the possibilities of the neighborhood. In an interview with EV Grieve, Abrams stated, “just helping sustain an atmosphere where people could feel so much was possible was very important.” As a journalist, Abrams had previously attempted to start two other newspapers, but they fizzled quickly. However, his vision for the Eye was different. He wanted to create a journal that focused on participation rather than consumption of culture. Equipped with a $2,000 loan from his mother and knowledge from a graphics and paste-up course, Abrams set up the magazine’s first office in a basement storefront at 167 Ludlow Street. The first edition was published in May 1979. It featured hand drawn ads from local businesses and a letter to the editor from Abram’s aunt, wishing him good luck with his new endeavor. 

The staff of the East Village Eye, December 1985

One of the advantages of the East Village Eye was its diversity. Any topic about the East Village and its surroundings were a suitable subject for publication, regardless of whether they were serious or trivial. This was a strength, allowing the Eye to reach the far corners of counterculture and foster a sense of intermingling between the different social scenes. The magazine was attuned the evolving culture of downtown Manhattan and was often the first to publish, document and define movements as they were emerged. When hip hop moved downtown, the Eye was there with early coverage on the iconic film “Wild Style” and stories on Afrikaa Bambaataa, Fab Five Freddy, Run DMC, and the Rock Steady Crew. The Eye even boasts being the first publication ever to define the term “hip hop,” in their January 1982 issue.


East Village Eye, March 1983.

The Eye is notable for its extensive coverage of the East Village art scene, providing a nurturing environment for legendary artists like Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger and David Wojnarowicz. The magazine was one of the first to cover the famous group show, The Times Square Show, and ran frequent art reviews on the small, artist-run galleries that proliferated in the East Village. Many artists created work specifically for publication in the Eye, and the magazine had a tradition of commissioning artists to create a centerfold for each issue, including Christy Rupp, Ellen Berkenblit, and Futura 2000. 

East Village Eye, April 1983.

In January 1987, the East Village Eye published its last edition. Abrams cites the sheer exhaustion of working 50 hour work week for little pay as the reason he called it quits. Others have mentioned the decline of the East village art scene as a reason. In 1985, Eye’s art editor, Carlo McCormick, published an obituary for the neighborhood’s art scene. Abrams also felt the decline as the forces of gentrification kicked in and more galleries started to close.

East Village Eye, June 1980; the cover, featuring art by John Holmstom.

In 2012, with the aid of assistants, Abrams digitized every copy of the East Village Eye, and began uploading the back issues to the magazine’s website. He started looking for options to preserve the magazine’s legacy, a long search that only ended recently when the East Village Eye archives were acquired by the New York Public Library. In an official statement, Abrams wrote “NYPL’s acquisition of the East Village Eye archive is the perfect outcome of our years-long search for the best home for these materials…. It covers a time when it wasn’t always easy to love New York City, but we always knew how important it was to bring these voices to the public and to preserve them, even if it meant dragging them from one storage space to another for some 35 years.”

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