Spaceworks Transforms Vacancies Into (Affordable!) Artist Studios


Governors Island just got a little bit cooler.

While lots of exciting activities and new projects have been popping up on the little-island-that-could — which the city finally took over in 2010 — there are still many unused, vacant spaces on the 172-acre plot of land just south of Manhattan.

But if a new city initiative goes as planned, those vacancies — and some at the Brooklyn Army Terminal — will be converted into affordable studio and rehearsal space for artists.

It’s one of those win-win kinda things!

The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs is launching the project, but it will eventually be run as a nonprofit organization called Spaceworks. (The mayor also briefly proposed it in his State of the City speech last month).

Runnin’ Scared chatted last week with a program officer from the New York Community Trust, which gave the project a $216,000 grant this month to refurbish 85,000 square feet of vacant space on Governors Island and at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Spaceworks will rent these transformed spaces to artists at below-market rates.

Spaceworks, a real estate intermediary that creates long-term and permanent studio space for artists, will subdivide, refurbish, and sublet these spaces as 300 artist studios — with the goal of becoming self-sustaining through rentals over time. (The Dept. of Cultural Affairs told us that the project is in the early stages, and should expand over time to utilize more vacant properties. They don’t have information yet on exactly how cheap these rents will be, but organizers said it’ll be very affordable for artists).

“New York, like a lot of places across the country, has become an increasingly expensive place to live and work, but New York also has a strong history [of]…arts and culture,” said Kerry McCarthy, program officer with the New York Community Trust.

“New York has always been a place where there have been incredible cultural institutions,” she said. “As it becomes more expensive, artists are an important driver of our economy and our sense of place. We need to make the city a place where they can afford to live and work.”

The idea with Spaceworks is that artists don’t have to make expensive and risky real estate investments, but instead can affordably find spaces that fit their unique needs.
(It’s sorta like these incubator projects that Bloomberg keeps talking about).

(And don’t forget folks, there are, by some standards, actually a lot of vacancies in this crowded city).

In the Brooklyn Army Terminal, this project will make use of some abandoned manufacturing sites.

At Governors Island, the project is an opportunity to expand upon the development that has been growing on the island, McCarthy said. (Some even think the city should physically connect it to the Financial District!) “If we look at what’s happened on Governors Island already, only a small percentage of the island is being utilized. It’s sat there dromant for years. [But now] it’s become this really incredibly vibrant arts destination…To be able to add more artist studios…this is going to let it become so much more vibrant and exciting.”

It’s about art, development, culture — and tourism, too!

“Artists are getting space they can afford to make works that hang in our galleries and bring people to the city to come see it,” she said.