ArchitectureBoston

Channel Center, Fort Point

Posted in Vol 12 No 3 by bsaab on September 17, 2009

othervoices_Fall09

Other Voices

My six-year old neighbor most accurately describes what’s different about living in an artists building. He says, “All the grownups will play with you.”

Our particular building, Midway Studios, is discipline-diverse. The live/work lofts house artists of all kinds: painters, sculptors, writers, photographers, poets, filmmakers, actors, dancers, and musicians; several collaborations (and my current employment) have started with conversations in the elevator. To rent here, you must be certified as a Boston artist through an anonymous review process administered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. This helps ensure the caliber of work produced — we are home to two Guggenheim award-winners and several published authors. Apart from peer pressure, this is an incentive to make serious work, since certifications are periodically renewed and required for housing. Cease to meet the standards and you must move out.

Loft living is not ideal for all artists. It is expensive, and the changing development landscape makes our future uncertain. Some people leave because they can’t get their kids into local schools; some simply yearn for green space. We have few conventional features here and have forged a kind of artificial environment to create a more balanced reality.

When there is a snowstorm, Fort Point is quiet and unplowed — perfect conditions for cross-country skiing. Phones ring and text messages go out with invitations to venture outside. Making our way across parking lots and along the Harbor, we discuss city politics, our families, national news. We talk about the changing neighborhood, bet on which developments will actually get finished, reminisce about the old days over hot chocolate.

Mostly we extend invitations for shorter trips — to the hardware store, to do laundry, to have a glass of wine. Summer brings other invitations, for activities that might seem more at home in a traditional New England town. We have a neighborhood softball league and hold potluck barbecues on rooftops. We sometimes paddle through the locks and up the Charles River in kayaks kept in parking garages. A movie series is screened outdoors onto sheets in our tiny park; the previews are often our own short films, and some of the most popular features are Hollywood films we have written or acted in or movies that have been shot in Fort Point (Adaptation, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed).

We compensate for living and working in one room by treating the neighborhood geography like a large house. Landmarks are referred to as if they were rooms. A group of us meet for coffee most mornings in “the kitchen,” a spot on the banks of the Channel. We talk about recent openings, share recipes and advice. We play nicely, although envy or long-standing grudges about being passed over for a show are occasionally revealed over scones. Our “great room” is a local bar with ’70s paneling, a piano and TV, and — always — familiar faces. We sometimes buy milk there, or even the occasional tomato or piece of fruit, from sympathetic staff who understand the cold cruelty of a long late-night walk to the 7-Eleven on the Harbor. Barter is official currency in Fort Point, and we extensively trade services and artwork in exchange for food or equipment.

Some of us are here because we don’t fit anywhere else. The eccentricities of our work life — “days” that begin at 7 pm, the tendency to go out in public in torn, paint-stained clothes — aren’t well tolerated by most people. Some of us are here because we’ve been kicked out of studio space, marriages, or countries. If you are broken, Fort Point is a good place to get put back together.

It’s like living in a village full of extended family. We’re related by art. Generations are marked by the date you settle here, lineage determined by your standing in the art world. Like most families, our clan is strange (but reliable), and occasionally susceptible to squabbles and cliques. But you always have a place at the table if you want to come down for dinner.

Photo by Eric Levin; concept by Rob Smith.

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