Long in the planning, Abrons Arts Center has announced it will kick off a renovation project this month, with the goal of improving physical access to the building in multiple ways.
The design and construction is being led by Li/Saltzman Architects, a women-owned architecture firm committed to environmentally and socially responsible design.
We spoke with Ali Rosa-Salas, Vice President of Visual and Performing Arts at Henry Street Settlement, about the upcoming project. Rosa-Salas came to Abrons in 2017 and has been serving as artistic director and chief curator of the center’s performance and exhibition programming, as well as manager of its artist residency programs, since the end 2022. She succeeds Craig Peterson, who became president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council last September.
Rosa-Salas told us the renovation has been “many years in the making, with a lot of stake holders involved, a tremendous amount of support from Henry Street Settlement, to make this possible.” She mentioned it was in the works when she initially came on board, almost 6 years ago.
She explained the construction is happening in phases: “The first part of construction is focusing on the lobby and front entrance. We will be installing a LULA [limited use/limited application elevator], which will allow all of our constituents to enter the art center from one entry point. Currently, because of the way the 1915 playhouse building and the 1975 part of the building came together, a lot of those pathways have to be navigated by stairs, so with the integration of the LULA, folks [with a diversity of mobility needs] trying to access the second floor can come into the main entrance, like everyone else.”
The project includes making ADA-compliant restrooms in the lobby as part of the first phase, as well. “Then the second stage will be focusing on the amphitheater face lift,” she said. “So we’ll be increasing the square footage of that space, by moving the exterior wall and replacing the windows and we’ll be doing some infrastructural upgrades to the experimental theater, which is adjacent to our amphitheater space.”
As construction is slated to be complete next spring, one challenge has been to plan carefully in order to have the least amount of disruption for their programs and classes. Programming in the Playhouse won’t be disrupted, she said, but, “We will be hosting a lot of summer programming outdoors, and in partnership with Henry Street Settlement and different community partners. The silver lining is it’s an opportunity to experiment with doing things in different places — a lot outdoors and our galleries will be largely offline for the next year, so we’re actively seeking and working with partners in the area, like Artists Alliance at Essex Market, who will serve as our exhibitions presenting partner.”
In the meantime, Rosa-Salas made sure to note a program that is coming up that she is particularly excited about — The Feels: District 1 Arts Festival 2023, opening on May 9 – featuring the work of K–12 students from 23 public schools in District 1. The exhibition highlights painting, sculpture, and performance created by young artists of the Lower East Side.