On an October Saturday, I drove from Dorchester, where our #ARTSTASYSHERE Coalition was born from years of volunteer advocacy to prevent Humphreys Street Studios and its 45 plus studio artists from displacement, to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, about 50 miles northwest of Boston. Fitchburg, like other Massachusetts “gateway cities,” once was a thriving home to the industrial manufacturing of tools, paper and firearms, with the companies’ machinery powered by waters of the Nashua River.
In eastern Massachusetts, the #ARTSTAYSHERE Coalition is helping preserve art/music/cultural workspaces, the result of soaring property values and owners selling when high. Over the last 18 months alone, we’ve advocated to preserve or relocate dozens of artists from 119 Braintree Street (Allston), over 700 musicians from the former Sound Museum (Brighton), over 60 artists at Joy Street Studios (Somerville) and hundreds more musicians at Charlestown Rehearsal Studios. Arts displacement has been going on for decades and we’re finally successfully intervening to stop the cycle.
We convene stakeholders impacted and collectively attempt to find solutions to keep creatives working across Greater Boston. Where it’s denser, we must keep every cultural space asset that we have and work to come up with the funding and opportunities needed to build more, because we collectively believe art and artists contribute to the overall cultural value of cities, towns, neighborhoods and communities. We believe that the arts, in all its forms and disciplines, enrich lives, help people communicate, solve problems and find meaning in chaos and tragedy.
But outside of Greater Boston, sometimes it’s the exact opposite challenge: abandoned buildings, sinking property values, ghosted downtowns, disrepair. I drove along Route 2 West, from the city to more rural parts of the state, through lovely New England autumn foliage, and only 50 miles away, found myself in Fitchburg, where the Fitchburg Art Museum and other stakeholders have turned arts displacement into a potential solution.
Like other gateway cities (including Brockton, Fall River, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester) originally built around industry, Fitchburg once helmed immense manufacturing. Gateway cities are defined as “midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies around the state”, facing “stubborn social and economic challenges” while retaining “many assets with unrealized potential.” These communities all once had a legacy of economic success but have struggled as the state’s economy shifted toward skills-centered knowledge sectors that were increasingly clustered in and around Boston, according to MassInc, a non-profit, Boston-based 501 organization focused on assisting gateway cities “with the tools to be stable, vibrant communities.”