33 Hawley Street  Building

Northampton, MA

Contact Name
Richard Wagner
Project Dates
2013 through present and continuing
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
Placemaking/placekeeping, Land conservation/use
The 33 Hawley project addresses an all too common outcome of a successful creative economy: the loss of affordable space for creative work. It’s a well-documented dynamic: working artists bring economic, educational, and cultural health to a downward-trending community. The resulting prosperity leads to rent increases and artists are forced out. To counter this trend, our goal was to acquire a building in Northampton well suited for creative work of various kinds, establish the structural soundness and operational efficiency of the building, and then lease the spaces to one or more artists or art organizations on affordable terms. The Arts Trust’s acquisition and renovation of 33 Hawley enables us to protect and manage affordable creative space on behalf of present and future generations.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
With this project, the Arts Trust’s goal is to meet the community’s need for affordable space for creative work by acquiring a suitable property in Northampton, thereby protecting that property from market forces now and into the future
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The Arts Trust was born out of discussions about the increasing loss of affordable creative space in downtown Northampton among several established local arts organizations, including the Northampton Arts Council, A.P.E. Ltd, the Northampton Center for the Arts, the Young@Heart Chorus, New Century Theatre and others. Beginning in the 1970s, the abundance of vacant and inexpensive spaces in downtown Northampton began to attract artists and creative businesses. This imaginative and innovative culture propelled the city’s economic growth. But success came at the cost of affordable space. In these discussions, APE presented the idea of creating an entity adapted from the model of a land trust. As a land trust protects open land from development to preserve it for agriculture or recreation, an arts trust would secure built space for creative work and use the land trust model to protect that space from future development and market forces.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
One of the guiding principles of the City of Northampton’s “Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan,” produced by the City’s planning department, is to “support artists and art … at all levels.” The Plan is specific about the need to support existing arts and cultural facilities, and also calls for an expansion of local cultural venues. The City recognizes that the 33 Hawley Street project will go far to addressing this need.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
As noted above, the Arts Trust’s mission - to acquire, protect and preserve affordable space for creative work - was inspired by land trusts, which preserve open land for agriculture or other purposes. In establishing the Arts Trust, we were influenced by the Schumacher Center for New Economics and the Berkshire Community Land Trust. We also looked at a number of arts organizations around the country that had acquired property through gifts or purchases, enabling them to provide affordable arts spaces for the long term and thus keeping artists central to the community in a sustainable manner. While conducting this research, members of the Arts Trust board visited AS220 in Providence, RI, and spoke with representatives of a number of arts organizations, including the Community Arts Stabilization Trust in San Francisco, CA, the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA, Real Artways in Hartford, CT, Cultural DC in Washington, DC and St. Marks Church in New York, NY.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
he first and most important step we took was to acquire a building/site well suited to our mission. After nearly two years of research, site visits, and a few failed negotiations for buildings, the Arts Trust secured 33 Hawley Street, a 25,000 square foot steel frame building, originally a lumberyard, with abundant parking just on the edge of downtown Northampton. We opened the building to use by various local cultural organizations for 18 months while we developed designs and raised funds for preliminary renovations. We then commenced renovations, broadly outlined in three phases: 1) secure the building’s structural integrity and efficiency; 2) build out interior workshops, performance and dance spaces; and 3) build out a black box theater. As renovations have progressed, Certificates of Occupancy for portions of 33 Hawley have been granted by the city, and we began leasing space to local organizations.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
While we continue to follow our broad approach of developing 33 Hawley in three phases, we also adopted a strategy that allowed us to build out sections of the building as determined by funding availability and construction feasibility. By breaking the second phase of renovations into sub-phases, we were able to open the building to use early on rather than having to wait until all construction funds were secured. Community members thus had early access to the building both as audience and users, which not only serves our mission to provide affordable creative space, but also helps with outreach and fundraising.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Our major obstacles were, first, obtaining the site itself, and then securing funding for the renovation.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Finding a site was, to a degree, simply a matter of persistence. However, the task also required having the confidence to abandon or pass on opportunities that looked promising at first, but with further study and reflection promised more than they could have possibly delivered. As a corollary, it also required the confidence to act when the right opportunity arose; and, in fact, the opportunity arose on our own initiative – a cold call to the owner of the site. As to the funding, we were in the fortunate position of having a few committed, deep-pocketed board members who supported the acquisition and initial renovations to the building. This allowed us to show incremental progress each year, which we believe proved crucial to securing both private and state funding. That we were able to present a vision and then bring that vision to reality - first in a structure of steel and concrete and then by filling that structure with creative work and energy - has been invaluable.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Clearly articulate your intent and set goals with benchmarks that can be shown to the community at large.
2) Start with a few initial investors who believe in and are committed to the project and can help with early funding.
3) Work with local architects and contractors — our construction manager has deep roots in and understands the importance of this project to the community, an understanding passed along to sub-contractors and others, and resulted in support, patience and, at times, in-kind contributions of materials and time.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
For all its reputation as an “arts town,” Northampton has never had a multi-use community arts center. 33 Hawley brings together three long-established local organizations, the Center for the Arts, A.P.E. and Northampton Media/Northampton Community Television, which act as portals for many other artists and arts groups. These organizations, with their long histories and variety of programming, serve an economically and socially diverse constituency. Moreover, knowledge and awareness of this new community arts facility is spreading quickly through the greater Northampton area. A growing number of artists, arts organizations and community groups know that they now have a place where they can attend or teach classes in visual art, dance, theater and other creative endeavors, rehearse and produce or attend performances, exhibit art or attend an exhibition, organize or attend a meeting, lead or participate in a writing workshop, screen or watch a film, and so on - all under one roof, at affordable prices, and with plenty of parking! The physical and financial ease of access to 33 Hawley provides opportunities for creative work and participation in creative endeavors that simply did not exist before we opened our doors. Moreover, the people drawn to 33 Hawley inevitably turn the corner into downtown Northampton, increasing business for shops and restaurants.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
How did you measure this success or progress?
The Arts Trust has leases and/or operating agreements with three local cultural organizations who, in turn, act as portals to a broad range of arts organizations from Northampton and the surrounding area. We now have a facility housing a dance studio, a general workshop space for classes, rehearsals and community meetings; a digital maker space; and an event and performance space. All are available at below market rates for cultural and community organizations. Since opening our Flexible event space in September, we have seen sold out crowds nearly every weekend for theater, dance, film and music performances, some by emerging artists taking advantage of this new facility.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
We have not experienced any negative impacts. We launched this project on the theory that “if you build it, they will come,” and that theory has proved correct. One surprise is the degree to which community groups and non-profit organizations not necessarily connected to the arts need space for meetings and events. We are pleased that 33 Hawley can fill this need.
CCX Workshop Handout
33 Hawley Street (241.49 KB)