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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Redevelopment of 574 Boston Ave. displaces long artisan legacy

A Commodore Builders employee cuts metal to size during the afternoon at the construction site at 574 Boston Ave.

Less than two years ago, a university building on the outskirts of campus served as an ideal work space for dozens of artisans. Now, the space is one of Tufts' biggest featured redevelopment projects. 574 Boston Ave is being re-purposed into a science and engineering building to meet the demand for new classrooms, teaching labs, research labs and office and study space.

According to Tufts Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder, the space was purchased in 1988 for $2.85 million by Walnut Hill Properties, a Tufts affiliate that manages all university real estate and non-Tufts property leases.

“For 25 years, until 2013, Tufts provided space at low cost to the artists, craftspeople and tradespeople,” a statement released by Snyder said. “That community could not have flourished without Tufts’ support. When Tufts needed the building for its mission they were treated with respect and given assistance in relocation.”

According to former tenant Dave Golber, it was an artist’s dream space. When he stumbled upon it, he felt he had “died and gone to heaven," he said.

Built as an industrial warehouse, the space boasted open spacing and lighting, creating an atmosphere artists could thrive in, Golber said. Two freight elevators were easily accessible and helpful for artisans with heavy supplies and machinery.

According to Golber, many of the craftspeople had been based at the location for over twenty years. A few of the artists were nationally-acclaimed, and many artisans formed larger groups together during their time at the warehouse.

Former tenant Paula Garbarino, a furniture maker, said she found a great collaborative environment at 574 Boston Ave.

“There were so many different workers and so many times where you relied on others’ expertise, actually did work with them, got a referral from someone, or paid referral ... that [the community] became very tight and very supportive,” she said.

Golber said Walnut Hill had been a good landlord and that the rent was extremely reasonable. According to Golber, for 500 square feet, rent would come to about $600 per month including utilities.

“It was kind of charity on Tufts’ part,” he said. “They were just trying to break even.”

According to Garbarino, Walnut Hill always prioritized meeting the needs of the tenants. She said that Bruce Ketchen, former Walnut Hill general manager, would frequently stop by and invite new artisans to come in.

The tenants received six months notice before their move out date at the end of May, in order for Tufts to begin its renovations, Golber said. In this time, many groups that had formed at the warehouse space split up because they could not find big enough spaces that were also convenient and reasonably priced.

While being forced to move out caused financial distress for many of the tenants, Golber said that he, among others, did not place blame on the university.

"[They did] what they needed to do,” he said.

After the artists had been given six months notice, however, senior Rayn Riel, co-founder of Tufts Urban Policy, Planning and Prosperity (UP3), explored 574 Boston Ave to meet the artisans. He said UP3 was outraged at Tufts for not making an effort to integrate its students into such a powerful art scene.

“It was such a community for twenty years that no one knew about,” Riel said. “The art students didn't know about it. They could have gone here to work with them. I'm sure they could have had apprenticeships ... This was never mentioned, this was never shown, and it's a block away.”

Since then, Riel has continued to push Tufts administrators and project coordinators to highlight the history of the space. He said that he does support the redevelopment of the space, but that the former tenants should have a place in the building through their artwork.

“What we're doing is trying to get Tufts to recognize these artisans,” Riel said. “Tufts is actually trying to incorporate artwork into the interior design of 574 Boston Avenue ... I think it would be interesting and very important for Tufts to look into buying their artwork.”

Though Garbarino supports the idea of Tufts purchasing the work, she said she would have liked Tufts to offer additional help when the tenants were displaced.

“It's a nice idea, it's just that we were displaced, and some people have a lot of financial struggles because of this,” Garbarino said. “It would have been so nice if Tufts had said from early on that, 'Hey, we have this connection with a museum school, we understand that people need studio space and shop space and we'd like to support that.' But they had other pressures and they went elsewhere and they needed to develop their property. From the receiving end, it just feels harsh.”

According to Riel, for a school that places such an emphasis on civic engagement, Tufts acted hypocritically not to acknowledge the former tenants in the redevelopment plan.

“I think [buying their artwork] would also show that at Tufts, they practice what they preach in terms of planning efforts,” he said.