Interim Transformation of Dormant Spaces is an idea born from a series of successful projects produced by a small team of community minded people in upstate NY. We feel this idea has tremendous potential on a national stage with the right plan and approach. When we saw the GOOD+Marriott Maker Challenge, we realized that it would be a tremendous opportunity to work with the team at GOOD to refine our idea for a national audience. We were so excited to find out we had been chosen as a finalist in the competition, and now we are anxiously awaiting the result!
Beacon is a small town in Upstate New York. If you have ever been there, you may have noticed a massive four-story factory building on the east end of Main Street that has artwork in each of its windows. This building did not always look this way. In fact, as recently as 2007, it was just another forgotten factory building left over from the post industrial age. Almost every window was broken, it was surrounded by garbage and slowly being reclaimed by nature. The building and its surrounding area had once been a vibrant manufacturing center, filled with active factory buildings, making everything from hats to boxes. Employees worked in shifts around the clock and Beacon thrived with prosperity. As time went on, the world changed and the manufacturing jobs disappeared. One by one, the factories closed and began to decay as they sat dormant waiting to be demolished or rediscovered.
Buildings like the one in Beacon, NY exist in cities and small towns across America. Often these properties are owned by people with no recourses or motivation to develop them and other times they belong to the cash-strapped cities and towns where they reside. These old buildings are often structurally sound enough to keep around and have tremendous potential with the right financial investment, but the surrounding area may not be ready for big time development. Currently, there are two "modes" for these structures: Mode 1: dormant, unused and waiting for someone to show interest in revitalizing the property. Mode 2: active, in-use or in the process of being developed. The first mode is not only bad for the building, it is also bad for the surrounding community. The second state is typically beneficial for both the building and the surrounding area. The question is, can there be a third, interim state for a building? Is there a new state that can exist between dormancy and development?
In 2008, four small business owners on Beacon's east end defined their version of this interim state. It all began by fantasizing about what could be done with the decaying structure: Big artists studio space? A hotel? What about a brewery with lofts upstairs? All good ideas, they agreed, then reality set in and they acknowledged that none of them had the financial resources or experience to see these ideas through. However, in the spirit of persistence, instead of changing the subject they kept talking.
"What if we got permission from the landlord to install artwork in all of the broken-out factory windows? It could become an outdoor gallery for everyone to enjoy!"
"Yeah and we could shut down the street and have a festival where artists create the work live in front of the building and then install the art work with a crane once the work is completed!"
Although this was also an intimidating idea, it felt possible and they put the wheels in motion to make it happen. After talks with the landlord and the City of Beacon, numerous emails, phone calls and planning sessions, the event began to take shape. In May of 2008, the streets were shut down, 24 artists created huge murals while music filled the air, spectators soaked it all in while enjoying local food and exploring the town. The mood was in a word, Electric. As the art was completed and installed into the windows, the building quickly evolved from a forgotten relic to a temporary outdoor art gallery, now known as the Electric Windows Building.
The success of the 2008 Electric Windows installation inspired a new round of paintings and another event in 2010, which expanded to include two adjacent factories. In 2011, the founders of the event wanted to do something different, so instead of new paintings they used the building as an enormous projection screen. They invited 24 animators to create videos inspired by the current artwork on the building for the Electric Projected Festival.
Fast forward to 2013. The east end of Main Street is no longer a sleepy forgotten part of town. Over the past three years, the area has blossomed with life. One of the old factory complexes has been transformed into a mixed-use hotel, loft, restaurant and events center. An old theater building is being brought back to life and multiple shops, cafes and galleries have popped up. The Electric Windows building is still covered with paintings and patiently waiting for it's turn to be developed, but now, instead of being surrounded by crumbling reminders of more prosperous times, it is surrounded by the energy of revitalization and transformation.
If four concerned citizens of a small town can transform a building into an outdoor art gallery while the area waits for development, what can be done with the countless buildings across the United States that sit waiting for a second life...