The arts and technology nonprofit Eyebeam recently cancelled its 2016 plans for a major space in the BAM Cultural District of Downtown Brooklyn, Hyperallergic has learned. The move to a new development across from the Brooklyn Academy of Music in that neighborhood was originally announced in October 2013, when the Atlantic Foundation, which owned the institution’s Chelsea space, placed it on the market. The organization will now remain at its interim venue in Sunset Park’s Industry City, where a four year lease is held, while a suitable alternative space is found, according to executive director Patricia Jones.
Seed funding for the move from Chelsea was provided by the Atlantic Foundation with proceeds from the sale of Eyebeam’s former building on West 21st Street. But the planned BAM Cultural District building, called BAM North Site II and developed by the Jonathan Rose Companies, eventually placed pressure both on Eyebeam’s intended programming and finances. In a telephone interview last Friday, Jones characterized the decision, made within the last few weeks, as 80% program related and 20% budgetary. On top of the capital cost of the buildout, the requirements of the larger space “would have doubled the operational cost for the organization,” Jones said, while skewing resources away from research and residencies.
“We want a public presence,” Jones said of possible alternatives that would balance what she describes as her organization’s commitment to public programs, artist residencies, and research projects. Citing the “rough and ready” aesthetic of Eyebeam’s Chelsea and Industry City spaces and Kickstarter’s corporate offices in Greenpoint, Jones indicated that Eyebeam’s future home would hew closer to those characteristics than the “very visible glass facade” of the BAM North Site II building, a new construction. As far as specific neighborhoods, Eyebeam hasn’t formally begun its search but is considering the area surrounding Dumbo, and Jones added that “we really like Industry City.”
The decision marks a reversal from Eyebeam’s position earlier this year. In a June 2014 Wall Street Journal article about the Downtown Brooklyn move, Jones told the paper about the anticipated shift in Eyebeam’s purpose brought about by being “in a space that is so public.” “With more outreach and civic engagement, we’ll introduce a really wide public to this amazing cross section of art, technology, culture, and STEM,” Jones added.
At the time of last year’s announcement of the move to Downtown Brooklyn, board chair Jed Alpert stated that Eyebeam was “thrilled by this opportunity … at the center of an exciting mix of nonprofit organizations, anchored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.” Alpert also noted that the location, adjacent to the Atlantic Terminal, was easily accessible by public transportation; Sunset Park, which is serviced by the D, N, and R subway lines, is considerably more remote.
Though the search for a permanent Eyebeam space has not yet begun, a second inter-borough move is not likely to be in store. “Most of our staff is in Brooklyn, a lot of our audience is in Brooklyn,” Jones told Hyperallergic last year. “People will have a much clearer idea of what we’re doing and what we’re about when we’re in Brooklyn.”