Anyone who’s ever visited Eyebeam at its current home on West 21st Street knows that it’s something of the red-headed stepchild on the block. If the art and technology center were to throw a street party, it’d be grilling hot dogs with the staffs of Tanya Bonakdar, Gladstone, Paula Cooper, and Gagosian galleries. And then its partygoers might start graffiti’ing the facades of those galleries, and everything would go downhill. So maybe it’s just as well that Eyebeam is moving to Brooklyn.
The nonprofit announced the news today via a press release, explaining that it will move into the BAM Cultural District in Downtown Brooklyn (BAM stands for Brooklyn Academy of Music). This comes on the heels of Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement yesterday that Jonathan Rose Companies will be the developer for the last site left in the area, the BAM North Site II, which will include market-rate and affordable housing, a restaurant, and a cultural space. The latter, according to Curbed, will comprise 27,000 square feet shared by Eyebeam and Science Gallery International. The BAM North Site II sits at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Ashland Place.
“It’s a great location. It’s absolutely right smack in the center of the BAM cultural district and a great location for public access,” Eyebeam Executive Director Patricia Jones told Hyperallergic.
“The only downside, as I see it, is that I can’t bike to work — or it’ll be more of a trek to bike to work,” she added jokingly.
Jones explained that Eyebeam rents its space in Chelsea, in a building that was bought by its current owner in 2000. In the 13 years since, “it’s gotten more upscale,” Jones said. “A lot of people are going to be very sorry to see us leave Manhattan and leave Chelsea. I think we’ve all enjoyed being here, and it certainly has given us a certain cachet, but the neighborhood has also changed a lot. Gagosian was not down the street.”
Although the move is official, details about most aspects of the plan are still up in the air. In addition to Jonathan Rose, Curbed reported the involvement of three firms – Dattner Architects, Bernheimer Architecture, and SCAPE Landscape Architects — in the design of the larger site, but the architect for Eyebeam’s space hasn’t yet been decided. The organization needs to raise money for the construction and move, though they will be given a portion of the proceeds of the Chelsea sale. The timeline is also uncertain; Jones estimated that the final transfer of property would take place in 2014, with a projected move-in sometime in early 2016. Given that Eyebeam’s current Chelsea space is going on the market this fall, that may leave the organization temporarily homeless.
“Depending on who purchases the Chelsea location, we’ll negotiate a lease with that individual or we’ll be looking for an interim space,” said Eyebeam Communications Director Zoë Salditch. “We’ll have our eyes on Brooklyn for an interim space, but it will depend.”
Even if Eyebeam is left improvising for a little while, Jones seems to view the move as unequivocally positive. For one, it will allow the organization to own its space, which seems invaluable for survival as a nonprofit in New York City. Second, Jones pointed out that whereas the current space is a big warehouse with a “raw and rough and ready appeal,” its layout and logistics prevent Eyebeam from having more than one event at any given time. “It’ll be nice to have a space that we can divide up the way we want it and have more things going on at the same time.”
The move to Brooklyn represents a kind of homecoming for Eyebeam — the organization began there — while also bringing it closer to its audience and, one might say, its cultural milieu. The nonprofit-filled neighborhood of Downtown Brooklyn seems like a better fit than market-oriented Chelsea, and the new location puts Eyebeam immediately in dialogue with such key Brooklyn players as BAM and Mark Morris Dance Company; it may even get a boost from being one of few visual-art organizations amid a throng of performing-arts ones.
“Most of our staff is in Brooklyn, a lot of our audience is in Brooklyn,” Jones said. “People will have a much clearer idea of what we’re doing and what we’re about when we’re in Brooklyn.”