GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 1, 2013

Rocky Neck arts center lands $154K grant

By Gail McCarthy
Staff Writer

---- — The Rocky Neck Art Colony has received an injection of cash and a strong show of support through the Massachusetts Cultural Council to go toward the purchase of its first permanent home, a former church building on Wonson Street.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced that the art colony received an award of $154,006 from the state’s Cultural Facilities Fund, which supports new capital projects for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.

The money will go toward the acquisition and development of the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, located at 6 Wonson St. and housed in an 1877 church building.

State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante applauded the work of those who are leading this effort.

“The award of this grant is a credit to the Rocky Neck community, who continue the tradition and its unique distinction as being the nation’s oldest art colony,” said Ferrante. “The Rocky Neck community — in particular the work of Karen Tibbetts and Karen Ristuben — has been an amazing leader over the past two years in the establishment of the Rocky Neck Cultural District and the arts programming to accompany and define the district.”

In March of 2012, the Rocky Neck Art Colony was among the first five cultural districts to win state Cultural Council approval as a recognized cultural district. The council also recognized a Rockport Cultural District in that first wave, and has since granted similar designations to an Essex River Cultural District and, earlier this year, to a Gloucester Harbortown District covering the city’s downtown.

“We are absolutely thrilled and grateful that the state -- through the Massachusetts Cultural Council -- has supported this community project,” said Ristuben, president of the Rocky Neck Art Colony. “It’s a fantastic validation of the project. It is the headquarters of the Rocky Neck Art Colony as well as the newly designated Rocky Neck Cultural District.”

She said she believed that the designation as a cultural district has a lot to do with receipt of the grant. While a designation as a cultural district does not carry any direct funding, officials have said that the cultural promotion of the district and the designations should enhance the district’s bids for other state, federal and corporate grants.

“I’m not sure this would have happened to this degree without this designation,” Ristuben said.

This money will help reduce the mortgage. The art colony purchased the property (on April 30?) from Kathleen and Stephen Archer for $450,000, with a $200,000 down payment and a mortgage held by the Archers.

This Rocky Neck check is among a list of Cultural Facilities grants extended around the state toward projects totaling nearly $5.2 million. The grants range from $7,000 to $250,000.

“Supporting projects that expand access to the arts, humanities and sciences creates jobs, increases tourism and leaves a stronger Commonwealth for the next generation,” Gov. Patrick said in a prepared statement.

Anita Walker, the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said the grants help nonprofit organizations become better stewards of our cultural heritage.

The building at 6 Wonson St. was first named Giles Chapel, and is a historically notable Carpenter Gothic-style church. It later became a Christian Science Church, but now serves as a year-round cultural facility for the Rocky Neck Art Colony’s expanded programs.

The center’s main hall serves as a fully equipped gallery, a small concert and lecture hall and a function room. The lower level serves as a workshop studio and as additional meeting and gallery space.

Now known as the “Cultural Center at Rocky Neck” it already has become the focal point for year-round social, cultural, artistic and other activities as well as the home of the Rocky Neck Cultural District.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk commended the art colony for its efforts to acquire the space.

“As we have seen with the Lanesville Community Center, the Magnolia Library, and the Annisquam Village Hall, these community spaces are essential for vibrant neighborhoods,” Kirk said.

Trustee Amy Bell Ross said the new cultural center will serve as an incubator and anchor for development of the arts throughout the city.

“This has already begun to happen with exhibits, lectures, performances and workshops now being offered on Rocky Neck continuously throughout the year,” she said.

Marty Jones, the MassDevelopment president, explained the importance behind these grants.

“Tourism is our state’s third-largest sector, and the arts and culture are key economic drivers in that industry,” she said. “By funding capital projects at these cultural institutions, we help to ensure they continue to draw visitors to spend money in Massachusetts.”

Beyond the remaining mortgage that now stands at around $100,000, there is still fund raising needed. Ristuben said the art colony needs to raise $200,000 for renovations and making the building handicap accessible, and an additional $50,000 for an operational reserve.

Looking toward the future, they want to create an endowment to manage the building.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.