Galapagos Art Space Will Make Detroit Its Home

A building that will be part of Galapagos Art Space’s new base in Detroit, a city considered affordable for performance art centers.Credit Robert Elmes

The Galapagos Art Space, a performance center and cultural staple in Brooklyn for nearly 20 years, will close this month, another casualty of rising rental prices that its founder says are making it difficult for independent arts organizations to survive in New York.

“A white-hot real estate market is burning through the affordable cultural habitat,” said Robert Elmes, the space’s executive director. “And it’s no longer a crisis, it’s a conclusion.”

Galapagos helped put Williamsburg on the art map when it opened there in 1995 as a bar and performance venue; it moved to Dumbo in 2007, occupying a former stable equipped with an interior 1,600-square-foot lake surrounded by what its organizers called an “operatic-style mezzanine.”

Although the last night of programming is likely to be Dec. 18, the center will have a second life — more than 600 miles away, in Detroit. Over the past year, Mr. Elmes and his wife, Philippa Kaye, have bought nine buildings totaling about 600,000 square feet in that city’s Corktown neighborhood and in neighboring Highland Park, paying what he described as the price of “a small apartment in New York City” for the properties.

Among the buildings is “an old power plant that looks like a little Tate Modern,” Mr. Elmes said. The centerpiece of the new Galapagos will be a 10,000-square-foot lake, he said, and he is planning about 16 months of renovation work before opening. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder; the state’s Economic Development Corporation; and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation have been supportive of the project, Mr. Elmes said, adding that Galapagos is planning to start a Detroit Biennial in 2016.

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