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The Center itself is a neo-gothic building which was designed as a synagogue in 1849 by Berlin architect Alexander Seltzer. He drew inspiration for his design from the cathedral of Cologne and the German romantic movement of Heinrich Heine and Beethoven.
This structure witnessed the birth of the Jewish reform movement in America, but the after the decay of the Yiddish Lower East Side after World War II, dozens of synagogues and other significant structures disappeared.
Angel Orensanz bought this venerable structure in 1986, first for his own studio, and then to make it again a beacon of education and culture in the city of New York. The Foundation produces every year several cultural events such the Heinrich Heine Festival, the West Belfast-New York City Festival, Berlin Transfer (a symposium of philosophers and scientists with the Senate of Berlin), the Installation Art Award and publishes Artscape, a quarterly of the arts.