Thursday, September 06, 2018

Artists illuminate eviction fight with creative media at Piano Factory

Artists illuminate eviction fight with creative media at Piano Factory

Several artists face loss of studio space at longstanding artists' building.

Contact: Helen "Homefries" Matthews, Communications Coordinator, City Life/Vida Urbana, (617) 784-1731

Boston, MA - It was 1983 when sculptor Wayne Strattman first signed a lease for his South End artist's studio. In the Piano Factory - known also as the Piano Craft Guild - Strattman has spent his 35-year professional career making sculptures involving neon light. Over the years in his studio, Strattman has churned out luminous backgrounds for Start Trek: The Next Generation, the movie First Contact, and exhibits at over a thousand science museums worldwide.
Left: A neon sculpture by Piano Factory artist Wayne Strattman.
In the 1970's, the Piano Factory was converted into a building for artists and low-income folks. Back in the 1990's, the building's owners tried to cancel the leases of artists, but several went to court, and Judge Daher stopped the evictions and forced the owners to maintain it for another 20 years as an artists property.

Today, the Piano Factory consists of 176 apartments - largely rented to students and young professionals- plus a commercial wing with artist workspaces. Only about 20 artists remain, and only 4 of them have workspaces in the building. But those workspaces were threatened this spring when the owner, Simeon Bruner, issued eviction notices to their occupants - Ekua Holmes, Peter Lipfett, Paul Goodnight, and Strattman. The owners' vision?: convert the workspaces into additional high-end housing.

"They're pushing the arts further and further outside of the city. Boston's arts spaces are largely gone," says Strattman.

It's true that 2018 has seen a wave of artists displacement from the Boston area. More_Luxury_Apts_!.jpgFrom the 15 artists evicted from studios at 128 Brookside Ave. in the JP/Rox redevelopment zone when speculator Enrique Darer purchased it (and then sold it, only months later, to investors) to the many renowned Black artists of Northeastern's African American Master Artists in Residence Program (AAMARP) who are negotiating with the mayor and the university to stop their evictions, the displacement crisis is hitting artists hard. In nearly Central Square, Cambridge, over 100 artists were ousted from the longstanding EMF studio building

The building's management offered an alternative studio space in the building to Goodnight after an appearance in the Boston Globe. But the remaining commercial occupants are on the edge of displacement, their leases set to expire this January.

On August 30th, the artists' outrage defiantly glowed from the window's Strattman's studio. Strattman and co-worker Cary Rapaport mounted six large neon messages protesting the displacement of artists for luxury housing.

Data from the City of Boston's Arts and Culture department shows that the vast majority of artists certified by the City - 89% - earn less than $60,00 annually.
"As properties get more valuable, the artists can't afford it," says Alex Ponte-Capellan, Community Organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots organization that fights displacement and has been supporting the Piano Factory artists.

"Unless the City decides that keeping a vital arts community is important to them, this is gonna continue," says Strattman.

The Piano Factory artists facing displacement plan to launch an online petition soon in collaboration with City Life/Vida Urbana to gain more community support.

Helen "Homefries" Matthews, Communications Coordinator, City Life/Vida Urbana

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