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The Society of Arts and Crafts announced Thursday that it will be leaving its current Boston Seaport location and completely restructure the nearly 125-year-old organization.
In October of 2016, the cultural institution moved from its first floor location on Newbury Street, where it was based for 40 years, and ventured to a new location in the Seaport. But a lack of foot traffic and annual operational losses inhibited their success, according to Brigette Martin, the society’s executive director.
“It's a reflection on the reality of having a brick and mortar entity situated on the second floor in a neighborhood that is still undergoing construction,” she said. “We brought over our heritage programs from Newbury Street, [as well as] retail, and exhibitions that we are known for ... hoping that in this new environment and with the much larger facility at our disposal, we could just pick up where we left off.”
Unfortunately, that has not been the case, Martin said, in a large part because they simply aren’t as visible. In 2015, the city chose the Society of Arts and Crafts to occupy the just-under 9,000-square-foot area, which is reserved for civic and cultural space.
Though the location is massive and well-lit with an exhibition area and full-scale retail shop, Martin said the organization was limited by the fact that it is tucked away in the second floor of a building off Pier 4 Boulevard.
Martin calls this move a pivot that her team has been preparing for. The space is open to the public until Jan. 25, but the current exhibition ("Child's Play") ends this Saturday, Jan. 18. It will take time to empty the exhibition hall and to ensure all artists can pick up their work from the exhibition space and retail shop.
As far as what’s coming next, that’s yet to be revealed. Martin said the society plans to continue CraftBoston, the twice-a-year craft event with a large-scale juried show of fine craft artists held at the Hynes Convention Center and the Cyclorama.
They will find office space for their staff that runs that event.
The society will also layoff six of their 10 employees that mostly work directly with the Seaport community and in special events. The nonprofit is not seeking another brick and mortar headquarters. Instead, it's looking at establishing a more robust digital presence as well as innovative partnerships to reinvent what it means to be the country’s oldest nonprofit that promotes and supports fine crafts and the artists who make them.
“I would say that we took a risk as a very small arts nonprofit. We took a risk and we said yes,” Martin said. “And I think saying yes and taking risks as the opportunities present themselves, that's always a good thing."
The Society of Arts and Crafts paid a significantly subsidized rent of $10.75 per square foot, including taxes, according to Bonnie McGilpin, director of communications for the Boston Planning and Development Agency. It is one of several arts and culture organizations that has expanded to the Seaport in recent years.
“While we are disappointed with the departure of the Society of Arts and Crafts from the Seaport, we look forward to launching a robust Request for Proposals (RFP) process to select a new civic or cultural operator for this important community space at Pier 4,” said Brian Golden, director of the agency, in an emailed statement.
Martin remains hopeful for this organization that has stood the test of time for more than 100 years. She said she want crafts to be seen as more than aesthetics. She mentioned a weaver in Brooklyn creating clothing with Braille sewn into the fabric so people who are vision impaired can select their own clothing and ultimately dress themselves. To her, work like this is the future of fine crafts.
"We would like to demonstrate that craft objects are more than solely consumable objects," Martin said. "You know, it is nice to have a retail space. It's wonderful to be able to show artwork, but craft and the knowledge that our artists have about the materials out there — about their processes — can be applied in many other ways."
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