ArtsWestchester acquired its historic building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue in downtown White Plains in 1998. At that time, though the abandoned bank building was one of Westchester’s first skyscrapers, ArtsWestchester saved it from almost-certain destruction. Twenty years later, it is a vibrant cultural landmark in the City. Upon purchasing the building, ArtsWestchester painstakingly restored the richly-detailed neoclassical-style building of the 1920s, and creatively adapted it for use as an arts incubator and multi-arts center for the County.
Looking to the Past
As the building transformed, so did the city. By opening its doors to the community, ArtsWestchester provided local residents and visitors with access to a wide array of cultural programs. According to John Barnes, Senior Vice President at Reckson, A Division of SL Green Realty, “We believed that establishing a home for the arts in downtown White Plains would be central to the growth of the arts in the city.”
After 20 years, the building has become a go-to cultural destination filled with creative energy. Its two-floor Grand Banking Room functions as a gallery that houses cutting-edge exhibitions and hosts intimate performances and community programs. Its upper floors, in addition to ArtsWestchester’s headquarters, are home to nearly 30 creative businesses, artist studios, rehearsal spaces and meeting rooms. The transformation of the building was accomplished with the help of countless individuals. The project went through many phases of renovation and restoration, starting with health protocols and continuing with façade restorations, gut renovations and the preservation of original detailing. The building, originally owned by Peoples National Bank and Trust Co., was itself a work of art. ArtsWestchester sought to embrace the landmark building’s cultural and architectural significance: its ceiling’s decorative rosettes, the Palladian-style windows, the once-obscured wall mural, and the massive steel vault that now holds site-specific art installations.
John Sullivan, principal of Sullivan Architecture, was a partner in the purchase and restoration of the building, working with ArtsWestchester toward a shared vision of a home for the arts. He said of the process: “I saw initially, right away, the opportunities that this building could offer to artists as an arts facility, through a combination of renovation and restoration.” He continued: “As related arts professionals, my colleagues and I were excited to be part of this process and be part of the redevelopment of the city. That was most meaningful to me.”
Sullivan, still ArtsWestchester’s architect, continues to make building improvements and help the organization to meet the needs of its community. The nonprofit organization has opened its arts-incubator doors to artists, architects, designers and other creative people by providing a supportive environment that encourages collaboration and the development of fresh, creative ideas.
According to ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam: “Having this diversity of talent housed under one roof is what makes an arts incubator a place that stimulates creativity, energy and a robust exchange of ideas and skills among tenants and with the community.
Celebrating the Future
In celebration of twenty years in its White Plains home, the 53-year-old organization looks to the future of its role as the arts headquarters for the County. ArtsWestchester embraces this role with a set of new initiatives this spring.
New building signage is being on-boarded to give the façade of the building a facelift. This will help to define the building as an arts center on the outside of its walls as much as it is on the inside.
A public street art project, being installed this month, will bring color to Mamaroneck Avenue and will further identify ArtsWestchester as a center of cultural activity. The colorful street mural, custom designed by artist Wane One, will act as a “welcome mat” of vibrant colors, greeting people as they walk. According to Wane One: “It is our goal to add an undeniable charm to this already great community and further make it a point of interest that inspires vibrancy, wonder and amazement.”The mural is an example of ArtsWestchester’s efforts to bring public art into the City, literally spilling out onto the streets and into the community.
The expansion of ArtsWestchester’s Teen Tuesday program extends its arm to engage the local teen population in the arts through interaction and discussion. The after-school initiative, for students aged 12-16, offers free arts workshops through the summer of 2018.
ArtsWestchester’s annual ArtsBash event this year will double as a celebratory building birthday party, titled “Arts Birthday Bash.” Guests will be invited to explore the landmark building as they enjoy tastings from local restaurants and meet resident artists in their open studios. John Sullivan will be among the artists opening their doors. His 7th-floor office will display drawings and photos from various phases of the building’s renovation.
The Arts Birthday Bash evening will honor Sullivan, as well as other key players who were fundamental in making ArtsWestchester’s vision for a home in downtown White Plains a reality: John Barnes, New York State Assemblyman David Buchwald, Salvatore Campofranco, Cesar Chekijian, Kenneth J. Gould, Esq., Emily & the late Eugene Grant, the late William McNamee, New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, George Ross and Robert P. Weisz.
The ArtsWestchester Triennial, also on view during Arts Birthday Bash, will launch this year as well. The inaugural Triennial exhibition features top contemporary artists of the Hudson Valley region. The once-every-three-years art event will become a mainstay of ArtsWestchester’s exhibition programming. After an opening reception on May 6, the exhibition will be on view from May 8 through July 28.
Today, ArtsWestchester’s vision for its landmark building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue has been realized. A building once near demolition is now full of life – a cultural hub of activity for artists and creative businesses that provides accessible and affordable arts to its community.
Discover the History of ArtsWestchester’s Building:
A version of this article first appeared in the May issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.