The Exotic Experience of Galapagos, NYC
One must walk a metal grating over a reflecting pool, moodily lit with floating and wall candles, just to get inside. Its exposed beams and grids running along the top of the warmly lit interior subtly evoke the environment's found, industrial beauty in a spontaneous way. Beyond the moat-like entrance, the bar maintains a welcoming vibe.
Over a decade ago Galapagos has successfully established itself as a Williamsburg cultural center, hosting plays, bands, DJs and cabaret acts. Since 1995, it blazed an artistic trail along a waterfront being always new, edgy & daring, flaunting all things experimental. At the time, who would have thought that Williamsburg would become a destination neighborhood filled not only with the Hipster locals but also Westchester Glitterettes & Long Island Sparklers? Rent quadrupled between 1995 and 2008 as condos sprung up like mushrooms all over the neighborhood, encircling McCarren Park like a mini-Upper West side.
After being priced out of its former digs in Williamsburg, Galapagos Art Space's new, double-the-size venue (capacity is 175 seated, 230 standing) in DUMBO, a mature art zone with more teeth and a big knot of transportation routes nearby, is seeking certification as New York's first green venue. Settling into its new home, Galapagos Art Space is proudly getting used to its title of the first LEED-certified cultural venue. It's made mostly of recycled steel and concrete and plans are also in the works for a wall of living flowers and a rooftop garden. Three rows of half-moon red banquettes float above reflecting pools with a bar conveniently close by, while a mezzanine provides an aerial view. The self-labeled event space occupies a block of Main Street that couldn't be any closer to the water without floating out to sea, and that's not the only aqueous correlation. In the main area, past a small coat check and access to the mezzanine, circular outcroppings jut from a central aisle, each filled with small round tables and smaller stools as well as a few couch contenders, but one look over the side of your particular circle and vertigo takes hold. A black pool of water fills the space between the seating areas and the walls, reflecting the beams and lights of the ceiling. The stage beyond the viewing area is simplistic at best, a wooden affair with a piano not-so-sequestered off to the side. Up in the mezzanine—past the door to the outdoor enclosure, the smokers legally assigned space—the same furniture scheme continues, albeit with more commanding views of whatever particular action is going on that night. A small satellite bar makes it easy to get into a perfect mood without getting downstairs.
But Galapagos isn't just green. Its variety of performances and projects is incredibly diverse—featuring everything from burlesque and cabaret acts to film screenings and art exhibitions, parties and benefits. Galapagos also offers activities for kids, like the DUMBO Kite Flying Society. Its goal: to bring culture to the community and create an audience for the art. Consider it met.
The space is also trying new forms of financing their production, that –if work well there – could be a chance for many other performing art institutions to keep their heads above the water in these difficult times. A micro-financing funding model based on the Nobel prize winning Grameen bank offers patrons a partial ownership in the new theater productions (plus other perks, like skydiving ticket for a reasonable amount of money. That means that when the new play becomes a hit, goes to Broadway and makes millions – you (if you decided to support it from the beginning with your 100$) are a shareholder of this success. Sounds crazy? Maybe, but Galapagos declares no interest in government grants or public funds of any kind. They count on survival due to the strength of the art they offer. Bold, isn’t it? Even though the model isn’t necessarily adaptable to other artistic endeavors they’re consistently proving a model appropriate for the performing arts, not pretending to have a solution appropriate to painters or sculptors or small dance companies.
This is New York City; one of the greatest cultural cities to ever have risen; perhaps the greatest. As cultural leaders in New York we can’t simply be placeholders, bystanders in the midst of what others before us have built - we have to lead – says Robert Elmes, Director of Galapagos Art Space. Let him be right.