Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beverly Art Studios Celebrate Grand Opening in Old Building

By Rachel Bell
Gordon College News Service
September 19, 2011
(This story appeared September 20, 2011, in The Salem News.)

Beverly, MA —After facing bankruptcy and foreclosure at the end of 2008, the old mill building which once housed the Red Brick Arts Center, has been empty for a year and a half. On Saturday, Sept. 24th, however, with a new name and a renovated look, the Open Studios at Porter Mill (95 Rantoul Street) will celebrate its grand opening and introduce its 25 artists to the public.

“It’s an opportunity for all the artists here to open their doors,” said Bea Modisett, 25, a graduate of Montserrat College of the Arts who now manages the Porter Mills studios and coordinated the grand opening on Saturday. 

The event will provide the chance to speak to artists about their exhibited work and look at their work spaces, and will also feature evening performances by a live band, SWAY. For Modisett, a painter with her own studio on the third floor, it is an opportunity to introduce the building and the studios to the public.

“I hope it attracts more people,” Modisett said, “like dancers or writers. I’d love to see more diversity here in terms of medium.”

Most of the 25 artists at Porter Mill studios do two-dimensional work such as painting, photography, illustration and print-making but the new tenants of the four-story building also include a fiddle repairman, a ceramics worker and a barber. “I think hair-cutting is an art,” Modisett said.

Real estate agent George Vernet of Salem bought the old Red Brick building after looking at it for two years.

"It is a unique property with a mixture of residential condominiums, artist studios and retail space,” he said.

But instead of converting the studios into condominiums, Steve Archer, 59, owner of Keller Williams Realty in Beverly, persuaded Vernet to renovate the existing studios so artists in the area could enjoy a new space.

“George wasn’t aware of how prominent the (Beverly) arts community was,” said Archer. “But he’s a smart business man and saw that it would be a good move.”

Archer—whose wife is a painter and had a studio in the Red Brick Art center before it closed— is a life-long resident of Beverly and a Trustee of Montserrat College of the Arts. He put Vernet in contact with Modisett to manage the building.

 Many of the artists were attracted to the studios because of the space and location. “Studio space is difficult to find on the Northshore,” said Sandy Belack-Phippen, 60, an oil-painter who had a studio at the former Red Brick Arts Center and has recently moved into Porter Mill. When Red Brick closed, Belock-Phippen, who lives in Wenham, had to move her work to Boston. “I’m very happy to be closer to home,” she said.

Elisabeth Neville, 43, was in a similar situation. “I had a studio space in Hyde Park, two hours away,” she said, “and I was sharing the space with two other women. Here I have my own space and windows too!”

The new studios were originally set to open on May 1st but the move-in date had to be postponed in order to get the building fully functional again. “A lot had changed in terms of building codes,” Modisett said. “We’ve focused on getting it safe.”

The twenty-three studios range in size and shape and each one has between two and eight large windows. The building has a newly-installed elevator and sprinkler system, and fifteen more studios will be added this winter. 

“The developer has really put a lot of resources and effort into making it work,” said Belock-Phippen.

With a thriving community of artists in Beverly and the surrounding areas, the studios are attracting more and more local interest. “It’s exciting that there is something on the Northshore that is more than just painting the Gloucester fishermen,” said Neville.

If You GO:  Open Studios at Porter Mill, RSVP on Facebook page or find more information at Studios are open to the public from 2 pm-6pm and live band performances will take place from 6 pm-8 pm. 


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