Artist-run performance space in LIC asks for help to renovate new building

Photo courtesy of Chocolate Factory Theater

The Chocolate Factory Theater, a performing arts space in Long Island City, solved its space woes in 2017 after purchasing a one-story building to house its programs and performances.

But the nonprofit organization needs $25,000 to turn the new 7,500-square-foot building at 38-29 24th St. into “a safe, functional, unique and permanent space” and has created a Kickstarter to raise the funds. The Chocolate Factory Theater has been operating since 2005, but rising rents in the neighborhood led the founders to conclude that by 2019, it would have to permanently close when the lease ended.

Co-founded by Sheila Lewandowski and Brian Rogers, who have lived in Long Island City for more than 20 years, the organization provides salaried residences and access to space and equipment to performance artists. Currently, it operates out of a building at 5-49 49th Ave.

The duo took steps to garner government and community support so that the organization could thrive beyond 2019. With the help of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Economic Development Corporation, The Chocolate Factory secured a $3.8 million grant to move into the new space.

Lewandowski said the organization is doing minimal work so that artists can have rehearsals and workshops while they make “bigger plans for the larger and more permanent public performance space.”

The building will be renovated to include necessary building code improvements; electrical, plumbing, fire safety and HVAC upgrades; restrooms; and the installation of a performance floor. These improvements will cost $1.2 million and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan has pledged $350,000 toward the upgrades.

So far, 97 people have donated $8,990 and the deadline to fully fund the goal is Feb. 28. If the money is not raised by the deadline, the donations will be given back. Lewandowski said she feels “really good” about how much money they’ve been able to raise in six days.

“In the first few days we got up to 30 percent of what we’re looking for,” she said. “This is mostly from artists so there’s nothing that means as much to us as when an artist contributes to us.”

Supporters will receive a number of gifts depending on how much money they pledge. For $10, a supporter’s name will be included on the theater’s website. Those who donate $50 will be invited to a toast for the new theater on March 3 and all people who donate will have their names listed on a hand drawn poster, which will be hung in the new space.

Other prizes include a T-shirt, private movie screening and a garden party at Lewandowski’s Long Island City home with catering.

Though the organization would like to move into the new space by the time their current lease ends, Lewandowski said that a construction accident involving their neighbor will push the date back.

“We hope to be able to get in there on time for this lease end but it’s not looking likely,” she said.

In addition to providing residencies and programs for artists, the organization helps run the annual LIC Halloween Parade, the Taste of LIC, planting trees in the are and working with local Girl Scouts troops.

“We’re building this so that it outlives me and Brian and all of us and it will be a permanent service to Queens,” she said. “It belongs to Queens. We do hope that people invest in that.”

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