Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Creating urban revitalization by constructing space for art

By Rachel Ravelli

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(Official Flywheel Arts Collective Facebook Page)

(Official Flywheel Arts Collective Facebook Page)

About 50 Pioneer Valley residents gathered Saturday to learn about how they can work together to transform local forgotten buildings into multi-purpose, mixed-use spaces for artists. Seth Lepore of the Easthampton Co. Lab hosted the event, titled “Giving a S*** About Everything and Everyone,” at Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton.

Lepore used AS220, a non-profit community arts center located in Providence, Rhode Island, as a model to demonstrate the methodologies and business practices needed for the Pioneer Valley to advance artist-centric ownership.

Located near the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, AS220 is comprised of three buildings of space for galleries, studios and music. The area was once deteriorating and useless. After the generation of grants, loans, organization and the right staff, AS220 now hosts around a dozen events each week.

“AS220 is a space where artists come first, then managers,” Lepore said.

Some of the youth resources AS220 offers include shared work studios and private studios, commercial tenants, print shops and labs, performance space and restaurants.

“We can create something like this, that people strive to be a part of,” he added.

Lepore explained that though Providence was once known as “the armpit of New England,” social enterprises that foster engagement and community have allowed the city to become known as the “creative capital of New England” in the last decade.

Lepore emphasized that young, recently-graduated artists can steer their creative energy into the growth of forgotten cities. However, the coupled effect of lack in opportunities in low-income towns and the exorbitant costs of living in artist-driven communities like New York or even Northampton have made the movement difficult.

Todd Trebour, program coordinator at the Arts Extension Service at the University of Massachusetts attended Saturday’s meeting. He explained how his team is working to find opportunities for struggling young artists.

“We look for internships that match with the specific skills that our students need,” Trebour said. “These internships need to be paid and that’s hard to do with some of these local spaces who cannot afford to support them.”

Throughout the meeting Lepore discussed how artists may communicate, collaborate and create space for one another.

“It’s also important to find people you trust,” Lepore said. “Buildings are complicated beasts and you need to select only your best allies.”

At one point during the lecture the crowd split off into groups determined by where they live: Northampton, Easthampton, Holyoke and Springfield. Groups discussed the assets, allies, advocates and challenges they believe affect artists in their specific communities.

“I’m here because of curiosity and community,” said Gracie Janove, a teacher and writer living in Northampton.

The Northampton group, which held a few Amherst residents as well, described high rent, unsupportive landowners and an overall lack of space for their work as challenges in their area.

However, they did have a large list of allies who host events, create cheap space and encourage the growth of artists’ work. These advocates include the Northampton Arts Council, funders of trusts and grants to art projects and local business owners who benefit from artists’ attractions.

“Local businesses want art to happen because it brings people here and vice versa,” Lepore said.

Other logistics that Lepore covered included financial restraints as well as where funding can come from. He went into detail about how money can properly be extracted from foundations, nonprofits, for-profits, donors, the arts stock market, community shares and more.

Saturday was the first day of a two-part forum and focused on real estate, acquisitions and maintenance of deteriorating industrial buildings. The second day of the forum will also take place at Flywheel Arts Collective on Feb. 21 and will address community engagement as well as more challenges cooperatives face.

 

Rachel Ravelli can be reached at [email protected]

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