The Theory of Galapagos


The buzzed-about second incarnation of Galapagos Art Space has finally opened its doors in Dumbo. The venue doubled in size to 10,000 square feet, yet its below-market rent and green features — like wells that help heat and cool the space and fill its reflecting pool — will afford even more creative programming.

Tonight at 7 pm, Earl Dax, the impresario behind the popular downtown cabaret “Weimar New York,” has lined up stars like Stew of the Tony-winning show “Passing Strange” for Galapagos’s official opening party, Welcome Wagon.

Brooklyn Based chatted with director and founder Robert Elmes before the festivities about cultural incubators, Darwin, and the beauty of glassphalt.

How will your programming change from the old Galapagos in Williamsburg?
We’re dropping the rock bands. And we have kids programming now. We’re doing the Dumbo Kite Flying Society event the first Saturday of the month at 9 am. Six kids showed up this Saturday and we’re expecting better wind next time.

There will be theater, cabaret, dance, orchestral music, puppetry. We have Lost in the Trees coming Sept. 27. Check their Myspace page.

When our rent increased $10,000 a month in December of 2005, things changed. Now we don’t have to do the late night shows. Now the rent is lower so we can spend more time pursuing our vision. We’re doing a black box theater upstairs that will open this winter.

You got a deal from the father-and-son developers, Two Trees Management.
The Walentas family gave us a rent that we could afford. They have been truly great. Now we can be an incubator in the cultural setting of the city. We can see acts emerge to the next level, [to] St. Ann’s Warehouse, then to BAM. Susan Feldman, artistic director at St. Ann’s, and Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of BAM, both joined our advisory board.

What is new design-wise?
It’s a strong, beautiful space. We aimed for a jaw-dropping venue that was beautiful and sensual. The 300-foot pond grew to a 1600- square-foot lake with island seating and mezzanine seating above. We created a place where the audience would be excited to come see a production; we made it special.

You’re working on getting LEED-certified. What’s the process like?
Well, it’s an interesting process in that it’s a process. You get points for pursuing different things, and you have to get a certain number of points to get the certification. When we planned the design we decided to focus on using as much recycled materials as we could. It was difficult because some of the trades don’t know about LEED certification. The carpenters are easy — they knew what we needed. Ninety percent of our steel is recycled and our concrete has 30 percent recycled material.

viiphotofest.jpgWhere did the name Galapagos come from?
Like Darwin who theorized evolution, we had a new theory for how venues can be run. We earn 100 percent of our income through events, when most creative venues earn 10 or 15 percent of their income and get the rest from grants. In Berlin, the government has more money available for artistic ventures; we didn’t want to fight for the smaller resources available in the U.S.

How will people get to the new location from the old one?
Williamsburg to Dumbo is difficult. I bike in every day but we’re thinking about the new ferry planned for N. 8th Street to Dumbo. We might do a cultural shuttle from the ferry. [And] there’s the F and the B61 bus! We’re also doing fundraising for the Brooklyn Greenway, a proposed bike path from Greenpoint to Red Hook. Right now the ride isn’t that nice. They’re repaving the roads between Dumbo and the Navy Yard. Did you see the glassphalt [they laid] last week? It uses less tar and instead replaces it with crushed glass. There’s 26 percent glass content and it really sparkles.

Which act are you most looking forward to seeing tonight?
All of them. We have a great lineup!

The new Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main St. in Dumbo, 718-222-8500, Coming up: Michael Aranella’s Dreamland Orchestra Aug. 17, Planned Parenthood fundraiser Aug. 26, and PUNCH Puppetry Aug. 27. The full program of shows and events begins in September.

Sent by Chrysanthe. Photo of Robert Elmes by Stefan Noebel-Heise, first interior photo courtesy Peter Paris/Galapagos Art Space, second by Eric Harvey Brown.

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