The grand opening of CityPOP Egleston, a new arts-centered community space, brought light, energy, balloons and enthusiasm to the old Jackson Glass and Rainbow Foods building at 3195 Washington St. on a balmy Friday evening, April 1.
City Realty Group, which owns the building and plans on building new on the site, recognized that an abandoned, shuttered building doesn't look especially good in the interim, so its leaders decided to spread some goodwill in what is emerging as a youthful arts community on the edges of an upward mobile Egleston Square.
"It's not really done yet, but we wanted to kickstart it in the community," said an obviously proud Cliff Kensington, City Realty's coordinator for CityPOP Egleston. "We'll have bigger event in June."
Kensington and his team have been busy since January. For starters, they hired an events/program manager, Carolina Prieto, who lives on the east side of Egleston Square.
And much like Renaissance patrons, City Realty commissioned artists to paint murals on their building: The great mosaic "Phoenix and His Silent Listener" by Alex Cook, and the already iconic "EglestonSquareOrangeLineMusic" by Ricardo Gomez on the Jackson Glass garage doors, a headturner at that busy crossroads.
Boston Makers, whose office is at 17 Segal St., has taken over the Rainbow Foods bodega space at the corner of Montebello Road. Formed in June 2014, Boston Makers is a "community operated workspace," according to its website, aimed at encouraging young people to "get out of the house and join their neighbors, friends and classmates to make things": jewelry, clothing, furniture, electronics, even robots.
"I just like to make things," explained Boston Makers co-founder Dominic Burdick, an electronics engineer. The Makers held its first pop-up event during a First Thursday in May 2104 alongside the Eliot School (whose director, Abigail Norman, is a director/advisor of Boston Makers) and Stonybrook Fine Arts. Other early collaborations included the Hyde Square Task Force and the Curley K-8 School.
"We had a February Makers camp at the Curley School, soldering computer boards, making animation boards and using a 3D printer," Burdick said. "We show young people that you can DO this! This is success for us!"
In addition to Burdick, the other two Boston Makers founders are Eileen McMahon, a producer of media projects, and Darien Fortier, an architect and designer with the noted South End firm Hacin + Associates.
Emily Glaser, the organization's director of communications and a writer and artist, explains in her biography on the Makers website, "I grew up taking apart gadgets," which seems to sum up the philosophy of the whole organization.
Glaser said that for the past two years, Boston Makers held a teen and youth makers club in the Cheverus Building behind the Blessed Sacrament Church in Jamaica Plain with its collaborator, the Hyde Square Task Force. "But we had to relocate because of renovations to their building," Glaser said. "We were lucky to find this [CityPOP Egleston] storefront. We have a one-year lease."
All of the BostonMakers programs are led by volunteers and almost all are free; donations are requested at a few, but accessibility is important.
"We let the teenagers in the Saturday learners program believe," said Burdick. "Believe that they can DO this. They CAN make software and also learn to use simple hand tools. We are busy doing great things for the community. We want to be a community resource. We want to indulge creative impulses."
The first thing BostonMakers made at 3195 Washington St. was its own workspace. On March 14, a bevy of volunteers cleaned, scraped, painted, laid flooring, hammered, and assembled tables and cabinets.
The rest of the building is still unfinished, but there are plans to further transform it into creative art spaces. From there, "We'll have a process in May for artists to sign up for spaces," Prieto said. Artists will be selected from the 02119 and 02130 zip codes that straddle the Egleston Square area. Percussion music, Irish step dancing, Afro-Cuban dance and Future Chefs are among the creative ideas for the garage space.
"[Artists] need to share our values; to be inclusive in their art to open their art up to the community; and to give back to the community," Prieto said. The organization will hold quarterly review to ensure those values are being met.
"We aren't charging the artists anything to use the space," Kensington told Jamaica Plain News after the event." We have about six different groups signed on to use the space, and I can imagine a successful night [like Sunday's event] will drum up some interest. Plus, we will be making it available to groups for short-term projects and events."
Kensington added that City Realty, which has a property management arm, is covering utilities and general insurance, and is committed to spending $50,000 on this program. In addition, "We're doing some fundraising for holding larger, fun events," he said. "It's obviously a work in progress, but we're excited to see what the space becomes."
City Realty is also tapping into what Jamaica Plain has already become: A community of 20- and 30-somethings who are well-educated, creative, talented and connected, and who have the resources and flexibility to give some of that wealth back to a neighborhood like Egleston Square, which is adjusting to this new community growing around its edges.
What will that space become?