Grand Rapids Art Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan
EPACENTER Youth Arts & Music Center marks an important turning point for community-led design. The center will offer outstanding services in arts education and personal empowerment for young people in East Palo Alto, fostering the creative energy of a diverse local population which has experienced decades of disenfranchisement. The new building is designed for longevity and resilience, with adaptive spaces that can evolve with the organization and remain responsive to community needs and the changing cultural environment.
Ultimately, the building is imagined as a new type of “icon” – a striking and beautiful structure which reflects the lived experience of those who use the space and helped to create it.
To build trust and foster impactful collaboration with local residents, WHY embarked on a highly unusual and immersive year-long engagement process which created strong foundations for the project’s development. That process – which included workshops, site visits, and ongoing conversations with organizers and residents – was instrumental in shaping the concept and program. With the collaboration and guidance of the community, WHY was able to tailor the design to the specific needs and aspirations of young people and cultural leaders from East Palo Alto. The project is funded by The John and Marcia Goldman Foundation, a prominent grant-making organization in the Bay Area dedicated to youth-oriented art and education initiatives.
The village-like structure is designed to provide meaningful experiences for individuals of all ages and backgrounds, combining different artistic disciplines under one roof. The interconnected creative spaces include visual art and dance studios, a 200-seat black box theater, music practice rooms, a professional recording studio, and a digital media lab, among other facilities. At the heart of the building is a prominent public café, ideally suited for ad-hoc performances and events, and a gallery space will showcase exhibitions of student work.