Alex Poots Previews Steve McQueen-Led Opening of New York Arts Center The Shed

The Shed, New York - Getty - H 2019
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Born out of former Mayor Bloomberg's failed attempt to bring the Olympics to New York City, the center is set to host wide-ranging art commissions from the likes of Boots Riley and Bjork after its grand opening this Friday.

After more than a decade in the making, a few multimillion-dollar donations, and the curating of nearly 20 original commissions, the Shed — a nonprofit cultural institution situated in New York City's newly minted Hudson Yards neighborhood — will open to the public April 5, kicking off a five-night concert series, "Soundtrack of America," directed by Steve McQueen.

With the help of Quincy Jones and Maureen Mahon, McQueen enlisted 25 artists — from the acclaimed Jon Batiste to the up-and-coming Moses Sumney — and developed five different shows, all of which celebrate the impact of African-American music on contemporary culture.

According to Alex Poots, the Shed's artistic director and CEO, "Soundtrack of America" not only pays homage to what he called "one of this country's greatest inventions," but it also explores a "family tree" of the music, dating back to 1619.

And even though there are big names involved with the commission, the ticket prices don't follow suit. This is the case for most of the upcoming projects at the Shed, especially since 10 percent of tickets for all events will be available to people in low-income neighborhoods for only $10. Additionally, Open Call — a commission that features 52 New York City-based emerging artists — will be free for everyone.

"We really are trying to make access to the exhibitions or the performances as accessible as possible," said Daniel Doctoroff, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's former deputy mayor for economic development and the Shed's chairman of the board of directors, at a press preview Wednesday.

Doctoroff has been attached to the project since its inception when instead of an arts building, the Bloomberg administration's goal was a football stadium and the Olympics coming to New York. But the latter failed, and from then on, Doctoroff had his sights set on what he now calls the "Swiss Army knife for culture."

Housed in the Bloomberg Building, which was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group, the Shed boasts a 500-seat theater, a large hall for performances and a lab for local artists, among other spaces. Undoubtedly the most notable part of the building is its outer shell that's able to move over an outside plaza, doubling the size of the building's base.

"People ask me why we have been able to be so successful raising money, and I think it’s [partly] because people have sensed that New York does need this," Doctoroff said. "We started with the criteria that we established for ourselves early on — that this had to be different than anything else in New York. We worked really hard to try and meet that standard."

In terms of affordability, the Shed is certainly different than what surrounds it, as the $25 billion neighborhood is known for its pricy apartments and towering office buildings. Just last month, Vessel — a $200 million climbable art installation — opened to the public.

But those involved with the Shed aren't worried about the affluent reputation of the Hudson Yards.

"I come to work every day reminded that I’m on city-owned land," said Tamara McCaw, the Shed's chief civic program officer. "If anything, the context of New York City is what drives us to make sure that this space belongs to everybody."

In her three years of planning for the Shed, McCaw actually made it a priority to work with those nearby. However, this typically meant speaking to people living in public housing, like Chelsea-Elliot, instead of billionaires.

"When people are involved with the process, that’s what makes it different," she said.

Doctoroff expanded on the importance of inclusivity while planning, saying, "The obligation is on us not just to try and put programming on that’s going to attract people, but to let people know that not only are they welcome, but they’re going to play an important part in helping us define who we are. That is an ethos that exists from the board to Alex, to Tamara, to the entire staff; it’s enshrined in the value statement that we actually have about the Shed, and it’s something that we are completely committed to."

Providing a platform to artists specifically based in New York is also a priority for the Shed. "Creating opportunities is paramount to make sure artists can actually stay in New York," McCaw said.

That's not to say that the Shed is exclusively for East Coast creatives, though. The slate of commissions for 2019 not only includes artists from other cities, but also other countries.

See a full list of the projects here, which include Bjork, Boots Riley and more.