Artists Drop Anchor at Governors Island

Artists Drop Anchor at Governors Island

Courtesy Morphosis

The public season has just begun on Governors Island, but as the picnickers, bicyclists, and sightseers step off the ferry this summer, they will find the trail blazed before them. In March, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) opened a year-round artist’s studio on the island, providing workspace for 30 visual and performing artists who will be putting their work on display for this year’s leisure-seeking hordes.

The studio program is located in Building 110, an 1870 brick structure that was once a munitions facility and later offices for the Army and Coast Guard. The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation selected LMCC to activate the 14,000- square-foot space through an RFP process, awarding the organization a rent-free, five-year permit with the option to renew.

In 2009, LMCC took over little more than a big, gutted room, and Davis Brody Bond Aedas (DBBA) provided pro bono design services to transform this blank slate into 20 visual arts studios, two performing arts studios, an exhibition space, and offices. “There’s no architectural end to this,” Steven Davis, a founding principal of DBBA and a board member of LMCC, told AN. “It’s a utilitarian concept, which is really based on providing an armature for the work that will be done within.”

The visual arts studios, each 400 square feet, are subdivided by a movable wall system that will allow flexibility in programming the space. “We wanted to be able to adapt,” said LMCC president Diego Segalini. “In the future, we may have groups of artists working together, so it would be beneficial to be able to make bigger studios.” The wall system also allows views through the space and into adjacent work areas. “It’s an open and fluid environment,” continued Segalini. The performing arts studios are housed in soundproofed rooms with Harlequin floors, each large enough to host mini-recitals of 40 or so spectators.

LMCC selects artists through a juried RFP process. Visual artists are awarded five-month residencies, while performing artists receive rehearsal space on a rolling basis for periods ranging from two weeks to two months. The residency sessions run from March to July and August to September, giving each group time to work on the island in seclusion and time to interact with the public. Three exhibitions of the residents’ work and one curated exhibition will be on display during the public season. The artists’ studios will also be opened to the curious three times during this period.

“There’s such good energy in this space, looking out across the harbor to the city,” said Davis. “It’s a gem that’s separate from the hustle and bustle.”