Michael Bloomberg Gives $75 Million to Shed Arts Center

 
May 24, 2017
The ambitious new arts center known as the Shed, rising in Hudson Yards, has received $75 million from Michael R. Bloomberg, showing just how much the Far West Side continues to be shaped by a small group of influential billionaires.

They include Stephen M. Ross, the chairman of Related Companies, and Barry Diller, the media mogul. Mr. Bloomberg on Wednesday added $60 million to a $15 million contribution he had made to the Shed in 2012, which was previously undisclosed.

"I've always believed the arts have a unique ability to benefit cities by attracting creative individuals of every kind, strengthening communities, and driving economic growth," Mr. Bloomberg said in a prepared statement. "The Shed will help New York achieve all three goals."

His gift, through his charitable organization Bloomberg Philanthropies, helps solidify what promises to be New York's first new cultural institution in recent memory, to be completed in spring 2019, that will present performances, concerts, visual art, music and other events. With Mr. Bloomberg's donation, $421 million will have been raised toward a $500 million capital campaign that includes start-up costs, said Daniel L. Doctoroff, the Shed's chairman and president.

Mr. Bloomberg may also indirectly be challenging or upstaging his successor's approach to culture. Mr. Bloomberg, who made support of the arts a cornerstone of his mayoralty, is concentrating millions of dollars of his fortune on a single large Manhattan cultural institution. Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to funnel more of the city's arts budget to smaller groups in underserved parts of other boroughs and plans to address equity issues with the city's first cultural plan, to be released by July 1.

In 2013, just before leaving office, Mr. Bloomberg's administration made a public appropriation to the Shed -- $50 million, which became $75 million -- the city's biggest cultural capital grant that year, and an unusually generous contribution to an arts group that had yet to hire staff members or set a construction budget.

Mr. Bloomberg's personal and public support has catapulted the Shed ahead of other major cultural efforts. The eight-level building along the High Line, designed by Diller Scofidio & Renfro in partnership with the Rockwell Group, is a stark contrast to the numerous undertakings that have been postponed (like the Metropolitan Museum of Art's $600 million new wing for Modern and contemporary art); delayed (the New York Philharmonic's $500 million renovation of David Geffen Hall) or protracted (the $240 million performing arts center at ground zero).

There has been speculation over the years about whether Mr. Bloomberg would lend his weight to the foundering arts center at the former World Trade Center site, which was included in the 2003 master plan but has been plagued by setbacks. Only last year did another billionaire finally step forward to jump-start fund-raising: Ronald O. Perelman donated $75 million to the center that will bear his name.

As mayor, Mr. Bloomberg ceded ground zero to Gov. George E. Pataki in exchange for a free hand in shaping the Far West Side, viewing its development as inextricably linked to his legacy. Though thwarted in his attempt to build a football stadium or lure the Olympics there, he spearheaded several successes, including the creation of the High Line, the extension of the 7 train, the construction of the new Signature Theater and the move downtown of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Now, in private life, Mr. Bloomberg's gift to the Shed makes clear his continued interest in shaping that part of the city, building on his personal and professional connections in the process. As mayor, in 2005, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Doctoroff, then his deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, rezoned the West Side, calling for a cultural component.

The rezoning included West Chelsea and Hudson Yards, among the largest private developments in the country. (It roughly runs from 30th Street to 41st Street, between 11th and Eighth Avenues.) Mr. Doctoroff later served as chief executive of Bloomberg L.P., the mayor's financial information company, and now is the Shed's chairman and president.

"Mike's charge to us was, ‘There are 1,200 cultural institutions in New York,'" Mr. Doctoroff said in a telephone interview. "‘Try to do something that will keep New York on the cultural edge as more and more people compete with us.'"

The Shed's board also includes Mr. Ross, of Related Companies, which is the main developer of the Far West Side, and the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who with her husband, Mr. Diller, has given at least $35 million to the High Line, which will have a direct access point to the Shed's plaza level.

In addition, Mr. Diller is funding Pier 55, a $200 million park and performing arts center on the Hudson River at 14th Street, which has come to be known as Diller Island.

The chairwoman of the Hudson River Park Trust is Mr. Bloomberg's longtime companion, Diana L. Taylor. The trust and Mr. Diller on Monday appealed a judge's determination in March that the Army Corps of Engineers had failed to consider the pier's effect on a protected fish and wildlife sanctuary.

The British designer of the park, Thomas Heatherwick, is also the creator of the massive sculpture "Vessel," which Mr. Ross commissioned as a centerpiece of Hudson Yards.

The Shed has steadily progressed, naming an artistic director and chief executive in 2014, Alex Poots, and breaking ground on West 30th Street in 2015. The Shed's budget has increased to $435 million from $360 million, due partly to increased seating capacity and soundproofing. The Shed leases the land -- and will lease the building -- from the city.

The core of the building's design is its flexibility, so that it can adapt to different art forms and evolving technologies, serving as a center for creative invention.

"We asked ourselves, what will the arts look like in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?" said Elizabeth Diller (no relation to Mr. Diller), who has been involved with the project since 2008. "Its whole spirit is about not being overdetermined."

The design features a movable shell on rails that nests over the fixed part of the building, and enables the structure to expand or contract to accommodate different size events, or to leave the 20,000-square-foot plaza open for outdoor programs. Enclosed by the shell, the plaza can also be transformed into a light-, sound- and temperature-controlled hall for a seated audience of 1,200 or a standing crowd. There is also a black-box theater that accommodates 500, and two column-free galleries comprising 25,000 square feet of museum-quality space.

"The building is almost like a tool kit for artists of all kinds -- whether it's Kanye West or Björk or Kenneth Branagh, Steve McQueen, Matthew Barney or FKA twigs," said Mr. Poots, formerly artistic director of the Manchester International Festival and of the Park Avenue Armory.

On Wednesday, Mr. Poots unveiled details of the Shed's first visual art commission: a large-scale work by the conceptual art pioneer Lawrence Weiner, made of custom paving stones embedded in the building's plaza, featuring the phrase, "In front of itself" in 12-foot letters.

The Shed has begun a free, citywide program that explores social justice issues through dance and is collaborating with the M.I.T. Media Lab to help artists in fields like virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Inclusiveness is in its DNA, Mr. Poots said. "Chance the Rapper's audiences are as welcome as Gerhard Richter's," he said. "Both can be supported."

The New York Times
By Robin Pogrebin