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RENDERINGS: Gowanus Arts Building to Get Rooftop Farm and Theater

 A bird's eye rendering of the renovated Gowanus Arts Building at 295 Douglass St.
A bird's eye rendering of the renovated Gowanus Arts Building at 295 Douglass St.
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Civic Architecture Workshop

GOWANUS — They'll grow art on the ground and vegetables on the roof.

A longtime neighborhood arts hub is getting a renovation that will add a theater and gallery to the building's first floor and a farm to its rooftop.

Contractors aim to start work June 1 on a $1.5 million remodeling of the Gowanus Arts Building at 295 Douglass St., the home of the dance nonprofit Spoke the Hub as well as musicians and visual artists.

The project is expected to take about six months and Spoke The Hub hopes to debut the theater space in early 2017, said architect Severn Clay-Youman of Civic Architecture Workshop.

"With big developers and the luxury high-rises pricing local artists and small businesses out of the Gowanus/Park Slope neighborhoods, CAW and the owners of the Gowanus Arts Building hope to create a local community center which champions community, sustainability, diversity and health through art," said Clay-Youman and Spoke the Hub founder Elise Long in a joint announcement.

Some artists who rent space in the building will have to move out during the renovation, but all are welcome to return. One sculptor will have to move permanently because the new space won't suit his needs, Clay-Youman said.

The renovation will reconfigure 295 Douglass and move a third-floor performance space to the first floor. The current third-floor theater is only accessible via aging wood stairs, a set-up that makes it impossible for people who can't climb stairs to attend performances. The third-floor walk-up theater has also cost Spoke The Hub some grant money because it doesn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Long said.

The remodeling will create a new, roomier theater space on the ground floor. The theater will have retractable seating so it can be configured for a variety of uses. New larger windows will also be added to the ground floor to let in more light and to give passers-by a better view of what's happening inside the building, Clay-Youman said.

On the building's roof, a grant from the city's Department of Environmental Protection will help pay for the installation of a rooftop garden that Long has dubbed the "Gowanus Sky Farm." The urban farming group Brooklyn Grange will design the farm, which will grow vegetables and serve as an environmental education center.

A new gallery will also be added to the ground floor and the South Slope's Open Source Gallery will curate shows and run some children's programs there, Clay-Youman said.

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Clay-Youman noted that many Gowanus arts groups, including Spoke the Hub, now provide classes for children, and the renovation will help Spoke the Hub better meet that demand.

When Long and other artists bought 295 Douglass St., a former soap factory, in 1985, the neighborhood was more desolate, and the artists were glad for the nearby Daily News garage "because they had an all-night attendant and 24-hour security," Long said.

These days the influx of families with young children in neighboring Park Slope and Carroll Gardens has brought more foot traffic, and changed how neighborhood arts organizations such as Spoke the Hub operate.

"The interesting thing to watch has been how the arts organizations in the neighborhood are very much supported by their educational activities now," said Youman-Clay, who lives in the South Slope and worked in theatrical design before becoming an architect.

"There's a lot of synergy with classes for kids. This little area — with Spoke the Hub, Brooklyn Boulders, the Brooklyn Music Factory — has become sort of a nexus of the Park Slope child-industrial complex. It's an interesting turn for the arts down here toward education and community outreach."

Gowanus Arts Building Renovation Plans