After almost 200 years in Manhattan, the Center for Fiction is heading to the borough next door. Ten years after changing its name from the Mercantile Library, the Center is relocating from midtown Manhattan to a a new space in Downtown Brooklyn, at Lafayette Avenue.
The Center's new home will be across the street from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and in the vicinity of a number of other arts and culture organizations and venues. The 17,500 sq. ft. building, designed by BKSK Architects, is scheduled to open its doors in January 2019. And, in addition to housing the Center, it will also be occupied by the Mark Morris Dance Group and Jonathan Rose’s real estate development company BCD, which will manage residential space in the building.
The move, said the Center's executive director Noreen Tomassi, was in part motivated by changing dynamics in New York's community of arts and letters, and in part by the simple need for more economical space: "We had a building on East 47th Street, between Madison and Fifth, and we sold it because nobody wants to go to Midtown for literary events anymore." Tomassi also noted that the organization's current building, an old townhouse, left much of its 18,000 square feet unusable. "We outgrew that kind of configuration," she explained, saying the new space will allow the Center "to operate at a wholly different level in a really great location.”
The new Brooklyn location—aside from being in the heart of the borough's ever-growing literary scene—gives the Center access to a 160-seat auditorium, expanded space for its library and special collections, expanded classroom and meeting spaces, a writers' studio, and outside garden terraces. In addition, the Center will be opening a bookstore on street level, as well as a café.
Tomassi said that, in its move, the Center wanted to "support creativity in Brooklyn." This was in mind in the construction of the building itself; in addition to working with Brooklyn-based architects, the Center hired Brooklyn artisans to create many of the trappings for the space, including a furniture maker in Dumbo and a Gowanus-based neon sign fabricator.
That said, Tomassi stressed that the Center is, at its heart, still a New York City institution. “Moving to Brooklyn doesn’t mean we’re simply becoming a Brooklyn organization," she said. "We see ourselves—as does Mark Morris, as does BAM—as New York and national institutions.”