At a time when soaring rents have forced many creatives to leave the city, artists at Humphreys Street Studios have notched a rare win in the ongoing battle against displacement.
After a years-long effort, the Dorchester facility is now majority-owned by artists, thanks to an innovative agreement they struck with the city, developers, and nonprofit funders. The $2.8 million deal, which closed last week, secures more than 35 artist studios across the 26,000-square-foot facility. It also ensures that a vacant backlot on the property will be turned into much-needed affordable housing.
“I am very thankful that we’ve saved our space,” said Cristina Todesco, a theater set designer who’s worked in the building since 2004. “We have a lot of people who’ve helped and supported us.”
The deal includes a major investment from the city, which contributed $1.7 million using American Rescue Plan, Inclusionary Development Policy, and Housing Boston 2030 funds. New Atlantic Development’s Bill Madsen Hardy shepherded the deal, with BlueHub Capital and the Boston office of Local Initiatives Support Corp. providing substantial financial investment.
“The Arts and Culture sector has continued to struggle to re-emerge following the pandemic, but with this funding combined with support from our partners, our arts community will be able to continue working in Boston,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement. “We are grateful for this partnership with BlueHub Capital and LISC, and for the opportunity we have to provide new, below market, income-restricted housing and secure workplaces for our artists and creative community.”
Given the project’s complexity, several city offices were involved in the deal, including arts and culture, housing, and economic opportunity and inclusion.
The studios will be operated by HSS Artist Collective Inc., a newly formed nonprofit whose board majority is made up of the building’s artist tenants. New Atlantic will also develop the adjacent lot to provide 10 income-restricted housing units, pledging to seek community input on the design and other aspects of the project.
“The property is a unique one,” New Atlantic’s Madsen Hardy said in a statement. “This project took commitment and help from many partners to preserve.”
When the property’s previous owner put it on the market in 2019, it appeared to be the opening act in what is now a well-worn script: A benevolent landlord sells a building used by artists and private developers scoop it up, evicting artists while transforming it into a more lucrative property.
But the Dorchester artists defied the odds, creating a tenants’ association, launching a publicity campaign, and connecting with the city and New Atlantic.
“The preservation of this artist community was a direct result of the artists’ organization and advocacy for affordable artist workspace,” Kara Elliot-Ortega, Boston’s chief of arts and culture, said in a statement. “This solution serves as one model for how the City can keep our creative community in Boston, contributing to the city for many years to come.”
Hoping to leverage their success, artists at Humphreys Street recently launched the #ARTSTAYSHERE COALITION, an effort to help other artist communities avoid displacement.
“We’ve learned a lot,” said Todesco. “I have spoken to so many people and received so much support and help from others, I feel compelled to try and make a difference for this not to happen.”
Malcolm Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.