Humphreys Street Studios Speak Out to Preserve Artist Workspaces
Exhibition at Assemblage Arts Space (part of Fort Point Arts Community)
70a Sleeper Street, South Boston
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 7, 7pm
Panel Discussion on Preventing Artist Displacement
Tuesday, October 19, 7pm -- register here: https://preventingartistdisplacement.eventbrite.com
Moderated by WBUR's Ameila Mason
Featuring panelists Raber Umphenour (filmmaker, Midway Studios), Kara Elliot-Ortega (Chief of Arts & Culture, City of Boston), John Barros (recent Boston Mayoral candidate & Chief of Economic Development, City of Boston)
In 2002 sculptors Joe Wheelwright and Gneal Widett founded Humphreys Street Studios. After running the artist community for nearly twenty years, both had recently passed away, leaving the two remaining owners plus their widows wanting to retire and sell.
In July of 2020, after learning that the studios property was for sale, the HSS artists organized, with the goal of keeping the property as artist workspaces, and as affordable. They launched their #ARTWORKSHERE, #ARTSTAYSHERE visibility campaign, earning 1500 petition signatures, three dozen community letters of support, help from stakeholders, and media coverage. After intense work with the city, elected officials, the neighborhood, and the arts/culture sector, the artists joined with real estate developers New Atlantic and Placetailor who agreed to purchase the property, and make it affordable artist workspace in perpetuity.
Currently, the owners’ group has accepted an offer to purchase the property by the artists' development partners and are currently negotiating a Purchase and Sale Agreement. The plan is to build much needed affordable housing in the property’s vacant back lot, which will help support the artist workspaces. The new venture will be partially owned by the artists, who will have a seat at the table, moving forward.
What began as an immediate, desperate hustle to save their own workspaces, through the preservation journey, became a social movement calling upon sustainable, long-term solutions to the artist displacement problem in Greater Boston. Thus, when Fort Point Arts Community (FPAC) invited HSS artists to show their work at their Assemblage Arts Space, they immediately decided to use the opportunity as a visual representation of this movement, hoping to bring the crisis of artist displacement to a broader audience.
#ARTWORKSHERE, #ARTSTAYSHERE asks Boston and Massachusetts for a solution that has worked in other states: to form a stand-alone nonprofit agency to purchase, develop, hold, and manage arts spaces, preventing them from being sold on the open market. These properties would become designated as permanent arts spaces, preventing future displacement of artists, who are vital to building and keeping healthy, thriving communities.
ABOUT THIS EXHIBITION
This exhibition features a handful of components visually representing both the long-term, region-wide problem of artist displacement throughout Greater Boston, as well as the individual preservation journey the Humphreys Street Studios artists began in July of 2020.
The exhibition floor is a map of Greater Boston, marking some of the artist buildings recently lost or threatened. Central Street Studios (Somerville), launched as artist workspaces in 1983, was the most recently reported, displacing 20 artists. In 2018, the EMF Building in Cambridge’s Central Square displaced over 200 artists, musicians, bands, and recording studios. Also in 2018, the Piano Craft Guild on the South End/Roxbury line, lost over 150 creatives when the building was sold. Other buildings that were either sold or threatened include 59 Amory Street in Jamaica Plain, AAMARP in Jamaica Plain, Joy Street Studios in Somerville, A Street in South Boston, Green Street Studios in Cambridge, and others.
The gallery’s middle column, outlined in brick, represents that Humphreys Street Studios, though threatened last year, still stands, poised to join new owners at the table. The HSS artists plan to offer various programming – including Open Studios, exhibitions, workshops, and community gatherings to the Uphams Corner and Dorchester neighborhoods. With the incoming new owners, the artists will have a new community space on site, where they can welcome neighbors young and old.
In the gallery windows, visitors meet the HSS artists – in The Faces and Places of Humphreys Street Studios featuring portraits of the artists on site in their studios and workspaces. Artists were asked how losing their workspaces (should they be displaced) would impact their art practice, business, and lives overall. Bites from those answers are displayed throughout the gallery here.
More than the loss of a building, the exhibition explores what could be the loss of an organically unique community. Humphreys Street artists range in age from 20 to 80 - male, female, non-binary, gay, straight, trans, Black, Latinx, white, Asian, multi-lingual, Boston natives, transplants, and immigrants from Venezuela, Canada, Cape Verde, Russia, Argentina, Haiti, and Portugal. They represent a range of artistic practice, including sculptors, woodworkers, blacksmiths, fashion designers, photographers, painters, fabricators, furniture makers, scenic designers, video directors, graphic designers, fine art framers, and architects. According to HSS artist Brendan Haley “sure, I could rent another physical space -- but THE thing that can’t be recreated is the unexpected, shared creativity that results from putting this seemingly disparate group of people together in one space. We couldn’t be more different -- in terms of age, race, culture, artistic medium, education, privilege. But we find the commonality to create -- and we’re all open to that WITH each other. We share creative ideas, materials and even business opportunities. It’s so inspiring and fulfilling.”
Through video projection, visitors witness HSS artists at work in their studios, creating, collaborating, earning livings, contributing to the economic development of Boston and beyond.
Finally, visitors may view a variety of individual art works by HSS artists, including photography, textile, sculpture, mixed media, custom apparel, and paintings.
Artist’s individual art works are for sale.
For media inquiries, please email Ami Bennitt at email@example.com.
Thanks to Kelly Pedersen and Patrick Smith at Fort Point Arts Community for providing the opportunity and the space to share the HSS story, and support preservation of artist workspaces in Greater Boston.
Thanks to the HSS artists who helped curate and install this exhibition. Thanks also to those who contributed their skills, talent, and time in making this exhibition come to life.