Detroit’s burgeoning reputation as a haven for young urban artists got a boost Monday with news that Brooklyn-based Galapagos Art Space will move to Corktown and Highland Park in 2016.
Founded in 1995 and often cited as an anchor for Brooklyn’s revitalization, the multi-purpose arts center is closing in New York this month.
“We were priced out of New York,” Robert Elmes told the Free Press on Monday.
Elmes, the founder and executive director of Galapagos, said that young artists unable to afford New York prices are moving to places like Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas, or Minneapolis. Yet the nation continues to need a “national mixing chamber” for young artists and Detroit appears to be stepping up to that role, he said.
Unlike a nonprofit museum or theater, Galapagos is a for-profit arts space presenting a variety of pop music, theater, dance, indie classical music, cabaret, burlesque, lectures, TED talks and more.
It also produces its own programming such as a weekly Cirque du Soleil-styled series with jugglers, aerialists and other circus performers called Floating Kabarette.
The main home of the operation will be in an empty building at 109 Glendale in Highland Park.
Though stripped and in rough shape, Elmes said, “the structure itself is beautiful, a wonderful proud building that we’re very happy to have. It gives us a very good opportunity to start building the dream.”
Galapagos plans to house a variety of artists and gallery spaces as well as meeting rooms and performance spaces. In years to come, Galapagos will build out eight other structures purchased, including the former Apac Paper warehouse at 1800 18th St. in Corktown.
Galapagos plans to host a Detroit Biennial, a juried art show showcasing the best of homegrown contemporary art, at the 18th Street location starting in 2016. Eventually, he would like to develop it for residential housing, but will need to raise money to do that in the coming years.
Besides the Corktown building and the former school and related smaller buildings in Highland Park, the other buildings purchased by Galapagos in Highland Park are: another school property at 60 Cortland, and structures at 12345 Third St. and 224 Highland.
Art as urban revitalizer
Elmes said he has been visiting Detroit for more than two years to assess the arts scene here and to scout properties.
Galapagos’ decision to relocate to Detroit puts an exclamation point on the degree to which arts and culture have become an important driver of the city’s revitalization.
On one front are the growing number of artists and young creatives moving into the city. On another front are aesthetic-minded entrepreneurs and incubators such as Ponyride in Corktown, which provides inexpensive space for start-ups and artists.
Then there are new performance spaces and galleries, among them Trinosophes near Eastern Market and the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Midtown.
Observers like Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit executive director Elysia Borowy-Reeder said Galapagos, because of its size and impressive track record in Brooklyn, has the potential to shine a bright spotlight on Detroit as a center for artistic experimentation.
“I’m thrilled that Galapagos is moving here because the more art and culture in the city the more Detroit will become known as a culturally rich city and the more that will help MOCAD,” said Borowy-Reeder.
Others in the Detroit arts community, however, are casting a more wary eye on Galapagos. Oliver Ragsdale, president of the Carr Center — a home to a variety of arts and education programs in downtown Detroit — sent out an e-mail to supporters Monday night noting that the Carr Center has already been doing for years nearly everything Galapagos wants to do in the city, with a particular emphasis on African and African-American cultural traditions.
Ragsdale wrote that Galapagos arrives with the kind of state and city support that has been difficult for the Carr Center to access while also becoming potential competition for the “home team.”
“Let’s not allow these new urban pioneers to come in and usurp what the natives have been working hard to do for years,” Ragsdale wrote in a fund-raising appeal to garner support for the center’s $15-million renovation plan.
Joel Peterson, co-owner-director of Trinosophes, said he believed there was plenty of room for a player like Galapagos in Detroit and that he did not view it as competition. Peterson said he was more concerned that the same gentrification and rising real estate prices that forced its move from New York might repeat itself in Detroit.
“I worry more about residents getting priced out of here, because costs don’t need to rise very much for that to happen,” he said.
So Elmes, the founder and executive director Galapagos Art Spacein Brooklyn, is packing up his company — and, in time, his family — to relocate Galapagos in about 600,000 square feet of space scattered throughout nine buildings in Corktown and Highland Park. The space will be used for things like art shows, theater, dance, film, dance and science productions.
“Young artists are bouncing away from the idea of going to New York because the costs here are so dramatic,” Elmes said Monday. “Detroit is a city that wants to reinvent itself while holding onto its past. It has a ballast of history and the opportunity to write its own future.
Galapagos Art Space
“While the city is experimenting, we can be experimenting.”
Galapagos, which Elmes said has $2 million per year in annual revenue, plans an ambitious — and expensive — renovation project over the next decade for the buildings he purchased for a song over the last year or so.
Among them are a 125,000-square-foot building at 1800 18th St. in Corktown for $500,000 from Eighteenth Street Investment Co. and five buildings totaling 300,000 square feet for $18,000 from the Highland Park School District, according to CoStar Group Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based real estate information service.
