The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) recently announced a $13 million renovation project at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center in the Lower East Side, a historic arts and community venue. Sage & Coombe Architects are design consultants on the endeavor.
The project adds a new elevator and improvements to the lobby and corridors that date back to the 19th century. This, city officials say, will make the Center fully ADA compliant, and make for a more inclusive setting for the Center’s 70,000 annual visitors.
Since 1993, the Center at 107 Suffolk Street has been a hub for local artists and community leaders. It was built inside of an old school building, P.S. 160, that was completed in 1897 by Charles B. J. Snyder—an architect that takes center stage in Jean Arrington’s From Factories to Palaces.
Today, the six-story, city-owned building is named after Clemente Soto Vélez, a famous Puerto Rican poet and socialist activist who’s credited with mentoring multiple generations of Latinx artists. Inside there are four theaters, three exhibition galleries, 46 subsidized artist studios, and 12 subsidized offices for arts-adjacent nonprofit groups in the palatial 100,000-square-foot edifice. It’s helped springboard the art careers of luminaries like Rita Indiana, Esperanza Spalding, and Guadalupe Maravilla.
One program that calls the Center home is the arts nonprofit, Society of the Educational Arts (SEA). SEA’s programming includes the country’s only bilingual puppet troupe, whose performances at the Center entertain the historically Puerto Rican community who knows this neighborhood as “Loisaida.”
The renovation led by New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Department of Design and Construction will upgrade the building to meet contemporary standards and future needs. An external elevator cab will connect the building’s six floors, currently walk-up-only, as well as provide roof access. In the lobby, a new entrance will connect visitors to a more open floor plan at grade. Wheelchair ramps will be added at restrooms. A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Center on January 6, 2024 on Three Kings Day to kickoff the project.
“In addition to the enhancements, we will launch a fund to continue to provide meaningful infrastructure upgrades, and to keep cultural workers’ ability to develop new works live in Lower Manhattan with upgraded production values, underscoring our dedication to multi-generational audiences and families of Latinx and diverse cultural heritages,” said Libertad Guerra, executive director of the Center. “This aligns perfectly with our mission to be a dynamic hub for cultural engagement, equity and affordability.”
Construction is slated for completion in summer 2025.