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Amid backlash over plan to evict artists, Boston Center for the Arts delays new residency program

Responding to broad criticism of its plan to evict dozens of longtime artists, the Boston Center for the Arts has proposed delaying a new residency program by a year and offering at least 25 percent of its studios to artists who currently rent space in its sprawling South End complex.
Responding to broad criticism of its plan to evict dozens of longtime artists, the Boston Center for the Arts has proposed delaying a new residency program by a year and offering at least 25 percent of its studios to artists who currently rent space in its sprawling South End complex.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Responding to broad criticism of its plan to evict dozens of longtime artists, the Boston Center for the Arts has proposed delaying a new residency program by a year and offering at least 25 percent of its studios to artists who currently rent space in its sprawling South End complex.

The center’s leaders on Monday told artists who rent heavily subsidized workspace on Tremont Street that the residency program will not begin until June 2021, and that 10 spaces will be set aside for applicants from among the approximately 40 artists who work there now, many of them for decades.

The artists had been told in September that they would have to vacate the city-owned building by May 1 and reapply, with no guarantees for admission to the residency program. Called Studio 551, the program is designed to attract a wide array of visual and performing artists for six months to six years.

Many current tenants complained at the time that they had not been involved in the planning, which had been underway for a year, and that they did not know any specifics until they were unveiled at a meeting that was ostensibly called to celebrate the BCA’s 50th anniversary.

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Gregory Ruffer, who led the meeting as BCA director, resigned in October following allegations he had sent sexually suggestive e-mails a decade ago to a young man who studied under him in Florida.

Emily Day, who was named codirector after Ruffer’s departure, told the Globe the new proposals were drafted with the intent of having “a more transparent and collaborative process.”

Day said the new proposal evolved after discussions with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the neighborhood association, and the artists at 551 Tremont St., which the center leases for $1 through a 99-year agreement with the city.

“We have a duty to make this a more public process,” Day said. “We can look back and wish we could have done this differently, but it’s important now to do the right thing.”

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In a statement, a large group of the artists said that “both parties agreed to having additional meetings . . . in order to further discuss and resolve our differences, so that a truly constructive, equitable, and forward-looking plan might be devised for Studio 551.”

The artists said a mediator will be sought to help resolve differences between the tenants and the center.

Day said the selection process would have two phases: Current tenants would submit applications in spring 2020, followed in the autumn by applications from new, prospective artists-in-residency.

The candidates would be judged by other artists from many disciplines, Day said. Some studio space might be set aside for low-income candidates and Boston residents who cannot afford workspace in an increasingly expensive city.

Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, welcomed the delay.

“However, there is still work to be done,” Walker said. “Artists would be well served by predictability in what lies ahead and when, assistance in dealing with the financial cost of moving, and concrete solutions to their need for space to do their work.”


Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.