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Lost in space: Library privatizes part of Williamsburg branch

Lost in space: Library privatizes part of Williamsburg branch

The Williamsburg library is open — for business.

The Brooklyn Public Library has gone ahead with a controversial plan to hand over part of its Division Avenue branch to a private organization. Spaceworks, a group that uses taxpayer dollars to create arts spaces around the city, on Monday opened the doors to its new facility on the building’s second floor, and some literature-lovers are up in arms over what they say is the calculated privatization of public space and a dereliction of the library’s duty.

“This is stealing public space and giving it to private groups,” said Carolyn McIntyre, a founder of activist group Citizens Defending Libraries. “This is a real-estate deal and is no longer true to the mission of what libraries are about, which is making information and books available for the good of the public.”

Spaceworks, which the city created in 2011 but is now an independent organization, will pay the library system $20,000 a year to use the space, which it will subsequently rent out to local visual artists, musicians, and dance troupes for what it deems affordable rates. The group has an agreement to occupy the digs for the next two decades, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The library claims the second floor of the Williamsburg branch had been sitting empty for years, and Spaceworks says its business will put the space to good use.

“We think it will be a huge resource for artists in the neighborhood and a good way to get artists into the library,” said Spaceworks executive director Paul Parkhill.

Spaceworks used $650,000 of taxpayer dollars from the city to fit the floor out with four art studios and two rehearsal spaces — one for musicians and the other for performance artists. It will charge between $14 and $18 an hour for the rehearsal rooms, and selected artists will be able to rent three of the studios for $4,200 to $4,800 a year.

The library and some local arts and community groups will also use the rooms for public classes and programs, the organization says.

L’Ecole Des Beaux Arts, which describes itself as “an artist supply and housewares store” that offers art classes, is renting the fourth studio and is already teaching free weekly kids art workshops there. It is also using the space to host paid classes — it held a $115-per-person “adult arrow-making workshop” there in May, and a $120 “indigo dying” class last month, according to its website.

Ideas Creative Drama, which runs free kids’ drama classes at various libraries around the borough, will also host some classes in the space, and community center group El Puente will run some of its programs there, Spaceworks says.

Artists hoping to rent one of the three available art studios first have to be approved by a panel, which includes Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna, and then go into a lottery for a one-year lease, which they can renew if they want. Parkhill said the scheme will offer the artists a reliable place to pitch their easels.

“A lot of artists have experienced instability, and we want to offer them some stability,” said Parkhill.

The Brooklyn Public Library had also planned to rent Spaceworks room in its Red Hook branch, but Parkhill says that plan will likely be shelved following an outpouring of opposition in the neighborhood.

The Williamsburg Library is the oldest and largest of the 21 libraries industrialist Andrew Carnegie bequeathed the borough around the turn of the 20th century. The city landmarked the 110-year-old building in 2005.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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