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New Nonprofit Turns Gowanus 'Bat Cave' into State-of-The-Arts Production Facility

The Gowanus-based nonprofit, Powerhouse Arts, provides an affordable space for art production in a redesigned warehouse once known as the "batcave."
The new Powerhouse Arts facility in Gowanus. Photo: Provided/Jenna Bascom/Powerhouse Arts.

Powerhouse Arts, a new nonprofit offering affordable, state-of-the-arts production facilities to local artists, has opened its doors in Gowanus and is already an integral part of Brooklyn's art scene.

The 170,000-square-foot industrial structure overlooking Gowanus Canal grants creatives a new space to tackle the challenges of being an artist in New York City through affordable art fabrication services, access to state-of-the-art equipment, workshops and a built-in community. 

"Powerhouse Arts can really be described as a mission-driven art factory. It's a hive for creative expression," said Eric Shiner, president of Powerhouse Arts. 

"In early conversations with artists and makers in the community, it became clear that artists sought fabrication resources and a space for collaboration and experimentation,” he said. “This is where the idea was born and we’ve evolved to where the organization is today thanks to the commitment."

Once home to the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company’s central power station, the building was purchased in 2012 by philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz, who has put approximately $180 million toward reimagining the space. Rechnitz formed the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation – renamed Powerhouse Arts – and tapped two notable architecture firms to design the space, Herzog & de Meuron and PBDW Architects.

Before Rechnitz purchased it, the warehouse was home to squatters, graffiti artists and raves, earning its nickname: “Batcave.” 

"The Batcave holds a very unique place in the collective memory of Gowanus. After being decommissioned in the mid-1950s, the building sat derelict for many years,” Shiner said. “A vibrant, creative population of New York’s young artists claimed the space as home in the early 2000s and used its walls as a canvas for their graffiti and a hub for their creative lives." 

Despite its recent transformation, the site maintains many of its original features.

Powerhouse Arts. Photo Courtesy of Albert Vecerka/Esto.

"The rebuilding of the facility was a years-long endeavor, beginning with the remediation of the site, the revitalization of the original Turbine Hall and the re-construction of the Boiler House in the footprint of the original," said Shiner.

Powerhouse Arts operates three ceramic, print and public art fabrication facilities. Each shop specializes in fee-for-service work for artists seeking to partner with Powerhouse Arts’ fabricators. Artists can apply to have their work produced on-site. 

Beyond these offerings, the group oversees the Community Ceramics Studio, which offers artists a variety of memberships. Artists can also stop by production facilities to access state-of-the-art equipment, expertise from Powerhouse Arts’ fabricators and meet fellow artists. 

Powerhouse will also offer community programming like artist talks and workshops.

"Powerhouse Arts will continue to formalize new relationships in Gowanus and beyond, and we hope to share new opportunities for artists and the public to get involved as we grow," said Shiner.

“We also recognize that we still have much to learn, and so we are collaborating with — and listening to — organizations like Arts Gowanus who made strides in supporting, promoting, and advocating for local artists and a sustainable arts community in Gowanus."

Powerhouse Arts is located at 322 3rd Ave. in Brooklyn. 

On Sept 23, the building will open to the public as part of a community block party.