Thursday, July 17, 2003

From the In Box: Rock Shows of Note LXVIII

Via the Boss Improv mailing list, more news about the Berwick Research Institute:

ISD Inspires New Era for Non-Profit Art Space in Boston

Boston is not particularly well known for being a safe haven for experimental art. But as the Berwick Research Institute approaches its fourth year of operation, Berwick artists and all-volunteer staff are working diligently to ensure that the non-profit visual and performance art space will continue to provide a sanctuary for community-based film, dance, robotics, sound, performance, conceptual and new media art in Dudley Square.

Recent months have seen great victories for the organization, bringing respect and accolades from important members of the Boston arts community. The Berwick has seen a notable increase in favorable press attention since January, when the artists' space won the largest monetary award given to an arts organization by the prestigious LEF Foundation. The grant was given to develop the Berwick's innovative Artist in Research residency program. Since receiving the award, the Berwick has hosted three site-specific artist's projects, while simultaneously expanding its footprint to include affordable studio space for artists working in new media. One of the artists in residence, Aliza Shapiro and her group of architectural designers, PodLab, spent the month of May developing new plans for the exhibition space, which will improve the safety and handicap-accessibility of the gallery.

The growing strength and notoriety that the Berwick has gained over the past year is sure to help the group manage a new challenge that presented itself on Friday when the gallery was temporarily closed by officials from Boston's Inspectional Services Department. The ISD informed the artists that the building in which they rent a space had fire-code, zoning, and occupancy issues that needed to be addressed. Several violations were immediately rectified upon the arrival of the ISD officials, and a full inspection of the building on Wednesday will determine what other changes the building's owner, Nicholas Spelios, needs to make in order to bring the building into compliance with the city's code.

In addition to the Berwick, the building is also home to a number of artist studios, grass-roots community activist organizations, religious groups, and neighborhood businesses. Spelios has made a conscious effort to provide these burgeoning community-oriented enterprises with a comfortable and supportive space. "This building has always had an important place in Dudley Square's history, but its current role is just as vital," points out Katya Gorker, a founding member of the Berwick. "It's a multi-use space that serves a variety of purposes and a variety of audiences. Mr. Spelios could make a fortune renting or selling this property to commercial interests but he chooses to rent to us instead because of his dedication to the community."

Spelios and members of the Berwick attended a hearing with the ISD on Tuesday to discuss the zoning and fire-code breaches in the former cake factory. Berwick members feel optimistic about the outcome of the hearing and their interaction with city officials. The timing of the ISD hearing may actually be auspicious for the organization, which has been preparing to gather resources and funds to implement the new PodLab plans. As news of the city's pressure on the space spreads, the community is showing their support for the organization. "In the past few days I've received many phone calls from city officials, artists, producers, other art spaces, community organizers, and audience members asking how they can help," says Meg Rotzel, the Berwick's Director. "We need to raise money for our improvements, and we always welcome volunteers, especially assistance from people with special expertise. This is an opportunity to become involved in the arts community and have a direct impact on the cultural climate of Boston."

All Berwick programming scheduled for the month of July will be re-located or postponed, including a performance by the internationally regarded sound artist Francisco Lopez, curated by local experimental music series, Non-Event; "Effigy," a new stage production by renowned artist/activist Nomy Lamm; and a sound and video exhibition by Dudley Square-based youth program, Arts in Progress. For updates on the status of Berwick events, please refer to the organization's website. Anyone interested in donating funds to complete the new architectural design, please contact the Berwick Programming Director, Meg Rotzel.

Kudos to the Berwick staff for downplaying dissing Boston's lack of arts friendliness in lieu of highlighting the institute's contributions to the local arts and business community. That's a good strategy to seek support!

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