GoggleWorks Center for the Arts will expand its mission and work in Reading as an arts and community resource center.
Plans call for the development of a public art park, community garden and outdoor cafe at the downtown campus, 201 Washington St., thanks to significant funding, including a lead gift from Berks County.
Levi Landis, president and CEO of GoggleWorks, unveiled the multi-phase plan Friday at a news conference in the facility’s courtyard.
“We’re announcing that through multiple phases and (with) community planning, collaborative design, we intend to transform about an acre of outdoor space, currently neglected, neglected alley, gravel lot, the space you’re currently in, into a park,” Landis said. “But not just any park, a place where art can happen, where our partners and our studio artists and the people in this building and (those) surrounding us in the city and county can come and change our community.”
The project is intended to have a significant and sustainable impact on public access to art, culture, education, green spaces, artistic cuisine and more, he said.
The seed for the idea of an outdoor public art park was planted four years ago, Landis said, when a student artist named Maria stepped outside GoggleWorks into the closed Thorn Alley and asked in Spanish, “Why isn’t there art here?”
The girl’s question got arts center board members thinking, and after years of meeting with stakeholders and community partners, planning, fundraising and gathering community feedback, the project is on track to begin next month.
The first phase, which includes the transformation of the main courtyard and alley into a space for programs, performances, public art, an outdoor cafe and more, is expected to be completed in time for a spring 2023 opening.
The plan to redesign the acres of outdoor space surrounding the campus is a bold plan that has the potential to change lives, said Tod Auman, chairman of GoggleWorks’ board of directors.
“We believe that together we can transform lives through a unique interaction with art,” he said.
The act of making something with your own hands, leaving your mark, can change the trajectory of someone’s life, Auman said.
“Our goal is to make GoggleWorks a beacon of creativity,” he said. “We hope our transformed campus will inspire our guests to take that first step to make their mark.”
The arts center also announced the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 701 Penn St., as an indoor and outdoor food and beverage service partner.
“Our shared vision is about local community, community employment, healthy community living, food as medicine, food as art,” said Craig Poole, CEO of the city hotel, who spoke at the event.
His ultimate goal, he said, is to bring a culinary arts program to GoggleWorks.
Poole said he was inspired to dream big by Albert Boscov, the late department store mogul who had the idea to turn the former Willson Safety Products factory into an art center.
Landis asked for a moment of silence in memory of Boscov and the late Irvin and Lois Cohen, who with Marlin Miller brought the concept of GoggleWorks to life.
Cohen was the founder and CEO of Eastern Machine Products Inc., a metal stamping and fabrication company, and Construction Fasteners, Inc., an internationally recognized manufacturer of industrial fasteners, headquartered in Wyomissing.
Miller is the co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Arrow International, a multi-billion dollar company that develops and manufactures medical devices for critical and cardiac patients.
Other speakers included Dr. Rodney Ridley, Board Member; President of the Council Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz; and other city and county elected officials, who helped bring the art park concept to the starting gates.
Cepeda-Freytiz was an early proponent of using the outdoors as a creative space, Landis said.
Friday’s announcement coincided with a reception for the opening of a major exhibition by Mexico-born, New York-based artist Maria de Los Angeles.
Entitled Put On: Imagination, Migration, and Identity, the exhibition focuses on issues of migration, displacement, identity, and otherness.
As an undocumented immigrant, one of the nearly 650,000 so-called Dreamers who immigrated to America as a child, de Los Angeles learned to navigate a new culture and language through a variety of artistic methods, including drawing, painting, installation, performance, fashion and sculpture.
Her personal history plays a defining role in her work, which relies on observation, memory and imagination to create a narrative, according to the GoggleWorks website.
The announcement also kicked off the city’s First Friday in August party, which was held in the courtyard of the GoggleWorks campus.