Back Bay Store the First to Step up for ‘Alternative Spaces’ in Boston Creates

By Seth Daniel

Checking out the latest cell phone gadgets or customizing one’s cellular plan doesn’t typically jibe with live opera music coming from the rafters, or the sounds of a cellist practicing away at a challenging piece, but in a City where artists are pushed to the margins for space to perform and practice, cell phones and the symphony make quite a bit of sense.

Last Friday, March 3, Mayor Martin Walsh and Patricia Jacobs, president of AT&T New England, kicked off an effort that brings those two worlds together, as AT&T became the first institution to donate space at its flagship Boylston Street store in the Back Bay for the Alternative Space Pilot Program.

First introduced as part of the Boston Creates cultural plan last year, the idea is to find spaces that are underutilized and designate them as areas which could be used by artists and performers for rehearsal space and/or performance space. In the case of the AT&T store, it’s a cozy room on the second floor that is often vacant aside from store meetings and occasional events.

On Friday, AT&T, Mayor Walsh and the first two music groups were knotted together in the kick-off the City of Boston’s Alternative Space Pilot Program at the store – an event that included a short, live concert.

“It’s very difficult to find rehearsal space, especially affordable rehearsal space for young organizations like ours with a limited budget,” said Fred Van Ness, a Longey School of Music trained opera singer who performs with Castle of Our Skins. “This is a gem and it’s fantastic. It’s going to be a very sought after rehearsal space for a lot of Boston performers. Many of us have affiliations with universities. We can book practice rooms there, but we really don’t want to take that space from existing students. That brings up a whole other issue this will solve. That’s why this is so great.”

Mayor Walsh said this kind of partnership between business and artists could really grow legs.

“Not having enough space in out City to rehearse or perform is a real challenge for our arts community,” he said. “We don’t want to lose them…AT&T stepped up as the first company to offer their space. This is not the first time they’ve opened their doors for us. This is unique, different and the potential is very exciting. It really sets an example for our other corporate partners to open their doors too.”

Julie Burros, Boston chief of arts and culture, said this is what they envisioned happening when they crafted the Boston Creates plan last year.

“We are very excited to see this part of the plan come to fruition today,” she said. “We’re also excited to see more of these collaborations come together in the next few months.”

The event also included a short violin concert by Nicole Parks of the Equilibrium Ensemble and an operatic and string performance by Van Ness, Ashleigh Gordon and Javier Caballero of Castle of our Skins.

They will begin using the space immediately during specified hours, Jacobs said.

First announced as part of the implementation strategy for the Boston Creates Cultural Plan, the Alternative Space Pilot Project is designed to respond to a need for affordable rehearsal and work space.  The program creates partnerships with private organizations, allowing artists to use underutilized private space as rehearsal space.

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