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Elmes grows new roots

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On Wednesday, May 14, Galapagos Art Space — the pioneering cultural center that is undergoing a move from Williamsburg to DUMBO — will open to the public for the first time. Although the space will be used to exhibit video for the New York Photo Festival, just as interesting is what founder and Director Robert Elmes has planned for the space. As the first “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”–certified cultural institution in New York City, Galapagos will feature innovative eco-friendly touches (including well water and a possible roof garden) to match the cutting-edge performance schedule.

GO Brooklyn sat down with Elmes in the park at the foot of Washington Street to discuss the venue’s future down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.

GO Brooklyn: When the doors open on May 14, what will the public see in the new Galapagos space?

Robert Elmes: We’re using it as an opportunity to finish certain aspects of the place. There will be six video installations, so our presence will be quiet. But it shows us as a flexible forum to showcase work. We can be an installation space, but can also showcase dance and theater. In a way, it’s expressing the flexibility of the venue.

GO: What part of the venue will be complete?

RE: When you walk in, the space will look finished; the 1,600-square-foot lake will be installed. We’ll look like we’re ready to go even though we have a bit more work to do. We want to put our best foot forward.

GO: So, when will the construction be finished and the venue be open for good?

RE: I’m not sure, to be honest. We still have work to complete, and we have programming in the works, but I think it’s important to open slowly and just operate the space.

GO: Will the programming in DUMBO be similar to what was going on in Williamsburg?

RE: No. We want to rewind to the year 2000, back when we were really hitting a beautiful stride with lots of theater, dance, performance art and cinema. We’ll have a night devoted to cinema on Sundays.

We did a lot of things to be able to survive in Williamsburg. I think we did them with integrity, and we did them successfully, but we’re going to do much less of them. While we did have puppets, we had two rock bands for every puppet. Now we’re in a position not to have to do that. Our rent in 2022 will be less than we’re paying in Williamsburg now. That’s freedom to do culturally relevant work.

GO: Are you still involved with the former Galapagos location in Williamsburg, now called Natural Selection [70 N. Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue, (718) 782-5188]?

RE: No, it’s being run by new people. … Their job is to figure out how to run that space successfully in that rent climate. We struggled to fit in theater and dance, and I don’t think they’re interested in doing that as much.

GO: Will the DUMBO space function as a bar and hangout, though?

RE: You can come and sit next to the lake any night of the week.

GO: And what programming do you already have in the works?

RE: The film series is what we’ll launch with. A local filmmaker will show a short film before a feature. We’re now assembling dance and theater performances. We’re seeing how we want to run our resident artist program. It’s the chance to pivot the venue from what it always has been. You get one chance to be up-and-coming, but we’ve been granted a chance to be brand new again.

GO: How is DUMBO different than Williamsburg for an arts organization?

RE: I think DUMBO already has a lot of the benefits that Williamsburg is just gaining now. DUMBO is already an arranged idea, and it has a lot of room to grow — it’s already a wonderful neighborhood. Williamsburg is going through an identity crisis: everybody is 23 years old and they have very little social experience, and they’re brand new to the city. Williamsburg is all brand new again and has yet to form its identity.

The New York Photo Festival runs May 14 through May 18 at locations around DUMBO, including Galapagos (16 Main St. at Water Street). Tickets are $10 to $400. For information and a complete schedule, visit www.nyphotofestival.com.

Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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