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LIC's SculptureCenter Expands into Neighboring Lot

LONG ISLAND CITY — Queens art institution SculptureCenter kicked off construction on a long-awaited expansion on Tuesday, the start of a major overhaul of its Long Island City gallery.

The renovations to the building at 44-19 Purves St. will include a one-story building constructed in an empty lot next door that will house a visitor's lobby with a bookshop, coatroom, bathrooms and seating areas, plus a 1,500-square-foot outdoor courtyard for exhibits and events.

"It will allow us to better serve our audiences and improve the visitor flow, and it will create a more visible street presence for us," director Mary Ceruti said.

The renovations are part of a larger plan to expand SculptureCenter's reach in the neighborhood over the next several years, Ceruti said.

"We're delighted that we're now entering our second phase to really expand our programs and do more, and solidify our presence in the neighborhood," she said.

The organization intends to launch a whole new series of projects, including public art works, community programs, family workshops and additional exhibits.

While some of the plans are still being finalized, Ceruti said she's working with Long Island City High School to develop an elective class to teach students about art design and urban planning.

They're also planning a second summer block party for Aug. 3, in which Purves Street is shut down for the day and turned into an interactive arts festival.

To continue its expansion, SculptureCenter has launched a new fundraising effort called "Building SculptureCenter Capital Campaign," with the goal of securing $6 million in funding.

More than half of that has already been secured, Ceruti said, thanks in part to money allocated by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.

The renovations are expected to finish in the fall of 2014, but SculptureCenter will continue to host exhibits at the Purves Street space in spite of the construction.

The organization has been at its Long Island City location since 2002. Ceruti said they were drawn to the building — a former trolley-repair shop — in part because of its close proximity to so many manufacturing warehouses, which provide plenty of raw materials for sculptors.

"Often in this building the art gets made right here on site before it's exhibited, so the access to that kind of neighborhood was really important to the artists," she said, saying the group has seen the neighborhood transform as more residential development and other cultural organizations moved in.

"Now 10 years later it's also a wonderful neighborhood to come and see art," she said.