An art lover’s guide to NYC: Where to find galleries, creative space, and public art in Dumbo

February 16, 2022

Top right photo: Cey Adams’ “Love” mural; Photo courtesy of Dumbo BID

Dumbo, “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” is a highly Instagrammable neighborhood that also happens to boast world-class art and cultural attractions. Once a manufacturing hub full of abandoned warehouses, Dumbo is now a vibrant area that is one of Brooklyn’s biggest draws. With newfound popularity buoyed by an influx of galleries, creative spaces, and public art, this former no man’s land has been refashioned into the height of cool.

Mural by Victor “MARKA27” Quinonez; Photo courtesy of Dumbo Bid

Mural by Sophia Dawson; Photo courtesy of Dumbo Bid

Public art
From window installations to monumental murals, Dumbo has a wide range of public artworks on constant rotation. “Every project is different,” explains Alexandria Sica, President of the Dumbo Improvement District. “For example, our latest round of mural installations which include works by Cey Adams, Marka27, and Sofia Dawson, were part of a new Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund that used a grant from New York State. Those were chosen through an open call for proposals and we had a dedicated selection committee that included rockstars of the art world and local stakeholders alike.” Other pieces are commissioned directly by the BID, and still, others are brought in by the Public Art Fund.

Claudia Wieser, “Rehearsal,” 2021, Ceramic, digital prints, stainless steel. Presented by Public Art Fund at Brooklyn Bridge Park, July 29, 2021 – April 17, 2022. Courtesy Claudia Wieser; Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen; and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY.

This variety of sources and stakeholders keeps the public spaces dynamic and fresh. On any given day, visitors can view site-specific sculpture installations such as Claudia Wieser’s Rehearsal, an immersive experience in Main Street Park, or a variety of murals along the BQE created as part of the Murals for the Movement initiative. Meanwhile, on Main Street, a small space brings big ideas in the form of Main Window, a rotating public art space that has been featuring works by Brooklyn-based artists since 1980.

Dumbo Open Studios, 2019. Photo: Giles Ashford

First Thursdays
Dumbo has an ever-growing and vibrant gallery scene that has turned the area into Brooklyn’s answer to Chelsea. Every first Thursday of the month, local galleries leave their doors open late for free artist talks, performances, and exhibition openings. Participants include nonprofit arts organization Smack Mellon, photography-focused Klompching, artist-run exhibition space A.I.R. Gallery, and many more.

“Anytime we are creating programming we always think about how to involve and highlight local artists,” explains Sica. “It’s so important to support their work and it is so meaningful to embrace this part of Dumbo culture.”

Photo ©Sean J. Rhinehart

In addition to the late openings, there is a free guided walking tour, an outdoor art class called Drink + Draw in the summers, and “Six Foot Platform,” an experimental performance art series. Visitors can hop from one gallery to the next, taking in works of art as diverse as the borough itself, and enjoying sweeping views of the East River and Manhattan beyond.

Center for Cuban Studies | Cuban Art Space
Since 1972, the Center for Cuban Studies has been keeping US-Cuban relations alive through programming, education initiatives, and travel. The center, which moved to Dumbo in 2019, hosts film screenings, art exhibitions, classes, and readings that examine contemporary Cuban culture and celebrate Cuban artists working today.

Photo © Julienne Schaer

Light Year
Video art, a projector, and the Manhattan Bridge come together for one of the borough’s coolest monthly exhibitions. Every first Thursday of the month, a work of video art is projected onto the Manhattan Bridge from dusk until 10 p.m. This ongoing project, entitled Light Year, is curated by Dumbo-based collaborators Leo Kuelbs, John Ensor Parker, and Glowing Bulbs and is presented for free in person, or can be streamed live online.

The Powerhouse Arena
The Powerhouse Arena may sell books, but it is far from your average bookstore. A self-described “laboratory for creative thought,” The Powerhouse Arena is home to art book publisher powerHouse Books and also doubles as a gallery, performance, and events space. They have partnered with big-name brands like The New Yorker, Spike Lee, and MTV on events and also host readings and performances by contemporary artists and writers. Check out their events page for the latest online and in-person happenings.

Photo by Caroline Culler on Wikimedia

St. Ann’s Warehouse
Housed in a former spice milling factory at 38 Water Street, St. Ann’s Warehouse is a performing arts institution known for boundary-pushing, eclectic productions. Over the years, St. Ann’s has presented everything from Shakespeare to the most avant-garde, and its stages have been graced by stars like David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Meryl Streep, among many others. Check out their current offerings here, and be sure to swing through the Max Family Garden, an adjoining public garden designed by the Brooklyn Bridge Park landscape architects.


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