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Artists get the shaft

The city gives Fort Point's creative residents the finger
By TED SIEFER  |  February 2, 2009


On a tour of the studios at 337 Summer Street, Jen Mecca, a textile artist, points out some of the spaces recently vacated by artists and craftsmen, including a pair of furniture makers who left for Somerville. In one studio, a poem is daubed on an iron beam, in another designs are sketched on sheet-rock walls. "It's weird how quiet it is in here now," she says.

She's hoping to get someone with a camera in to document the space. It's only a matter of time before the building will be cleaned out and sealed off.

Mecca and the other artists who rent space in this five-story brick walk-up are remnants of what was once Boston's largest and most prominent artist community: Fort Point, a cluster of brick warehouse buildings across from Boston's Financial District. For the past year, they and other painters, dancers, filmmakers, designers, musicians, and craftsmen at two other nearby buildings — nearly 80 of them all together — haven't known if they would be able to stay in their studios, or if they would join the waves of artists who have been displaced from the neighborhood in recent years.

While Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) officials insist that they've come up with a plan to keep the artists around, the agency has now opened the gates for a series of projects that would allow the conversion of former artist-occupied buildings into offices, and potentially for the construction of the highest residential tower the neighborhood has seen. For many artists, especially those who pioneered Fort Point and helped it become one of Boston's most coveted frontiers for development, the plan amounts to a shell game, as the city shifts them around while allowing the neighborhood to turn into an annex of Downtown Boston.

Through it all, the artists have looked to City Hall for help. Why, one may ask. After all, powerful developers muscling out poor artists — the very people who made a once-forbidding neighborhood hip and desirable — is nothing new. The answer is because the BRA and the mayor have long claimed that the city is committed to its artists, and those in Fort Point in particular. Boston is one of the only cities in the country with a full-time program, the Artist Space Initiative, dedicated to preserving and building artist housing and studios. And the BRA has commissioned exhaustive studies on the importance of promoting the city's creative economy, such as a 2006 report, "CreateBoston," which stressed that the arts-related industries "highlight neighborhood history and traditions, serve as anchors for downtown and neighborhood revitalization efforts, and promote tolerance and diversity."

Indeed, on the official sign situated on the Summer Street bridge for pedestrians crossing from the Financial District, the city proudly proclaims Fort Point to be "New England's Largest and Oldest Artist Community," and, by virtue of the fact that Mayor Thomas Menino has adorned his name to the sign, as well, seems to have given protecting artists in the neighborhood his personal imprimatur.

"No one is a bigger supporter of artists than Mayor Menino," insists Dot Joyce, his spokeswoman.

But they're not feeling the love in Fort Point these days. Despite the BRA's relocation plan, dozens of artists are planning to leave the neighborhood. Since the mid 1990s, Fort Point's artist population has dwindled from around 600 to now barely 200.

In other words, these days, the claim on the official Fort Point sign seems dubious, as artists have left in droves for more hospitable and affordable communities, such as Providence and Lowell, where at least 600 artists are now estimated to live. The sign does, however, serve one useful function: so many storefront galleries and arts-related business have closed in recent years — Studio Soto, Mobius, the Revolving Museum — thus so significantly changing the landscape and vibe of "New England's Largest and Oldest Artist Community," that someone stumbling into Fort Point might never otherwise know artists even still live and work there.

THE SIGN’S FINE: But despite Mayor Menino’s pledges of support, many artists in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood are feeling less than welcome these days.

Indulged and ignored
Starting in the 1970s, artists began settling on the vacant floors of the old textile warehouses of Fort Point, many of them owned since the 1800s by the Boston Wharf Company. The city came to embrace the artists, even tweaking the zoning code to allow them to live and work in areas that, like Fort Point, were zoned for manufacturing.

Former mayor Ray Flynn, Menino's predecessor, recalls that his administration helped bring the Children's Museum into the neighborhood. Reflecting on the current tensions, Flynn, a South Boston native who worked on the docks near Fort Point back in the day, says, "I believe nobody has a better interest in a community than the people who live there and who are invested there. When it comes to making decisions about neighborhood use, it has to be a round table."

