After almost four decades of inactivity, a landmarked courthouse has re-opened to the public – with multiple purposes.
On Thursday, April 23, No Longer Empty, an organization that has been instrumental in revitalizing the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, held an opening reception for their new art exhibit ‘When You Cut into the Present the Future Leaks Out’ at the courthouse’s location on 878 Brook Avenue at the intersection of East 161st Street and Third Avenue.
For the exhibit, 27 New York artists were invited to use the courthouse as a creative production site, a character in a film, a sculptural form, a setting for dance performers and a locale for community gatherings. Selected artwork and site-specific installations in sculpture, fresco painting, sound and video are installed throughout the lower level, ground floor and first floor.
The art exhibition will run from Thursday, April 23 to Sunday, July 19, giving all participating artists a chance to display their projects inside the renovated, but historic landmark.
Along with the exhibit, No Longer Empty will also host public programs and activities, adding up to an estimated 20 events in the three-month span.
Some of these events will include Bronx Fashion Week on Saturday, May 9 (time TBA) and the Teens Curate Teens exhibition opening and Teen Day from 1 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 16. An Urban Gardening Workshop was held on Saturday, April 25. All events are free and open to the public.
The courthouse will also host other events, including the New York Public Library Community Oral History Project, which will be an evening of dance and performance with the Bronx Academy of Arts, as well as walking tours by Ed Garcia Conde, founder and editor of Welcome2TheBronx. The dates and times of these two events have yet to be announced.
In collaboration with the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and the Bronx Music Heritage Center, along with other community partners, No Longer Empty has successfully reopened and restored the courthouse after its doors and windows were sealed 37 years ago.
In February, the organization received a Neighborhood Challenge Initiative grant of $60,000 to put towards the courthouse.
“The process of putting up this show, as always with our projects, is one of collaboration – with the artists, with the site and with local, cultural and community organizations as well as educators,” said Naomi Hersson Ringskog, executive director of No Longer Empty.
“For the residents of the neighborhood, this building is a very familiar landmark they have passed by daily for years without entering and we (No Longer Empty), along with our collaborators, are excited to give them an opportunity to see the interior of the (Old Bronx Borough) courthouse that has been closed to the public for so long,” she added.
The four-story, Beaux-Arts style courthouse was constructed between 1905 and 1914 by architects Michael John Garvin and Oscar Florianus Bluemner.
However, after the population of the Bronx nearly doubled between 1920 and 1930, the courthouse was deemed inadequate for the increase in court cases due to the growing population, as it was originally intended to house just the Supreme Court.
The Surrogate’s Court was moved to the Bronx Supreme Courthouse, located at 851 Grand Concourse and East 161st Street, shortly after it was completed in 1934, which left only the Criminal Court in the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse. It housed the Criminal Court until the early 1970’s, when the building went into decline.
Its doors and windows were officially sealed in 1977. in 1981 it was landmarked and eventually become storage space for public art.
Thanks to No Longer Empty and other community partners, artwork in the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse will not be stored away. Instead, the courthouse will proudly display the artwork from some of New York’s best artists in a historic setting.