Governors Island Schoolhouse to Become Artists’ Studios

Building 301 on Governors Island was once a school, but will be transformed into studio space for artists. Photo: courtesy Spaceworks.
Building 301 on Governors Island was once a school, but will be transformed into studio space for artists. Photo: courtesy Spaceworks.

Good news for artists in search of a reasonably-priced place to work: Come spring 2016 the nonprofit Spaceworks, which is dedicated to creating affordable studio space for artists in New York, will open a newly renovated building on Governors Island. As reported by Downtown Express, construction under Douglas Hassebroek of BRB Architects will begin next spring and be completed by the end of 2015.

The island has become a haven for the arts in recent years, hosting participatory art festival FIGMENT each spring and the Governors Island Art Fair every September (see “Artist-Designed Mini-Golf Draws Crowds to Governors Island” and “Summer Lingers at the Governors Island Art Fair“). The latest project will bring 43 studio spaces, a performance and rehearsal space, and maybe even a community space that could double as a gallery, to the island.

It will be housed in a one-story, 20,000-square-foot red brick building that served as the school and development center for children of Coast Guard personnel before the base was decommissioned in 1996. Most of the studios will be between 180 and 200 square feet, with two outliers maxing out at 596 square feet. Funding for the project, which is expected to cost $4.5 million, comes from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

“Governors Island was one of the initial public projects that was identified kind of early on in our evolution as a potential space,” Spaceworks executive director Paul Parkhill told Downtown Express. The organization will have a 20-year lease on the building from the Trust for Governors Island.

The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which is in charge of the island’s Arts Center, will work with Spaceworks to resolve transportation issues. Ferry service to the island currently stops at 6 p.m. “The thing we’re most concerned about is people getting the spaces and then not using them,” said Parkhill.

Spaceworks plans to involve small arts organizations from all five boroughs in the project. “Since Governors Island is technically in Manhattan but really a five-borough resource and not exactly of any of the boroughs, we thought it made sense to try to bring organizations from around the city to participate in the program there,” explained Parkhill.

Interested artists can apply online with a resume, portfolio, and statement. After passing a panel review, spaces will be assigned via lottery. Hourly rent for current Spaceworks locations in Long Island City and Gowanus, and at certain Brooklyn Public Library branches, ranges from $12 to $16, while monthly rent is around $350.

Though Parkhill admits those rates could go up at Governors Island, he stresses that “the mission of the organization is to create affordable space. Regardless of where it ends up, we will strive to keep it quite affordable.”


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