“Artists attempt preservation of long-time workspaces, seek community, neighborhood, and city support”
You can read about the history and background of the current struggle impacting dozens of Dorchester artists at the Humphreys Street Studios in this article by Marie Ungar from last November, and in a recent Dig follow up post.
Things seem to be unfolding extremely fast over there these past few weeks, and since this is a story that we know Dig readers have been especially interested in—along with all coverage of the creative class being pushed out of Greater Boston—we wanted to share this latest update from the artists at Humphreys Street:
The 40+ artists and creative small businesses making up the Humphreys Street Studios artist collective continue their grassroots #ARTWORKSHERE, #ARTSTAYSHERE campaign to raise awareness about their efforts to preserve their artist workspaces, despite the impending sale of the property to a seller who refuses to meet with the artists about his plan to develop the property.
Humphreys Street Studio artists paint campaign slogans on property roofs in support of #ARTWORKSHERE campaign.
In 2002 artists Joe Wheelwright and Gneal Widett founded Humphreys Street Studios, a multi-building property to house artist and creative small business workspaces in the Uphams Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, MA. In the last few years, both founders passed away, leaving their widows and other 2 owner partners wanting to sell the property. Last summer, after an unsuccessful sale to Core Property Group, the artists organized, launching a formal tenant’s association, so they could speak in one voice regarding their workspaces’ future.
Over the past year, the artists, through support from the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture, embarked on a feasibility study of the property which would inform them of the property’s capital needs as well as a plan on continued management of the chemicals underneath the buildings, leftover from the building’s original use as a dry cleaner. Through that process, the tenants found and vetted artist-friendly developers New Atlantic and Place Tailor who, in partnership, would purchase the property, split it into two uses: turning the studios into an artist-run nonprofit that would keep the workspaces affordable in perpetuity, and creating affordable housing in the adjacent back lot – a win-win for both the artists and the neighborhood.
Throughout the process, the artists met with all kinds of stakeholders and neighbors including Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, Fairmount Innovation Lab, Uphams Corner Main Streets, Boston Planning and Development Agency, Historic Boston, Dorchester Art Project, Fairmount Cultural Corridor, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Development, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, City Councilors, State Representatives, Dorchester Historical Society, Midway Studios, and more.
Through that time, the artists stayed in touch with Jim Cooper, the owner group representative, updating on progress with the feasibility study, forming the tenant’s association, and partnering with developers to buy the property. They verbally agreed to have a viable solution to present by April/May of this year. In late April, New Atlantic and Place Tailor submitted their formal offer. When following up, the artists were informed that the owners had already accepted another offer and were shocked and devastated. The artists sought to meet with the owners, the potential buyer, and real estate agent, only to be told their offer was not good enough, but to submit a back-up offer in case the sale fell through.
In May, New Atlantic and Place Tailor submitted a better offer of increased money and without environmental contingencies–an offer, the artist found out, was better than the one the owners accepted from Mai Luo, of Kendall Realty, LLC in Weston, MA. In response, the artists launched their #ARTWORKSHERE, #ARTSTAYSHERE campaign to raise visibility about their plan to preserve their artist workspaces, something of a rarity, these days in Boston and surrounding areas, due to continued development, gentrification, and displacement.
#ARTSTAYSHERE asks for community support of the artists’ plan to preserve the studio spaces as affordable, in perpetuity, in the spirit of place-keeping, the active care and maintenance of a place and its social fabric by the people who live and work there. Their online petition, nearing 800 signatures, invites neighbors and the arts/culture community to support their plans:
https://www.humphreysstreetstudio.com/ . In addition, the artists have invited the community – to write letters to Mr. Luo, requesting him to reconsider his offer, so that the artists may move ahead with their preservation and development plans, which would also include building a shared community space for meetings, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and neighborhood events so that HSS may be more engaged with neighbors in Uphams Corner, Nubian Square, and beyond.
“What began as trying to not lose our studios,” shares HSS scenic designer and Dorchester resident Cristina Todesco, “has turned into a collective act of community activism – something we didn’t expect. Through joining together, and months of outreach to neighbors in Uphams Corner and throughout Dorchester, we’ve become invested not only in staying, but in partnering, engaging, and sharing our resources with the community.”
The campaign also features banners and signage with the hashtags on site, including a new activation of the property roof shouting “art works here, art stays here.” The artists continue requesting communication with Mr. Luo and the ownership group without reply. The realtor, John Cremmen of Denenberg Realty Advisors told the artists that the purchase and sale is scheduled for July 5. Until then, the artists will continue their campaign, and hope that Mr. Luo backs out, and that their more lucrative offer will be accepted.
“It would be such a devastating shame,” shares architect and Roxbury resident Josh Rose-Wood, “that after all the work everyone has done – and all the support we’ve received from the City, Uphams Corner, elected officials, neighborhood community nonprofits, mayoral candidates, and the arts community – if we lose our space, along the same way of other lost artist spaces. We’ve done everything right – we have great development partners, and a competitive purchase offer. We hope Mr. Luo will have heard the will of the artists, the community, and the city, let us stay, and be of service to the arts landscape at large.”
The HSS artist community includes painters, scenic designers, ceramicists, graphic designers, printers, fabricators, metalsmiths, sculptors, jewelry makers, furniture makers, photographers, videographers, and more, some who have been artist tenants for nearly 20 years. HSS artists will hold workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions, and other events this summer, free of charge for the neighborhood. Further, the HSS exhibition Our HeART, featuring work by over 30 Dorchester artists will be shown at JP Licks in South Bay, opening June 26.