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Related: Can Sam Yoon win?, City Hall writes its own report card, Edifice complex, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Fort Point, mayor, Ray Flynn,  More more >
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Re: Artists get the shaft
Why are Artists getting the shaft? I don't understand that headline. I have been working in Boston for the past 23 years, traveling up and down Summer street, A street, Congress street and Mulcher street.I have not seen any improvement by any artist in that area for the entire time in my daily travel up and down streets which have run down warehouses. If Artitsts want a community to work and live at, they should have a better impact to thier community by stimulating their enviroment. For instance, at the corner of Mulcher street and A street.This week I noticed a new painting on an old diner, it's very cool to look at when I drive by(Not done by a Fort Point Artist). I see drawings on the sidewalk in Boston ( International place, Congress street couthouse). If the Artits think they are getting the shaft, and want help from others for thier cause, lets see what you have. Just because they have been at one location does not entitle them for squatters rights. Maybe a development company has ideas for condo's,retail space and restaurants for the area they do not want to vacate, thus stimulating the enviroment. Maybe I will not have to travel the same streets to see no change, with the exception of one painting every 23 years.  
By Patrowolf on 01/29/2009 at 4:53:15
Re: Artists get the shaft
This really is a shamefully unbalanced piece of journalism. At least try to get the facts straight and give the city some credit for all it's done to help preserve the fort point district. The mayor just finalized the creation of the fort point landmarks district, which does more to protect the physical character and fabric of the fort point community than anything the artist community has done without city help. Plus, the assertion that artists never had a seat at the table with the city is outrageous - most of the panel that came up with the landmarks district was composed of artists, with only one developer - the artists got their way all the way, and the mayor supported the landmarking -- some criticism of the goldman folks from NYC is fine but please present both sides of the story in terms of what the city did!!
By Southiewontgo on 01/29/2009 at 7:47:50
Re: Artists get the shaft
Whoever wrote the first comment is a f-ing idiot.  First - most artists in the area are not public-art artists.  Second - the buildings (including the old A Street Diner that you are referring to) are owned and need $$$$ to make public work on - that is why the work by Shepard Fairey is installed there now - completely and 100 percent backed by the ICA.  So please, shut up until you know what you are talking about.  
By artistinresidence on 01/29/2009 at 7:59:54
Re: Artists get the shaft
@ Patrowolf.

You dont understand the headline? Maybe if you would have read the entire article you would have more of a sense of whats going on in the neighborhood. I will also point out, that if you ever got out of your car instead of driving through you would have more of an understanding of the community as well. There have been many artists that have taken great steps to improve the neighborhood. Local artist Ana Crowley owns the Channel Cafe, which is a great spot to eat and a very positive addition to the neighborhood.
There have been artist co-ops that have bought buildings to solidify the space for their work.
The point of this article is that the developers basically either lied about their plans, or abondoned them, both of which were at the expense of an ongoing community. The area is billed as New Englands Largest Artists Community, so its obvioulsy something the city points out or flaunts this for its own best interest, that being said, they should def be held accountable to help protect these tenants from seedy out-of-town investors. BTW, The artists DO have squatting rights, its Mass., so check your laws...But it should not come to that though, not when  promises were made and then broken.
The BRA has done too little too late. If not for the pressure applied by local artists to the mayors office, they would be working(and pretty much are) for the best interests of the developers.The so-called relocation of the Fort Point Artists is a joke, I was in Fort Point and left because of the games that Archon was playing. They are trying to make it as difficult as possible for any artist to feel comfortable staying there right now, even though they supposedly offered two year leases. I have read article after article on this situation and in the end, the Mayors office has done little to regulate the terms and conditions that Archon has supposedly set. The BRA is a joke without a punchline. Its so obvious that its in shambles and the people in charge dont know enough about the communites that they are supposed to support. How long has Kairos Shen had this job? Not very long..thats for sure. It's not his fault, but he's in WAY over his head, and all that adds up to is the artists getting screwed.

