Abrons Arts Center



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The Abrons Arts Center is the performing and visual arts program of Henry Street Settlement. It mounts exhibitions and productions in music, dance and theater and provides arts training for children and adults.
The Abrons Arts Center facility links the 350-seat proscenium Playhouse, originally constructed as the Neighborhood Playhouse by philanthropists Alice Lewisohn and Irene Lewisohn in 1915 to the main art center building, which opened in 1975. The development added a black box theater, an underground recital hall, and an outdoor amphitheater facing Grand Street. Visual arts exhibitions are mounted in the Abrons Main Gallery and the ground-floor Culpeper Gallery. The second floor of Abrons is a shared artist studio space, and classrooms and dance studios are located on all floors for arts training and instruction.
Between 2006 and 2010, performers have included John Zorn, Philip Glass, Jonah Bokaer, The Rodney Graham Band, Mark Leckey, Justin Bond, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, Banana Bag & Bodice, The Citizens Band, Heidi Latsky Dance, Rufus Wainwright, Armitage Gone! Dance, Taylor 2, and the Gotham Chamber Opera. The Abrons Arts Center has partnered with organizations such as PS122, DanSpace Project, Public Art Fund, Performa, MoMA, and the Center for Performance Research.

The Playhouse History of the Abrons Arts Center was renamed a third time to honor Harry De Jur, a Henry Street Settlement board member who attended the Settlement as a young boy.
Funded by the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Abrons Arts Center was designed by architect Lo Yi Chan of the firm Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen and built adjacent to the Harry De Jur Playhouse. The architects sought to sensitively respond to the scale, proportion and mass of the older structure without imitating the neo-classical style of the Playhouse. The guests at the dedication included First Lady Betty Ford, New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, former Mayor Robert F. Wagner, and the National Endowment for the Arts Chair, Nancy Hanks.
Henry Street Settlement restored both the interior and exterior of the Playhouse in the 1990s. The work was completed under the direction of the preservation architectural firm of J. Lawrence Jones and Associates. The Municipal Art Society recognized the firm's work with a 1996 Preservation Award.
In 1914, philanthropist sisters Alice Lewisohn (1883–1972) and Irene Lewisohn (1892–1944) bought a lot on the corner of Grand and Pitt Streets on New York City's Lower East Side and founded the Neighborhood Playhouse in 1915. The sisters donated it to the Henry Street Settlement as the site of a new theater that would provide better performance space and teaching facilties, but it also was the home of for the Neighborhood Players, an amateur acting troupe for adults and children. The Players participated in pageants and festivals sponsored by the Settlement and produced plays that highlighted the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood.
The modest three-story red brick structure, designed by architects Harry C. Ingalls and F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr., showed both motion pictures and theatrical performances. By 1920, professional actors had replaced the amateurs and the Playhouse became renowned for its avant-garde productions, often incorporating dance, music, and poetry, and for its popular revue, The Grand Street Follies. Many early 20th century modern dancers and artists found a professional home at the Neighborhood Playhouse, including composers Ernest Bloch, Kurt Schindler, and Louis Horst, who also worked with Martha Graham. Other notables whose works were produced at the Neighborhood Playhouse include Agnes de Mille, Laura Elliott, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. This experimental theater and two other off-Broadway "little theaters" (Providence Playhouse and Washington Square Players) were to form the foundation for modern American dramatic theater.
The Playhouse officially closed in 1927 and fell under the control of Henry Street Settlement, renamed the Henry Street Playhouse. The Lewisohn sisters and Rita Wallach Morganthau went on to establish the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in 1928, still in operation at 340 East 54th Street. Irene Lewisohn would also found the Museum of Costume Art in 1937, which would later merge with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is now known famously as the Met Costume Institute.
In 1938, it was the site of the premiere of Aaron Copland's opera "The Second Hurricane," starring Eartha Kitt and directed by Orson Welles.
In 1948, Alwin Nikolais was appointed director of the Henry Street Playhouse, where he formed the Playhouse Dance Company, later renamed and known as the Nikolais Dance Theatre. It was at Henry Street that Nikolais began to develop his own world of abstract dance theatre, portraying man as part of a total environment. Nikolais redefined dance, as "the art of motion which, left on its own merits, becomes the message as well as the medium". Abrons Arts Center was also at the Henry Street Playhouse that Mr. Nikolais was joined by Murray Louis, who was to become a driving force in the Playhouse Company, Nikolais' leading dancer and longtime collaborator.