When Dan Bush received the keys to 78th Street Studios a week after his wedding, his vision for the building didn’t really extend beyond pitching ivy removal as an ideal honeymoon activity to his new wife. But eight years and four dumpsters of ivy later, he has successfully helmed its transformation into a thriving arts center that anchors the west side of the Gordon Square Arts District.
“I am crazy about the arts,” Bush says. “I believe they are a huge component of our neighborhood and a great contributor to what will happen in its renaissance.”
In 2001, Bush didn’t even own any paintings. He credits 78th Street’s creative ghosts — the building housed the creative headquarters for American Greetings throughout the ’70s and ’80s — and the small contingent of artists who initially occupied the building as catalysts for its transformation.
The building’s high ceilings, abundant windows and seemingly infinite space —actually 170,000 square feet, an artist’s architectural manna — beckoned to him. It wasn’t long before Bush traded mundane superintendent duties for customizing suites for creative businesses, including studios, galleries, auctioneers, recording facilities and editorial headquarters for a national magazine.
“As far as aesthetic goes, I build to suit, because otherwise, I am just creating a vanilla box. I want businesses to come to a space that’s cool, fun and well-built, with a design sensibility,” Bush says.
The result is a maze of eclectic spaces where curved drywall intersects brick walls and the cool hues of galleries contrast with the bright tones of their neighbors’ studios and offices. The art at 78th Street Studios reflects the diversity of the suites, and visitors can expect pieces that run the gamut from photography to paintings, classical to modern, still lifes to live performances.
Bill Scheele, owner of Kokoon Arts Gallery and tenant of three years, appreciates that the design is an extension of the culture at 78th Street Studios.
“That’s what interested me in the building: the diversity of creative types doing a lot of different things,” Scheele says.
The tenants officially convene quarterly for open-house receptions to exhibit their work to the public, but they regularly tour clients through the spaces and support each other’s ventures with the galleries cooperating to raise awareness of art. This symbiotic dynamic attracted Hilary Aurand to the space several months ago to partner with her husband, John, in Legation, an art and music gallery.
“We saw just this huge opportunity to collaborate with the businesses operating out of this place,” she says. “It’s encouraging to me as an artist to see all of these artists working together and making money.”
At 85 percent capacity, 78th Street Studios is no longer a well-kept secret, and Bush often brainstorms ideas to use the remaining empty square footage to bring resources to the artists, such as a library, photography studio or administrative office. Even a wine or coffee bar where the artists could commune or take their guests would be a welcome addition.
“Some of the best days of my life are when I am at events in this neighborhood,” Bush says. “You are standing around with other people enjoying being here and thinking this is the best place to be.”
Visit 78th Street Studios this month during its open house, July 10 and 11. For more information, visit 78thstreetstudios.com.