Representatives for 122 Community Center, the big 19th century building on the corner of 9th Street and First Avenue, opened its doors for a hardhat tour of its progressing renovations Tuesday afternoon, shedding light on plans for 15 artist studios, a rooftop deck, a pulsing, “breathing” light installation and, of course, three improved performance spaces.
The former school building houses Performance Space 122, the AIDS Service Center, Painting Space 122 and Mabou Mines. PS122 has served as a contemporary performance hub for over 30 years. Under the curatorial vision of Mark Russell from 1985 to 2005, then Vallejo Gantner for the last 10 years, PS122 has presented 25,000 artists from more than 20 different countries, playing a role in the development of artists like actor John Leguizamo, author Jonathan Ames, Blue Man Group, playwright Young Jean Lee and performer and composer Meredith Monk.
Recently the building was vacated for major interior renovations, slated for completion in late 2016. “With the generous support of the City of New York, PS 122 is engaging in a transformative renovation of our home at 150 1st Avenue,” states a press release given to the group of about 15 supporters and reporters at a tour of the the building’s partially renovated interior. Gantner estimated that the entire building’s renovation will cost somewhere in the ballpark of $40 to $50 million (Update: a PS 122 spokesperson later said that while it’s conceivable the project may ultimately cost more, it’s currently budgeted at $34 million), and a Give Performance Space campaign is working to raise an additional $2.25 million, which will be used to build the organization’s resources to increase revenue and eliminate debt.
Some $600,000 of those funds will be dedicated to further outfitting the new lobby, dressing rooms, office spaces and two theaters. Both of the performance spaces are located on the fourth floor adjacent to one another but equipped with soundproofing so activities can run in both at the same time. Right now it just looks like a big, empty space (Gantner said yesterday was the first time he had seen the new roof, which was lifted for higher ceilings than before). Eventually, though, the main theater will have 199 seats with 87 more for the second stage.
All of the seating will be removable, allowing for gatherings of up to 400 people. Gantner pointed out that those who are familiar with PS122 will be relieved to know that there will be plenty of toilets as well. He recalled that the two toilets total didn’t quite cut it and intermissions had to be extended because the bathroom lines were so long. It’s just one of the the things sorely in need of an upgrade in the old building, and bringing the narrow hallways, steep staircases and other outdated aspects of its design up to code is a crucial part of the renovation.
The old stairs, with their intricate banisters, will be preserved as historical features but will no longer serve as a main passageway, Gantner said. Instead, a new addition to the building will increase the size of the lobby to 760 square feet and house a new staircase and elevator. The fifth floor will house administrative and programming offices, and plans for the new construction include a roof deck overlooking 1st Avenue and 9th Street.
There’s also a 55′ by 30′ square foot theater for Mabou Mines, an avant-garde theater group, complete with a shower and dressing room. Artistic Director for the group Sharon Fogarty said she just found out earlier that day that they had secured funding for about 100 seats.
The largest space in the building will be dedicated to 15 large artists studios for Painting Space 122, pictured below. “They’re bigger than a lot of apartments,” commented Gantner. There will be a gallery for exhibitions next to the lobby on the first floor.
And there’s also a long deserted courtyard, which will hopefully be landscaped and converted into a public outdoor area with a cafe, Gantner said, though those plans are not definite and rely on additional funding. He added that he hopes having food, coffee and a nice place to hang out will help keep the building alive and part of the life of the neighborhood throughout the daytime and into the evenings when performances will be held. “I want people flowing in and out of here all day,” he said.
A unique art installation should help attract people to the building as well, as artist Monika Goetz has been commissioned to design a nighttime lighting display called “Inhale/Exhale.” “At night the building will gently and subtly seem to breathe. The whole building will kind of pulse, so it will be alive,” Gantner said.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the spelling of Vallejo Gantner’s surname as well as the projected cost of the project, and to clarify that the name of the building that houses PS122 is the 122 Community Center. The dimensions of the Mabou Mines theater were also corrected.