Elmes and top Galapagos management like Finance Director Moti Nahmany and Technical Director Kris Anton expect renovations — including the construction of a 10,000-square-foot indoor lake in one of the buildings — to cost $100 to $150 per square foot, or $60 million to $90 million.
“We are not coming with $60 million to $90 million. We are there to build a venue and build studios and some lofts. As that gains traction, we’ll add more parts to the whole and that’s the goal of the project.”
Originally a sculptor, Elmes said he is confident that as the real estate appreciates in value following renovations, as the areas around Galapagos-owned buildings become destinations for artists and other cultural organizations, and as Galapagos expands into other revenue-generating enterprises, the total build-out cost won’t seem as out of reach as it did to me when he first talked about the price tag.
This building at 109 Glendale in Highland Park will house part of Galapagos Art Space when Brooklyn-based artist Robert Elmes moves his company to metro Detroit next year.
“The arts have suffered far too long from the tin cup mentality of looking for grants and assistance where they should be looking for a funding model that’s sustainable,” he said, noting that Galapagos doesn’t accept government funding or grants for its operations costs.
“An organization typically spends 30 percent of its time fundraising. We can spend that same amount of time marketing the artists we produce, and when the curtains open with a larger audience, that’s bigger revenues.”
Galapagos first opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1995 and since then has put on nearly 7,500 programs and attracted more than 1 million audience members.
The New York Timesfirst reported the story Sunday evening: “Galapagos helped put Williamsburg on the art map when it opened there in 1995 as a bar and performance venue; it moved to [the Brooklyn neighborhood of] Dumbo in 2007, occupying a former stable equipped with an interior 1,600-square-foot lake surrounded by what its organizers called an ‘operatic-style mezzanine.’”
Elmes said Galapagos, expected to open in 12 to 16 months, has eight full-time, about 40 part-time and about 30 artists on its payroll in New York City.
Contractors for the project have not yet been selected.
Art World Abstracts: Galapagos Art Space Goes to Detroit, And More!
By Nate Freeman | 12/08/14 9:05am
Galapagos Art Space. (CourtesyGalapagos)Galapagos Art Space. (CourtesyGalapagos)Galapagos, one of the original Williamsburg experimental art spaces, will pack up shop and head to Detroit, where it can inhabit a sweeping space for cheap and nurture a nascent scene. “A white-hot real estate market is burning through the affordable cultural habitat,” director Robert Elmes told The Times. “And it’s no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.”Read more at http://observer.com/2014/12/art-world-abstracts-galapagos-art-space-goes-to-detroit-and-more/#ixzz3LL4ngzA4
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Simply put, New York City has become too expensive to continue incubating young artists. The white-hot real estate market burning through affordable cultural habit is no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.
You can’t paint at night in your kitchen and hope to be a good artist. It doesn’t work that way.
The canaries in New York City’s real estate gold mine and the basis population of its creative ecosystem – its young artists and thinkers – are no longer talking about the next show they hope to land. They’re talking about the next city they can land in once their current lease runs out.
After nearly 7,500 programs and just over 1,000,000 audience members through our doors, Galapagos Art Space is moving to Detroit.
AN UNMET NATIONAL CAPACITY:
If the core competitiveness of the big apple is culture, but actually being an artist in New York City costs you a full time career in another industry, then the best and brightest – the ones our meritocracy would obviously miss the most – won’t allow their work to suffer just to be among our tall buildings.
Young artists around the country are giving up on New York City.
Instead, they’re bouncing off the perceived costs of living here and traveling only as far as the urban density of their regional capitals. Cities like Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chapel Hill, Austin, Nashville and Philadelphia – all great cities in their own right – are not the national mixing chamber that New York City has been.
We think Detroit can be that place.
The three ingredients ANY CITY NEEDS:
To flourish, a well functioning creative ecosystem needs three things in abundance; time, space and people. Arguably, New York City has people but they no longer have time or space. Detroit has time and space and is gaining its critical third component – artists – at an astonishing rate.
In the end only one-thing matters: good artists and the best young thinkers follow ideas, and ideas flourish only when there is opportunity to realize them.
– Robert Elmes
Executive Director, Galapagos Art Space
** The top two floors of a very normal building in downtown Brooklyn are for sale for one hundred million dollars – yes, one hundred million dollars.
DETROIT YES BLOG
Galapagos Art Space of Brooklyn Will Make Detroit Its Home – NY Times Reports
A combination of untenable NYC rents and Detroit’s somewhat under-the-radar but vibrant art scene has lured another impresario and institution to Detroit. Robert Elmes of the renowned Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn is making the move having boldly acquired the large space behind the Michigan Central Depot [between 18th and 19th and just north of Mexican Village] and the old Highland Park High School on Glendale between 2nd and 3rd.
Below Elmes [left] with former Michigan Building owner Anthony Pieroni surveying Highland Park High School. Click image for larger view.
