Gloucester, MA

Contact Name
Karen Ristuben
Project Dates
Lease/Option and project development 2011-2012, acquisition and renovations 2013-2014
Event, Real Estate, Business Planning, Marketing, Networking, Workforce Development
The Rocky Neck Art Colony, one of the oldest working art colonies in the country, is acquiring the former Christian Science Church on Rocky Neck, Gloucester as a permanent, year-round home. Acquisition of the building, known as The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck presents a unique moment in the life of the Art Colony and Rocky Neck to leverage cultural and funding partners, the City of Gloucester and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by creating a cultural institution benefiting the neighborhood, the community of artists and art lovers on Cape Ann and beyond. Through programs of art exhibitions, workshops, cultural events and a lecture series covering a broad spectrum of topics, we have already established an appreciative and welcoming audience.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The acquisition of the building will strengthen the Art Colony’s leadership in the area’s cultural and tourism economy, preserve a historically significant building, and provide a year-round facility for an expanding program agenda. The Center’s main hall is a multi-functional space accommodating a fully equipped gallery (with professional lighting, and hanging systems), a small concert and lecture hall, and a function room for business seminars. Through its programming the Center will create a legacy bridging the rich history, the dynamic present and the promising future of Rocky Neck.
Have they changed over time?
No, the goal of community-building through cultural programming is and remains at the forefront. Through its development, the project has advanced the Art Colony's strategic planning to 2014, has met a growing need on Cape Ann for arts production, sales and programming, and has aligned with the organization's mission to foster the community's economic and cultural vitality by creating the first year-round cultural center in the area.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Our partners in the Rocky Neck Cultural District, designated in 2012 by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, are the Gloucester Stage Company, the Gloucester Writers Center, the City of Gloucester. Stakeholders include North Shore Arts Association, the Gloucester Marine Railways, Schooner Adventure, Ocean Alliance, local restaurants and other businesses in the entire East Gloucester area. The Cultural Center is the organizational headquarters of the Rocky Neck Cultural District, thereby directly serving all partners and stakeholders.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
In 2010 the Art Colony began a strategic planning process to consider how to build on its successful programming and growing visitor base while responding to a changing economy and the shifting real estate environment on Rocky Neck. Our planning revealed that our strengths—an extraordinary artistic heritage, a strong leadership and organizational base, a widely known artist community and stunning geography—could create and sustain an exciting and dynamic platform for improved cultural offerings that would benefit both Rocky Neck artists and the entire community. Yet due to prohibitive property values the Art Colony maintained our programs in at-will rented facilities. The Art Colony aimed to:
 Improve the local economy to make it possible for more artists to work and live in the area
 Maintain a space for a gallery and an artist residency program
 Strengthen partnerships with the City of Gloucester, the Commonwealth, and Cape Ann's cultural organizations
 Expand opportunities for arts education and cultural appreciation for children and adults
 Find a permanent home to allow for expanded, year-round programming.

Serendipitously, shortly after the strategic planning process began, Kathy and Steve Archer presented a remarkable offer—to purchase a building at 6 Wonson Street and offer it at cost to the Art Colony for use as our permanent home.

Although most recently used as a church, for most of its history at 6 Wonson Street, it has been a gathering place. In 1877 Giles Chapel opened its doors as a place for community meetings, concerts, plays, neighborhood suppers, and religious services. Throughout the 1930s, Giles Chapel functioned as a non-denominational meetinghouse. Interestingly, for a period of time the building was used as an artist’s gallery.

Under our agreement, the Archers will sell the property to the Art Colony at no profit. The Archers bought the property for $375,000 and will sell it to the Art Colony for $450,000, which includes their carrying costs and reimbursement for building improvements made by them to make the facility usable by the Art Colony, which currently leases the building for community cultural events. A Purchase and Sale Agreement will be executed by January 2013, with a closing date by May 1, 2013. The Art Colony expects to raise $200,000 by the time of closing and finance the remaining debt with the Archers on favorable terms.

Have they been refined over time?
Yes. It has been a very fluid process involving multiple ongoing committees: Building and Grounds, Center Management, Capital Campaign, Exhibitions, Workshops, Lecture Series.
What were your major obstacles?
Raising capital for the acquisition of the building while developing initial programming.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
A strong and energetic President and Development Director working in tandem with the Board and and army of volunteers..
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Brace yourself for many long hours.
Communicate openly and often.
Have a sense of humor and be grateful for each small success along the way.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Rocky Neck used to be a seasonal destination, and most activity would cease between October 15 and Memorial Day. This year, since October 15, hundreds of people have visited Rocky Neck because of the Cultural Center activities: Several art openings, a member's 8th Annual Winter Show, yoga classes, business meetings, neighborhood potluck gatherings, and cultural presentations have generated a high level of community interest and participation.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The Cultural Center's Gallery - a beautiful historic hall updated with excellent lighting, is quickly becoming a destination for showing and selling contemporary artworks from artists of Cape Ann and well beyond. Our goal, therefore, to reach beyond the Cape Ann community, is becoming realized. The Center's existence is testament to the Art Colony's role as steward of Rocky Neck's cultural heritage, while reflective of its leadership in Cape Ann's developing cultural economy.
Were there unexpected impacts?
The Cultural Center has created a new space for face to face encounters on a nearly daily basis, so the unexpected positive impacts are continuous. One neighbor moved his own gallery into his house next door to the Cultural Center because of the new year-round interest in the area.