Artists wanted: Concord Community Arts Center trying to reach creative sector

Last modified: 9/26/2014 12:25:36 AM
The owner of the Concord Community Arts Center wants people to think of empty studios as a blank canvas. Now he needs visual artists to come fill the blank space.

“We still haven’t really been able to jump over to the arts community,” said Brian Thibeault of Manchester, who is revitalizing the former Rumford School on Thorndike Street. “We want the neighborhood to see what we’re doing. We want them to come over and talk to us, talk to some of the tenants.”

Community members will have a chance to do this tomorrow, when the arts center will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The arts center opened in August, and Thibeault said the 25,000-square-foot building is now about half full. To create the neighborhood hub he envisions, Thibeault wants to find visual and creative artists and entrepreneurs to join potential anchor tenants he has in the Eastern Ballet Institute, Dustin’s Personal Fitness, Sew Sister Sewing Studio and a day care.

Second floor classrooms and smaller spaces better suited for artist incubator spaces are still vacant, he said. “We’ve had a few people nibble at it but no takers,” he said. “We’re just not really getting to that section of the arts community.”

A slow start to finding tenants doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of need, said Tim Sink, executive director of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, the chamber and its arts-focused subcommittee Creative Concord commissioned a study of space needs for the city’s creative sector. Of the 434 respondents, 136 were interested in renting studio or work space at a multi-use arts or creative space in Concord. “A new arts/creative facility would also be attractive to a variety of creative enterprises and businesses, as well as cultural/arts organizations,” said the study, which noted 67 of 84 organizations surveyed expressed an interest in space.

“I don’t think that has changed. I think that has probably increased,” Sink said. “I’ve walked by the space and it looked cleaned up and it looks pretty interesting. I think it’s a great use for the space. We need to help fill it out.”

Parents have inquired about the arts center, said Eastern Ballet Institute’s owner and creative director, Brandi Nylen Reed. “I was so excited to meet the new Pilates studio owner in the space above us last weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing who else joins us (at the arts center) in the coming months,” Nylen Reed said. “So much opportunity to collaborate with these other businesses literally being right down the hall from each other.”

Attracting artists to fill those spaces ultimately boils down to cost, said Ryan Linehan, executive director of the Kimball Jenkins School of Art in Concord. Vacancies at the school’s seven studios are rare, he said. The studios range in size from about 50 to 150 square feet and cost between $50 and $150 monthly. “It does not have to be much. It just has to be cheap,” Linehan said.

Still, Kimball Jenkins couldn’t keep rates so low if its business model relied solely on rent. “If we were trying to stay open on trying to rent out studios, we would be closed,” he said.

The chamber has eyed Rumford School as a good fit for artist use since it had gone vacant, said Byron Champlin, a Creative Concord board member and Ward 4 city councilor. Affordability is critical, Champlin said. “Art and creative enterprise tend to run on the thin edge of profitability,” said Champlin, who as Creative Concord’s chairman commissioned the study of artist needs.

Spaces at the arts center range from 100 to 1,110 square feet. There is also a commercial kitchen and a shared library and cafeteria area. Someone could use the commercial kitchen and open a cafe, said Reed. The cafe would get the building bustling with people, and would give students and parents a place to get food without having to leave. The cafeteria could be used as an events space, she said.

“It could house a plethora of events; dance and theater performances, perhaps an art gallery, demonstrations and fundraising events,” she said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Thibeault didn’t give a cost per square foot, but he said artists should know he will try to meet their needs. “We’re flexible and pretty open to anything,” he said. “We’ve been talking to people, putting it out there for people who are looking for space. A lot of people haven’t even heard about it.”

This hints at the next step for Thibeault’s plan: spreading the word.

He is still looking for a site manager, a boots-on-the-ground staffer to handle day-to-day operations and work with city artists. “We want to hire someone who is connected to the arts world in Concord and in New Hampshire,” he said.

To this end, Sink said the chamber of commerce plans to reach out to Thibeault and hopes the center will host a Creative Concord meeting. “I think what we really need to do is connect Brian with the information and help him promote the fact that this space is available,” Sink said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)

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