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The Studio Museum in Harlem’s new home is grounded in the neighbourhood

Construction will launch next year on the David Adjaye-designed building, due to open in 2021

Rendering of the street-level view of the new Studio Museum in Harlem Courtesy Adjaye Associates

The Studio Museum in Harlem, a New York institution dedicating to showing and collecting work by artists of African descent, plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018 by breaking ground on its new David Adjaye-designed home in late autumn. The 82,000 sq. foot building, slated to open in 2021, will stand on the museum’s current 125th Street lot, entirely replacing the renovated early 20th-century former bank the museum has occupied since 1982. The museum has reached 70% of its public-private $175m capital campaign for construction, endowment and operating and reserve capital, including $53.8m pledged by the City of New York.

The design of the building, which has five storeys and a rooftop deck, embodies the museum’s ethos of being a part of the community. Adjaye says the neighbourhood architecture inspired parts of the design, such as masonry windows translated into the varying window sizes and concrete frame-like areas on the façade. The exterior also includes niches to display outdoor sculpture on the 125th and 124th street façades.

Inside, the design plays on the neighbourhood brownstones’ front steps as a gathering place, with a giant tiered space leading from the ground level to the lower level—which Adjaye describes as an “inverted stoop”—that serves as a staircase, a space for visitors to congregate and a performance space, thanks to a massive acoustic curtain.

The new layout will more than double the square footage of the museum’s exhibition spaces and studio spaces for its residency programme for artists of African and Latino descent, an integral part of its mission since it opened in 1968, which has over 100 alumni including Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and Julie Mehretu.

However, like the current museum’s set-up, the 15,000 sq. feet of exhibition space will not have galleries for long-term exhibitions of the permanent collection, which has around 2,200 works from the 19th century to the present by artists such as Romare Bearden, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Kara Walker. Instead, the museum will continue its practice of showing its permanent collection through its temporary exhibition programme, including themed shows drawn exclusively from its own holdings, such as Regarding the Figure (April-August 2017), a recent exhibition on portraiture and figuration.

This season of concurrent exhibitions (until 7 January), which includes Fictions, a show of emerging US artists, will be the last in the museum’s historic building. But it will continue its neighbourhood inHarlem programme, launched in 2016, of exhibitions, artists’ projects and events outside of the museum. The residency programme will continue at an off-site location, due to be announced by the end of the year.

The museum will also continue to share its permanent collection in the neighbourhood and beyond, by wrapping up a digitisation initiative, showing reproductions of major works in schools and other public spaces throughout Harlem and teaming up with the American Federation of Arts for a touring exhibition of collection highlights, due to visit six US venues from 2019-21.