Medford arts groups push for community center

Medford City Hall is pictured on Jan. 1, 2016. via Wikimedia Commons

Medford Mayor Stephanie M. Burke has approved the formation of a feasibility study to investigate the creation of a new community arts center. The center would be located at the current site of the city-owned Hegner Center on 15 Maple Park Ave., according to Medford City Councillor Michael Marks.

Approval is the latest step towards the creation of Medford‘s first arts center, a goal the city’s arts community has set. The formation, funding and organization surrounding the feasibility proposal is being spearheaded by a coalition of area arts groups called Arts Collaborative Medford (ACM), Marks said.

“We don’t have a place that we can call a home for the arts [in Medford], so this has been long overdue,” Marks said.

The estimated cost of the study is between $20,000 and $50,000 according to Gary Roberts, representative for ACM and chair of the Medford Arts Council. Tufts, as a member of ACM, has contributed $500 of the $10,000 ACM has raised for the study so far, according to the proposal submitted to Mayor Burke. 

Roberts told the Daily in an email that the feasibility study will help determine whether the Hegner Center building will meet the community’s needs as an arts center.

In the past, the Hegner Center housed a nonprofit of the same name which provided services for children and adults with learning disabilities, according to Marks. It was later taken over by another organization, Bridgewell Inc., that operated under the same service-oriented mission. But Bridgewell outgrew the building; it vacated the Hegner Center in 2013. Medford acquired the property deed in 2016, according to WickedLocal.

The Hegner Center would work well as an arts center, according to ACM’s proposal requesting a feasibility study, submitted to Mayor Burke.

“[The Hegner Center has a] mix of smaller rooms that could be used for many activities, from studio space to offices, and a large main room that could be used for ongoing exhibitions of artwork and performances or lectures,” the proposal states.

Marks added that the feasibility study would assess what potential arts services the center could provide, review Americans with Disabilities Act compliance rules and estimate overall cost.

“[A feasibility study would] look at program and space planning, capital cost estimates, a business plan, a market analysis [and] a finance strategy,” Marks said.

Marks said the feasibility study would need to be conducted before any programming within the center was finalized, but he underlined several key components that members of ACM want to see.

“Studio space is definitely something we’re looking to build. Art classes will be something that I think we all see within the building itself … and eventually … some type of community and meeting and gathering space so people can have art exhibits and storytelling and a makerspace,” he said.

Roberts also emphasized the economic aspect of building an arts center, saying that the renewed interest in the arts causes people to think of Medford as “more of a destination.”

Part of that vision could come through the formation of a state-sanctioned cultural district around the arts center and other existing Medford landmarks, according to Marks. He mentioned the Chevalier Theater, an auditorium in Medford, and the historic Royall House and Slave Quarters as potential destinations.

“If [we’re] able to capitalize, find some connectivity [between the locations], we may be eligible for funding from the state, which would be a big asset to the city,” Marks said.

Medford residents view a potential arts center favorably: 66 percent of 79 respondents to a 2018 survey by the Medford Arts Council “indicated an affirmative desire for an arts center, and another 30 percent indicated an interest in there being one” according to ACM’s proposal for a feasibility study.

“I think that people realize that arts and culture play a vital role in building a strong community, and not only does it improve the attractiveness and visibility of our city, but it contributes to the strength of the local economy,” Marks said.

He added that the center would help serve to keep artists in Medford, whereas previously, there wasn’t a lot of effort in reaching out to local artists.

“There hasn’t been a lot of effort to try to tap into that broader community [of artists],” he said. “There are a lot of professional artists who reside in Medford — classical composers, nationally recognized journalists, photographers — lots of people who have their whole career in the arts who [work] in Boston, or New York or Somerville or Cambridge.”

Tufts’ Director of Community Relations Rocco DiRico said that the university stands by local artists. 

Tufts University is a proud supporter of many art organizations in our host communities and a proud supporter of the arts in general,” DiRico told the Daily in an email. 

DiRico, who also represents the university at ACM, said that the Hegner Center‘s close proximity to Tufts will benefit the Tufts community.

“If the Hegner Center is chosen as the location for the ACM, it will be very close to campus and be a terrific asset for our students, faculty, and staff,” DiRico said.

Roberts, a former assistant provost at Tufts, stressed that he hopes to see the Tufts community get involved in the center in any way they can. He added that he would like to see members of the Tufts community join ACM member organization Medford Arts Council, which he now chairs.

“I would love to see some Tufts faculty or Tufts students, who have great ideas and are in a position to execute them at a high level, do their [work] in Medford,” he said,

Marks said that ACM will attempt to raise the remainder of the funds without the help of Medford — he says this will prevent the study from becoming a “burden” on the city. However, Marks also emphasized that the city is still an option for funding if needed.