I had met the energetic Mr. Elmes when he was considering acquiring the Michigan Building where the DetroitYES office is and have met with him on subsequent visits. But at his request I withheld reporting his impending moves until substantiated as they have been in today’s NY Times: Born in Brooklyn, Now Making a Motown Move – Galapagos Art Space Will Make Detroit Its Home
Over the past year, Mr. Elmes and his wife, Philippa Kaye, have bought nine buildings totaling about 600,000 square feet in that city’s Corktown neighborhood and in neighboring Highland Park, paying what he described as the price of “a small apartment in New York City” for the properties.
Among the buildings is “an old power plant that looks like a little Tate Modern,” Mr. Elmes said. The centerpiece of the new Galapagos will be a 10,000-square-foot lake, he said, and he is planning about 16 months of renovation work before opening.
Preliminary plans call for converting the spaces into artist resident/studio spaces with performance and exhibition spaces.
After Nearly 20 Years, Brooklyn’s Galapagos Is Moving To Detroit
Galapagos Art Space would have celebrated its 20-year anniversary in New York City next year, but the venue won’t make it that long—it’s set to close up shop later this month for a massive move to Detroit. Cause of relocation: rising rents.
When Galapagos moved out of their longtime Williamsburg space on North 6th Street in 2008, and into their current space in DUMBO, director Robert Elmes told us, “We love DUMBO, we’re very excited to be here and given that we were certain we were moving to Berlin, the chance to remain in New York was a godsend… growing our Williamsburg pond into a 1,600-square-foot lake has made us very happy.”
Their new venue will dwarf their current home, expanding Galapagos to 10,000-square-feet, and the NY Times reports that Elmes and his wife Philippa Kaye have purchased a number of buildings in the Detroit area, totaling out at 600,000 square feet. All that for the price of “a small apartment in New York City” Elmes told them, adding, “A white-hot real estate market is burning through the affordable cultural habitat. And it’s no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.”
In Michigan, they hope to thrive—”to go back to the early years of our venue and to recreate the success that we had and the impact that we had on a growing community”—and by 2016 want to host a Detroit Biennial.
The last night of programming in DUMBO is December 18th. We’ve reached out to both Elmes and Two Trees (who own the building), and will update if we receive further comment on the move, and the future of the Brooklyn space, which is right next to the Empire Stores development.
UPDATE: Two Trees sent us this statement, “We will keep 16 Main as a building for the arts. Two Trees has long supported and promoted the art and cultural community in DUMBO with free and below market rents and we will continue to do so. We wish Galapagos all the best moving forward in Detroit.”
When we asked why the rent was raised, they told us, “Galapagos’ lease ended last year and we maintained their significantly below market rate beyond their lease. The move to Detroit is a significant step for Robert Elmes to bring his goal of sustainable funding for artists and arts venues to life.”
The Galapagos Art Space, a performance center and cultural staple in Brooklyn for nearly 20 years, will close this month, another casualty of rising rental prices that its founder says are making it difficult for independent arts organizations to survive in New York.
“A white-hot real estate market is burning through the affordable cultural habitat,” said Robert Elmes, the space’s executive director. “And it’s no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.”
Galapagos helped put Williamsburg on the art map when it opened there in 1995 as a bar and performance venue; it moved to Dumbo in 2007, occupying a former stable equipped with an interior 1,600-square-foot lake surrounded by what its organizers called an “operatic-style mezzanine.”
Although the last night of programming is likely to be Dec. 18, the center will have a second life — more than 600 miles away, in Detroit. Over the past year, Mr. Elmes and his wife, Philippa Kaye, have bought nine buildings totaling about 600,000 square feet in that city’s Corktown neighborhood and in neighboring Highland Park, paying what he described as the price of “a small apartment in New York City” for the properties.
Among the buildings is “an old power plant that looks like a little Tate Modern,” Mr. Elmes said. The centerpiece of the new Galapagos will be a 10,000-square-foot lake, he said, and he is planning about 16 months of renovation work before opening. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder; the state’s Economic Development Corporation; and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation have been supportive of the project, Mr. Elmes said, adding that Galapagos is planning to start a Detroit Biennial in 2016.
During its time in Brooklyn, Galapagos produced more than 7,500 events that drew a total of more than a million people, Mr. Elmes said. Those events included musical performances, burlesque, films, variety shows, performance art and visual art.
There was a series called “Nerd Night” with science lectures and beer, and another called the “Floating Kabarette,” a weekly circus that included aerialists, jugglers and contortionists. The venue has hosted a lavish costume ball inspired by the novel “Alice in Wonderland” and a fund-raiser for a nomadic bookmobile associated with an underground publisher called Autonomedia.
From the beginning, Galapagos’s mission has been to provide a home to nurture younger artists, Mr. Elmes said. But rising costs in New York meant it was having a hard time making ends meet, and many emerging artists that Galapagos featured were beginning to move elsewhere.
One of the places where “young artists and thinkers” appeared to be gravitating, he said, was Detroit.
“We have the opportunity to go back to the early years of our venue and to recreate the success that we had and the impact that we had on a growing community,” Mr. Elmes added. “We’re really excited to go back to that.”