By Eliza Rosenberry
A large plot of land near Somerville's Inner Belt district may soon get a major overhaul, and the city's arts and agricultural communities will reap the benefits.
Last January, the Somerville Arts Council (SAC) proposed a project that would turn a former waste-transfer site in the Brickbottom neighborhood into a community arts and agricultural space called ArtFarm.
ArtFarm, to be located at 10 Poplar St., will serve as a sustainable creative and cooperative space, featuring concerts, classes, pop-up shops, urban agriculture and more. Partners include the City of Somerville, the Brickbottom community, the Earthos Institute and the Somerville Community Corporation.
After multiple public meetings and focus groups, SAC developed the major pillars of the project: environmental sustainability; arts and cultural engagement; community unity; and economic development.
Last week SAC executive director Gregory Jenkins and principal architect Chris Grimley proposed the most recent floor plan.
Under current designs created by Grimley's architectural firm, "over,under," the proposed space will feature community gardens, a greenhouse, a cafe and performance venue.
Construction will be carried out in two phases over the next two years. Phase one will include depaving some of the concrete site; creating the greenhouse and community gardens; and making the space ADA accessible. In phase two, scheduled for summer of 2018, a 5,000-square-foot building, ArtBarn, will be constructed and will include a dining and performance space.
Grimley said the space is designed to be minimal, thereby maximizing flexibility for a broad range of community uses. However, he added, programs related to arts and agriculture is the primary purpose.
ArtFarm will be a natural convergence of the two practices, Grimley said, which are already inherently linked.
"There is a performance in growth, there is growth in performance," Grimley said.
Over the past year, the existing space housed pop-up events such as a Big Tiny House Festival andProject MUM, but is in need of environmental remediation and redesign to make it a more safe, flexible and accessible community venue.
Current designs will cost $2.6 million, nearly $1 million of which has already been raised in grants. The SAC is seeking additional funding from other sources, including from the city's own Community Preservation Act, which welcomes public input during the comment period in early 2017.
"That's your tax dollar funding if you want to support it," Alderman Mary Jo Rossetti suggested to community members at the meeting.
The phased timeline for ArtFarm is a result of financial limitations, but Jenkins and the SAC are hopeful more funding will become available as the space improves and the community shows support for the project.
"We don't have a lot of money. If we can keep activating [ArtFarm] in these different stages, maybe other money will come," Jenkins said.
A prior design for the site focused on shipping containers and was estimated to cost nearly $8 million, Jenkins said. The new plan is lacking in some features, such as studio spaces for artists, but, given budgetary constraints, it is more likely to move forward.
In 2017, community members can expect to see construction as sections of the site are redesigned and activated. A more detailed phasing plan for construction and designs for ArtBarn are forthcoming.
Pointing to future development opportunities in the Inner Belt district, one community member asked about the permanence of ArtFarm.
"If we can continue to drive the social utility and more partnerships to activate the space, and get more social utility and show the community wants the space and is engaged by the space, that itself will say a lot to the city and to the powers that be," Jenkins said.
The community must continue supporting and engaging with ArtFarm, he said, in order to succeed.
"We have been given the opportunity to activate the space," said Jenkins. "If you guys help activate the space, that in itself will be successful."
By Eliza Rosenberry