For the past 17 years, a squat industrial building covered in colorful graffiti on the corner of Kent and Metropolitan Avenues by the Williamsburg waterfront has housed various scrappy artist communes, providing refuge for creative sorts seeking cheap rent and a place to create. At the end of the month, tenants at Monster Island, as the building is called, will be leaving because their property manager has not offered to re-new their lease.
In 1994, the space, a former spice factory, became inhabited by a group known as the Flux Factory. Then, after lying vacant for a number of years, the creators of Monster Island moved in, fixed up the place and set up shop. Currently, the space operates two non-profit art galleries -- Secret Project Robot and Live With Animals -– as well as rehearsal rooms, a print shop, several artist studios, and even a specialty surfboard workshop. Tenants pay rent to work there, and work collaboratively to create and promote events.
“This area used to be filled with these kinds of spaces, but I think Monster Island is really the last of its kind in Williamsburg,” said Rachel Nelson, the director of Secret Project Robot, who described the space as a center for the living arts. “A place where there was an art show and there was music and people were always welcome and there was always a barbecue happening. A community idea in which we were sacrificing for something much bigger for ourselves. I don’t think this kind of thing is going to exist in Williamsburg any longer.”
The once-deserted stretch near the waterfront where Monster Island is located is now home to glass high-rises, pharmacies and wine stores. The block the communal arts space sits on narrowly escaped being re-zoned from commercial to residential space in 2005, which would have allowed for development of condominiums.
“It’s sad to be moving out, but also I feel that it's not really the place for us anymore right now,” said Karl LaRocca, who operates the Kayrock screen-printing shop on the upper floor. “We’re this sort of funny little island. And I don’t know. Maybe the people living here would be better served by something else.”
Over the past several months, LaRocca said that he's heard rumors that Whole Foods was planning to open a supermarket in Monster Island's space. A spokesperson for Whole Foods said the only planned supermarket it had planned for Brooklyn was a Gowanus location that will open in 2013.
As for the tenants, they’ll be moving on to new places to operate their art spaces and businesses. Secret Project Robot is headed to a space in a new neighborhood many artists are now calling home: Bushwick.