Anyway, patrowolf, if you had ever got out of your car, you would have seen multiple art shows a year, open studios, street art sponsored by grants from the city, street art that wasnt sponsored by anyone and true artists living and working amongst each other. You would have seen families, friends and proffessionals. Who knows, you might even have made some new friends.

But instead, you just drove through, not knowing anything about the community, and then you decide to come on this forum and run your uninformed mouth.

oh, and its Melcher St. not Mulcher st.... but you would have known that driving by it ever day.. right?
By flatcolor1 on 01/29/2009 at 8:08:36
Re: Artists get the shaft

Artists were among the first groups to adapt and reuse the buildings in Fort Point when manufacturing moved out. For decades they prevented blight with a 24 hour presence and created a desirable district. If this is not a fact, why would many of the developers use this as a pitch when they are marketing their property?


So you’ve never seen any art in Fort Point? Aside from the Open Studios events there have been numerous remarkable public art pieces that have transformed the Fort Point neighborhood. The artists in Fort Point have a long history of collaborating with the Boston Children’s Museum. Fanciful animals once adorned many areas in the Children’s Museum, made with recycle material by former Fort Point artist Melora Kuhn. Lisa Green Field and Jennifer Moses created an unforgettable public art piece when they covered the Summer Street Bridge with sod, turning the side walks and bridge green, lush and surreal with grass.  

Michael Moss and Claudia Ravisher did another amazing piece when they turned the Summer Street Over Pass into a sound installation singing with poetry and music. All activated by cell phones. Ever take your kid to the Children’s Museum? Those two artists made the Musical Chairs exhibit. My kids can’t get enough of it! That’s joy, right out of Fort Point! 

Public art in the channel, foil flyers glittering in every window of every Fort Point building, old salvaged windows transformed into art by a project headed up by the FPCC and hung along the parking lot of the General Mail Facility, pottery mosaics in the side walks, by Danielle Krcmar, hand crafted benches along Summer Street by Fort Point artists, Christina Lanzl and Jeff Heyne,  the small park on A Street adorned with photos by Hally McGehean, a banner glowing along the General mail facility fence by Tom Wojciechowski.  In 30 plus years there has been plenty of art in the Fort Point neighborhood. So much, much more-I’ve left a lot out-so anyone from Fort Point can jump in and add names and art. Since Goldman Sachs has owned the buildings, they’ve tried very hard to pretend that no artists are in Fort Point, there is too long a history and too much wonderful stuff being made there-now if only the City and the BRA would wake up! 

 If you’ve not seen the art in Fort Point, then you just haven’t opened your eyes.

This is what Boston will be missing if greed is allowed to prevail over culture.   

By TeachArt on 01/29/2009 at 8:09:07
Re: Artists get the shaft
By ftptpainter on 01/31/2009 at 12:16:50
Re: Artists get the shaft
By ftptpainter on 01/31/2009 at 1:42:01
Re: Artists get the shaft
Southiwontgo demands that the reporter "get the facts straight" and then mistates nearly every fact. This one calls out for a clarification: "most of the panel that came up with the landmarks district was composed of artists, with only one developer - the artists got their way all the way, and the mayor supported the landmarking" First of all, of 4 community reps on the study committee and 5 additional commissioners on the committee drafting guidelines, only one member was an artist. The other 3 community reps were one architect, a retail business owner in the district and lastly, a director of a Boston-based non-profit (unrelated to the arts). Second, the artists did not "get there way" with the landmarking. No Fort Point artists or arts organizations weighed in with any particular position over the multi-year process with respect to the district other than registering strong support for protecting the integrity of the historic wharf buildings. The only fact that Southiwontgo gets right is that Mayor Menino supported the Landmark designation. Many members of the arts community have registered public appreciation for his support, and more appreciation for his support (and City Council support) will certainly be forthcoming in weeks and months ahead.
By ftpointer on 02/04/2009 at 8:44:46

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