Retrospective Exhibition melds history and hope at Piano Factory

by Bessie King
Wednesday Jan 14, 2009

Despite closing 2008 with legal issues regarding property renovations, The Piano Factory, an artist community located at 791 Tremont St., began its 2009 season with a hit. On Saturday, Jan. 10, tenants from the community hosted "Retrospective Exhibition," the gallery's first show of 2009.

"We had a large turnout and everything worked very well. Many artists who worked and lived here through the years also came to support so it is wonderful to be a part of that living history," said Mitch Weiss, the gallery's new director. "I want to keep that positive spirit to get more new artists into this great space and have a sharing of creativity and ideas."

Opening night was well attended and guests enjoyed everything from wine and cheeses to historical documents and even the movie "Starting Over," in which the gallery and building are featured. The historic exhibition will be on display until the end of the month.

"This was about preserving the history of the gallery and sharing it. We believe we offer something good to the community; we have a great space where artists can showcase and house their talent for $300 a month, which is unheard of," said Dorothea Guild, legal liaison of The Piano Craft Guild Tenants Association (PCGTA). "Since it was the first show of the season we thought it would be a good idea to represent the history of the gallery and of the problems we've had to endure to maintain it here."

In November of last year Shoreline Corporation, landlord of The Piano Factory, planned on renovating the building. Changes included moving the gallery from its current well-lit location with high ceilings to a storage space adjacent to the current space. Due to an agreement signed in 1998 by Shoreline and the artist community such renovations cannot take place unless approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

The BRA did not approve the plan so construction did not start, but the struggles between Shoreline and the tenants who protect the space continue. However, this year Weiss hopes to celebrate the existence of such a gorgeous art space in the South End and stay away from the legal battles.

"I'm excited and I want to shift focus from the political problems to the arts," said Weiss. "The gallery has been around for years and there is reason for it to be a widely known gallery. We can offer the community a connection to the arts and people know it exists, so I want to bring them in and show what we have to offer."

Originating in the 1970s, the artist community and gallery have served as safe heavens where struggling artists can rent a live-in art studio, an opportunity that has brought many artists recognition after showing their work in the gallery. The list of shows to come is impressive too, with Lou Jones, one of Boston's renowned commercial and fine art photographers, showing his work at the gallery this February.

While Shoreline has kept mum on its November reconstruction plans the artists at The Piano Factory say they would be willing to negotiate. They understand that the landlords want to modernize their space. As long as they are given a new site of better or comparable quality for the gallery they would be happy to move, but negotiations need to be a part of the process.

"It's sort of like the little gallery that could," Eric Mayer, a Piano Factory resident and curator, told South End News in November. "We're not going to give up on it."


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