In what city officials are calling an “unprecedented” deal, hundreds of displaced musicians will be offered affordable rehearsal space in a building just down the street from the old Sound Museum, the sprawling Brighton complex they were forced to vacate earlier this year after a developer purchased the building.
The developer, IQHQ, will donate the building at 290 N. Beacon St. to the City of Boston as part of a mitigation package to offset the displacement of some 700 musicians and other performing artists by the construction of a life sciences campus on the site of the old Sound Museum property.
The nearly 35,000-square-foot building, which IQHQ bought for $18 million last year, nearly rivals the old Sound Museum property in size. It is currently occupied by Boston Light & Sound and an auto parts store. The Boston Planning & Development Agency intends to schedule a vote on IQHQ’s larger development project for next month’s meeting, according to city officials.
If the deal passes, IQHQ will transfer property ownership to the city in what officials are calling the largest such concession in Boston’s history.
“It’s unprecedented‚” said Kara Elliott-Ortega, Boston’s chief of arts and culture. “This is the largest mitigation package that the arts and culture office and the BPDA have partnered on to secure for the city.”
The last musicians who rented studio space vacated the property at 155 N. Beacon in early March, making way for California-based IQHQ’s plans to raze the building and construct the 400,000-square-foot life sciences campus.
The Art Stays Here Coalition and others brokered a two-year deal in January on a temporary studio facility in Dorchester while the city continued to work with IQHQ to transfer ownership of the North Beacon Street property.
“This permanent studio rehearsal space is a historic achievement for our Allston-Brighton artist community and citywide goal of preserving and creating new creative spaces,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in a statement.
Kim Thai, IQHQ’s director of development, said the company was “proud” to purchase and transfer ownership of the property to the city, adding that it has been working closely with Wu’s office to secure “affordable high-quality rehearsal space in Allston-Brighton for the long-term needs of the area’s musicians and artists.”
The new space will require a complete renovation, and may end up being larger than the old rehearsal space.
Elliott-Ortega added that if the BPDA approves the deal, the city will embark on a public process to identify a team to develop and operate the space under a long-term lease. She added that while they do not yet have a cost estimate for the project, it will likely be paid for through a combination of city funds, private financing, and philanthropy, with some costs later recouped via rents.
The goal, she said, is for the transition from the Dorchester facility to the renovated Brighton studios be “as seamless as possible” for the displaced musicians.
“The idea is to get something turned around as quickly as possible,” said Elliott-Ortega. “We have a goal of being able to transition musicians from that temporary space into this space. So that has a timeline on it.”
The creation of a space owned by the public in perpetuity is a rare victory for the city’s artists and musicians, many of whom have been forced out of studio and rehearsal space over the past several decades by soaring rents and rapid development.
Elliott-Ortega’s office estimates that nearly 150,000 square feet of cultural space (including the old Sound Museum) has been lost in Allston-Brighton alone over the past seven years, with another 100,000 square feet or so now at risk, including significant portions of a large property at 119 Braintree St in Allston.
The city has actively sought to counter the displacement of artists, marking a few wins by working with groups such as the Art Stays Here Coalition. Among them is Humphreys Street Studios, where artists struck a deal last November to secure majority ownership of the Dorchester complex of artist studios.
Coalition member Ami Bennitt, who’s worked closely with artists at Humphreys Street Studios and displaced musicians in Brighton, called the approach a “long game” that seems to be working.
“People are starting to recognize that if we don’t actually take action and do things, then everything will go the way of the Piano Factory,” she said, describing a once-thriving artist community in the South End that’s dwindled to just a few studios over the years. “Together, we’re changing the trajectory of arts displacement.”
She was quick to add, however, that artist evictions remain a major challenge for Greater Boston’s cultural sector. In recent years, cultural space has been threatened or lost in Cambridge, Somerville, and Jamaica Plain, among others.
“In the wake of all that goodness, there’s just as many people hanging it up, moving out of town, so bitter, depressed, and beat down,” Bennitt said. “It will take a while to right the ship.”
Musician Jim Healey, who began rehearsing at the Dorchester complex after the Sound Museum closed, said he’s practiced at numerous area studios over the years.
“This is the first time I can recall the city outwardly standing up for us, thousands of Boston musicians, who, like me, have been displaced two, three, five times,” Healey, who is married to Bennitt, said in a statement. “It’s a welcome change.”
that while the city hopes to recreate aspects of the old rehearsal complex in Brighton, there might be an opportunity to add more space and provide additional services.
“We’re transitioning from kind of what are our hopes and dreams, to actually doing the work,” she said. “This is one of those rare opportunities to say, ‘OK, we have an opportunity. What do we want now?’ ”