At 55 Bethune St. in the West Village there's a building called Westbeth, and as far as I can tell it is a glorious place to be an artist.
Westbeth is primarily an artist residence (my tour guide told us that over a thousand artists live here), and the waiting list for an apartment is currently seventeen years long; they closed the waiting list nine years ago. It takes so long to get an apartment because the residents stick around. Many are established or aging artists who have lived at Westbeth for decades and demonstrate little inclination to leave their enclave. And why? The place has a gallery, dance studio, community room with piano, studios, courtyard, and, in places, a grandeur left over from the building's previous occupants: Bell Labs' executives, who had the place from 1868-1966. Any parts of the building that were used as executive offices are decorated with a little something extra - fancy tile work, high ceilings, and so on.
One particular place this antique grandeur comes through is in 11th Ave. elevator lobby, which looks out past a few lanes of traffic to the Hudson River. The floor of the lobby is beautifully tiled with precise little white, green, red, and black squares, and the doors, windows, and elevators are framed with dark, carved wood. The ceiling is painted royal blue. Now, though, it's not a lobby meant for fancy executives but for residents going about their business. Concessions have been made. There is a radiator and an industrial carpet, a building map behind plexiglass that was unceremoniously screwed to the wall, a "No Smoking" sign, a bulletin board, and the utilitarian trappings of the elevators. Plus, the space is dim, unevenly lit, and hasn't been maintained very well over the years. This stew of a room is, I'm happy to say, the home of my upcoming site specific dance piece Dance for the Westbeth Elevator Lobby & Gold Shoes.