New York City’s First Public Observatory Is Coming to Nonprofit Art Space Pioneer Works

Dustin Yellin's nonprofit art center Pioneer Works is raising $30 million for the project.

A visitor views the Great American Eclipse at Pioneer Works in 2017. Photo courtesy of Pioneer Works.

Artist Dustin Yellin has big plans for Pioneer Works, his non-profit community space for the arts and sciences in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The space, which opened in 2012, is embarking on a $30 million capital campaign that will involve building the first-ever public observatory in New York City.

The news was announced at the institution’s sixth-annual Village Fete, which drew a star-studded crowd that included Pierce Brosnan, Darren Aronofsky, Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, and the musician Maxwell, who gave a special performance. Mayor Bill de Blasio also surprised guests by making an appearance at the annual event.

“In 1847, something was going on in Brooklyn. It was an endeavor to build a public observatory,” Maria Popova, of the website Brain Pickings, told the crowd. “It ended up ultimately failing.” There have actually been six unsuccessful attempts in the history of the city, she went on to explain. But now, “we are finally doing it.”

Pioneer Works has hired New York- and Mexico City-based architecture firm Ten Arquitectos to build a domed observatory space that Janna Levin, Pioneer Works’s director of sciences, told artnet News in an email will be “an iconic beacon visible riverside and a portal to other worlds land-side. We will invite our neighborhood and our to city to squint and focus in the lens of our antique telescope to be transported to an astronomical perspective.”

The idea is partially inspired by the huge response Pioneer Works got when it set up a handful of telescopes set up and ordered 150 pairs of solar glasses for the Great American Eclipse in 2017.

“You could watch [the eclipse] from anywhere; you didn’t have to be in any special location,” recalled Levin, addressing the crowds on Saturday evening. The staff was shocked when a line for the telescopes started forming outside at 9 a.m., hours before the eclipse was set to begin. A total of 4,000 people showed up.

“It became this incredibly celebratory event,” Levin added. “This observatory is so much more than we imagined.”

See photos from the sixth-annual village fete below.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Dustin Yellin at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Dustin Yellin at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Maxwell at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Maxwell at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Bill de Blasio at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Bill de Blasio at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Dustin Yellin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Maggie Gyllenhaal at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Dustin Yellin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Maggie Gyllenhaal at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Pierce Brosnan at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.

Pierce Brosnan at the Pioneer Works Village Fete. Photo courtesy of BFA.


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