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Aug. 6—GoggleWorks Center for the Arts will expand its mission and work in Reading as a community arts and resource center.

Plans call for the development of a public art park, community garden and outdoor cafe on the downtown campus, 201 Washington St., thanks to significant funding, including a lead gift from Berks County.

Levi Landis, president and executive director of GoggleWorks, unveiled the multi-phased plan Friday at a news conference in the facility's courtyard.

"We are announcing that over multiple phases and (with) community planning, community co-design, we intend to transform about an acre of outdoor space, currently a neglected, blighted alley, gravel lot, the space your standing in right now, into a park," Landis said. "But not just any park, a place where art can happen, where our partners and our studio artists and the people in this building and (those) that surround us in the city and county can come and change our community."

The project is intended to have a significant and sustained impact on public access to arts, culture, education, green space, art cuisine and more, he said.

The seeds for the idea of an outdoor public art park were sown four years ago, Landis said, when a student artist named Maria stepped outside of GoggleWorks into shuttered Thorn Alley and asked in Spanish "Why is there no art out here?"

The girl's question got members of the art center's board thinking and after years of meetings with stakeholders and community partners, planning, fundraising and gathering of community feedback, the project is on track to begin next month.

Phase 1, which includes transformation of the main courtyard and alley into a space for programs, performances, public art, an outdoor cafe and more, is expected to be completed in time for a spring 2023 opening.

The plan to redesign the acre of outdoor space surrounding the campus is a bold one that has the potential to change lives, said Tod Auman, chairman of GoggleWorks board of directors.

"We believe that together, we can transform lives through unique interactions with art," he said.

The act of making something with one's hands, leaving one's mark, can change the trajectory of one's life, Auman said.

"Our goal is to make GoggleWorks a beacon of creativity," he said. "Our hope is that our transformed campus will inspire our guests to take that first step to make their mark."

The arts center also announced the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, 701 Penn St., as a partner for indoor and outdoor food and beverage services.

"Our shared vision is about the local community, employment with the community, healthy living in the community, food as medicine, food as art," said Craig Poole, CEO of the city hotel, who spoke at the event.

His ultimate goal, he said, is to bring a culinary arts program to GoggleWorks.

Poole said he was inspired to dream big by Albert Boscov, the late department store mogul who had the idea for turning the former Willson Safety Products factory into a center for the arts.

Landis asked for a moment of silence in memory of Boscov and the late Irvin and Lois Cohen, who with Marlin Miller brought the GoggleWorks concept to reality.

Cohen was founder and CEO of Eastern Machine Products Inc., a metal stamping and fabricating business, and Construction Fasteners, Inc., an internationally recognized industrial fastener manufacturer, based in Wyomissing.

Miller is co-founder and former chairman and CEO of the multi-billion-dollar Arrow International, which develops and manufactures critical and cardiac-care medical devices.

Other speakers included Dr. Rodney Ridley, a board member; Council President Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz; and other city and county elected officials, who helped bring the art park concept to the starting gate.

Cepeda-Freytiz was an early proponent of using the outdoor area as creative space, Landis said.

Friday's announcement coincided with the opening reception for a major exhibit by Maria de Los Angeles, a Mexican-born, New York City-based artist.

Called Put On: Imagination, Migration, and Identity, the exhibit focuses on issues of migration, displacement, identity and otherness.

As an undocumented immigrant, one of the nearly 650,000 so-called Dreamers who immigrated to America as a child, de Los Angeles learned to navigate a new culture and language through a variety of artistic methods, including drawing, painting, installation, performance, fashion and sculpture.

Her personal history plays a decisive role in her work, which draws on observation, memory and imagination to create narratives, according to the GoggleWorks website.

The announcement also kicked off the city's August First Friday block party, held in the GoggleWorks campus courtyard.