P.S. 109


Funding Received: 2011
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 29, 2011

Partners in transformation

In the unglamorous, yet oh-so-important phase of nearing financial closing and groundbreaking of El Barrio’s Artspace (PS109) project, we fuel the fires of our commitment to the project by keeping the local realities and the needs of artists and the community in the front of our minds.

Long identified as a Puerto Rican area, East Harlem in recent years has come under significant external pressure – enough to persuade many that the community is in danger of losing its traditional cultural identity. Similarly, despite some important steps to invest in the sustainability of New York City’s arts and creative industries, the city’s creative sector has been repeatedly displaced by the gentrification of the neighborhoods in which they lived.

In 2004 the Warhol Foundation asked Artspace to explore how our work across the country might add value to the unique challenges facing the arts and creative industries in NYC. Our initial discovery process led to a dialogue with the late Ibo Balton of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and a city-wide exploratory process with other traditional partners to inform us about the challenges and opportunities that make up the local cultural ecosystem.

It was HPD that first suggested we consider PS109, an abandoned public school in East Harlem for the site of an Artspace project. By that time, efforts by the NYC School Construction Authority to tear the building down had been stopped by community opposition, and its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

HPD also introduced Artspace to Gus Rosado and his team at El Barrio’s Operation Fightback (EBOF), an organization that became a leader in the East Harlem community by providing vital housing and social services to El Barrio’s residents for 30 years.

EBOF invited Artspace to focus on El Barrio and PS109 as a NYC demonstration project to create a sustainable, replicable model for permanently affordable space in which artists, their families, and cultural organizations can live, work, and contribute to the community around them. Shortly thereafter, Artspace and EBOF formed a partnership – El Barrio Artspace LP – which will develop, own, and operate the El Barrio’s Artspace (PS109) project.

Artspace has been honored to work in partnership with EBOF and the community leadership of El Barrio. Together, with the support of a host of individual, civic and philanthropic entities we can be part of revitalizing PS109 and contributing to its surrounding neighborhood. A building that once faced the threat of the wrecking ball will again be a vital partner to the economic and cultural health of the community.

Next month – more about El Barrio’s Operation Fightback and how the EBOF/Artspace partnership can be a catalyst for change in the community.