Walking down Washington Avenue in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, I frequently pass a handsome brick building with the telltale green lanterns of a former police precinct headquarters. Regal, imposing, and even a little bit spooky, the 80th Precinct Building is one of the prominent landmarks of my pedestrian and neighborhood life. While I regularly pass the “police castle” (as it is commonly known among my neighbors) while running errands or visiting my local pub, I was surprised to encounter it, in photographic form, while processing the contents of the MoMA PS1 archives. As it turns out, from 1972 to 1973 the top two floors of the 80th Precinct Building were used as artists’ studios, exhibition space, and a community arts center, while the bottom half of the building continued to be used by the police department. This unexpected symbiosis was born out of the lobbying of the Institute of Art and Urban Resources (IAUR), an organization that sought to reappropriate vacant or under-used properties as temporary studio or exhibition space.
IAUR recognized that many younger or less established artists were being priced out of Manhattan studios, and that property owners (especially the City of New York) had an excess of abandoned buildings that were expensive to maintain and magnets for vandalism and urban blight. Placing artists in these neglected buildings created a win-win situation for both parties: artists were provided with affordable space to create and exhibit their works, and the landlords were relieved of the burden of building upkeep and security by IAUR, which acted as a middleman in these arrangements. In the case of the 80th Precinct Building, in 1972 the 80th and 77th precincts were consolidated into a new headquarters on Utica Avenue, leaving the precinct building on Grand Avenue operating at less than half capacity. By renting out the remainder of the station house to local artists in exchange for art instruction for neighborhood children, IAUR and the police department hoped to foster a creative spirit within the community and improve relations between local youth and the police force.
For the most part, a building would be occupied by IAUR on a temporary basis until the landlord could find a more conventional tenant. This stopgap model afforded IAUR an autonomy and flexibility that kept it somewhat unpredictable, but always interesting, a trait that appealed to artists and art audiences alike. Nearly a dozen such projects have been identified using the documentation within the MoMA PS1 archives, one of the most well known spaces being MoMA PS1 (formerly P.S.1 or Project Studios One) itself, which operated an extensive studio space program up until 2004 in addition to holding exhibitions. To learn more about the places that IAUR repurposed as studio and exhibition space, explore the map below.
View IAUR Spaces in a larger map
In addition to championing artistic endeavors, programs like those of the Institute of Art and Urban Resources were—and remain–essential, in that they bring the arts into communities far off the beaten path of Museum Mile and reinvigorate areas that would otherwise be blighted by the presence of derelict properties. While MoMA PS1 and the Clocktower are the only vestiges of IAUR still in operation, echoes of these early experiments in property reclamation can be found in kindred spaces throughout the city—and even in our own backyards.
The Records of MoMA PS1 are currently being processed by the Museum Archives thanks to a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. The Records are currently closed to the public, but documents concerning the activities of the Institute for Art and Urban Resources, as well as documents about the rest of MoMA PS1’s 40-year history, will be available to researchers at the end of 2012.