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Bushwick Art Gallery To Reopen in Bed-Stuy With New Bar, Owners Say

By Camille Bautista | February 22, 2017 2:47pm
 Art gallery Secret Project Robot is re-locating to Broadway near Lafayette Avenue this spring, according to its owners.
Art gallery Secret Project Robot is re-locating to Broadway near Lafayette Avenue this spring, according to its owners.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A Bushwick art gallery is planning a comeback with a new location and bar in Bedford-Stuyvesant, despite pushback from some community members.

Secret Project Robot, an artist-run gallery and installation space most recently based on Melrose Street, will relocate to 1186 Broadway this spring, according to its owners.

The organization was started in 2004, moving from Williamsburg’s Monster Island to Bushwick in 2011.

Secret Project Robot took a hiatus last summer as a new spot was sought due to higher rent, said co-director Rachel Nelson.

“As an art gallery, we’ve struggled with the rising rents in New York and we’ve been trying to figure out the best way to make art sustainable in the city,” she told attendees at a recent Brooklyn Community Board 3 meeting.

Nelson added that she and her husband and co-director, Erik Zajaceskowski, already own two bars in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick — Flowers for All Occasions and Happyfun Hideaway.

“This has been very helpful for us and we thought that as a way to continue to sustain the arts, we would open a bar in tandem with our gallery,” she said.

Half of the 2,000-square-foot space between Van Buren Street and Lafayette Avenue would serve as the gallery space and the other for drinks, according to Nelson. The new location would be operated by the husband-and-wife team, along with five other partners.

Installations on display are not usually for sale and Secret Project Robot will feature a small menu. The owners are encouraging local caterers to collaborate as the space does not have a full kitchen.

The new venue will host art, music and LGBTQ events, the co-director said.

Up to 14 new employees would work at the location, Nelson said, and the organization hires only artists and musicians who live in the neighborhood.

The plan was met with criticism from some community members who felt that Secret Project Robot attempted to “disguise a bar as an art gallery.”

“I can’t see how having a bar and having a gallery works together,” said Joseph Grant Jr., a local artist. 

“It’s one thing if you’re selling, or if you have wine, but to have a full-out bar and have a gallery together, that’s kind of a hard-sell for me. It doesn’t make sense. I’m an artist as well and it doesn’t make sense.”

Zajaceskowski said the bar will help fund installations and support artists.

“For me, having a drink, a glass of wine, has always been a very big part of going to an art opening. So to me it’s just a model to try to make sustainability and make things work,” Nelson said.

Other residents worried the new space would not incorporate the existing “family-oriented” community and children would be unable to visit the gallery.

“You’re barring us up over here,” one attendee said.

The community board gave a thumbs down to a letter of support for the bar’s liquor license, with a 5-20 vote and 7 abstentions.

The board’s vote is advisory and the State Liquor Authority will make the final decision.

“It’s saddening, as somebody who is investing a lot of money into the neighborhood and cares deeply about the community, including artists and everyone that lives there,” Nelson said of the reaction to the proposal.

The owners are hoping to open Secret Project Robot on Broadway in April or early May.