A rickety, half-century-old building nestled in a pretty part of the South Bronx was abandoned until a few years ago. Amid the boarded-up buildings in the surrounding area, their owner wanted to move his youth center to a larger space in the neighborhood to offer a more comprehensive range of programming to children. He and the city came up with a plan to turn the building into a cultural venue, using money from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and neighborhood groups bought the space at a sale.
On the day the building was to open, tenants of a nearby homeless shelter walked out on their jobs, worried that the artist-run ArtSpace Project would have to shut down because of the location. Instead, the weeklong festival held there saw an average of 500 people per day over a five-day period in the summer of 2016. When the new, state-of-the-art building opened this year, the number of people dropping by jumped by 300.
On Thursday, ArtSpace held its second show, a selection of pictures by Noah Joseph, who said in an interview he has drawn for almost as long as he can remember. It was being shown at an in-school and outdoor space with state-of-the-art digital signage that connects with ArtSpace’s other space.
Joseph, who was born in Brooklyn, said he has been lucky enough to connect with an art community that appreciates his photo collages of superheroes, which have touched on African-American history and other subjects. Some of his portraits, including Chris Rock, actor Denzel Washington and comic Chris Rock, can be found here.
Actors from the hit TV show “Orange Is the New Black” came by to sign their autographs. Scenes from many of the “Breaking Bad” series were projected onto the building, along with a live stream of the Breaking Bad reunion in Santa Monica, in a recreating of the show’s basement. The same artist who created the soundtrack for the movie “Kung Fu Panda” contributed the soundtrack for the outdoor performance space, which can be seen from the bus that took theater-goers back and forth between the venues.
Kenneth Seidman, ArtSpace’s executive director, said he was blown away by the response to the two shows. Some children at school helped make the outdoor stage look as if it were buried in the dirt.
“We found out the kids were controlling the lighting, but we still had to cover everything up,” he said. Seidman said the response was heartening, coming in an election year when not everyone feels so great about the city.
He thought the space would benefit from more public service space like this in other neighborhoods.
Photo: NEW YORK TIMES