Final beam lifted into place on new Boston Arts Academy building; supporters grateful and excited

The final beam of the brand new Boston Arts Academy (BAA) building on Ipswich St. in the Fenway was lifted into place on February 23, completing the bones of the new school. 

The new building is a $125 million, state of the art school which will provide a quality public school arts education with opportunities for students to learn fashion, dance, theater, visual arts, and much more. Demolition on the old BAA building began in 2018, and the school has since temporarily relocated to Dorchester.

“The event marked an important milestone for BAA Foundation, which raises essential funds through philanthropic sources to bridge the gap between BAA’s allocation from Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the true cost of a high-quality arts education,” according to a press release from the topping-off ceremony. 

The new building is expected to open for the school year beginning in Fall of 2022, and be able to accommodate 500 students, a capacity increase of almost 15%, according to the release. It will include “state of the art fashion programs, visual arts programs,” a rooftop recital hall, a 500 seat professional theater, among many other features, according to Head of School Anne Clark. 

The topping-off ceremony on Tuesday morning was led by BAA student body president Anya Edwards, and featured remarks from Mayor Marty Walsh, City Council President Kim Janey, BPS School Committee Chair Alexandra Oliver-Davila, BAA Head of School Anne Clark, Emerson College President and BAA Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Lee Pelton, Massachusetts School Building Authority Deputy CEO and Executive Director Jack McCarthy, among many others who were there to show their support. 

“This is a proud day for the City of Boston,” Mayor Walsh said at the ceremony, calling the new building “I think the most innovative public arts academy high school in the country.” 

In a statement, Walsh said, “This amazing school building will serve future generations of the most creative, artistic young minds from every neighborhood of our great city. This school is a shining example of what public education can look like, and is a powerful demonstration of the City of Boston’s commitment to providing every child with access to an excellent education and a supportive and affirming learning environment.”

Walsh said that if confirmed by the Senate to become President Biden’s labor secretary, he will be coming back to Boston for the ribbon cutting when the school is completed in the spring of next year. 

“The City of Boston owes this entire BAA community…our immense gratitude,” said City Council President Kim Janey. “It seems like just yesterday that we were here together as we broke ground at this site and now we’ve reached another milestone in this journey toward a state of the art facility that our students and families deserve.”

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said that “Boston Arts Academy has a long tradition of cultivating amazingly talented students and providing them with an enriching and welcoming school community where they can express their creativity and showcase their incredible art. All BPS students deserve beautiful state of the art facilities like the new Dearborn STEM Academy and the Boston Arts Academy complex. This one-of-a-kind campus is an example of the facilities needed across our city so that all our children have the opportunity to thrive in joyful learning environments. I know the students and our dedicated staff are thrilled that we are one step closer to their new school opening!”

BAA Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Lee Pelton said that “for six straight years, 97 percent of the graduating class has been accepted into college. That high success rate is no accident. BAA students work hard and push themselves to achieve big things.”

He added, “It will continue to be a beacon of light and hope and liberty and artistic achievement for our growing student body for many years to come, and we are so very very excited that you are here with us today to celebrate this very important milestone in the history of this great school.”

District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok said that “I think it’s thrilling that we’re one step closer to opening this really state of the art arts high school for our students. Every time I see the work of the BAA students, it blows me away and they really deserve the facilities to match.” She also thanked all those who were involved in getting the school “to this point.” 

BAA Head of School Anne Clark was a founding faculty member of the school, and she told the Sun that she was “surprised how emotional I got” while watching the final beam being put into place.

“I’ve been envisioning a new building, as have so many members of the BAA community, for over 20 years. To see that last steel beam rise up with everyone’s signature and the art of the students felt like a dream is finally being realized,” she said. Messages and signatures filled the beam before it was lifted into place. Clark said that she wrote on the beam about some “very special members of our community who passed away.”

She also said that she believes one of the most special aspects if the new school building is that the students had a hand in designing it. 

“When working with the architect on the design, students were part of every committee,” she said, adding that they provided a “vision of not only what was going next to where, but what it should feel like, what it should look like…” 

She said an alum designed the four story window that will be on the outside of the building, and many other aspects had heavy input from students.

“This is a building for students and I’m proud that it will reflect their vision,” Clark said. “It will be a state of the art facility. It will allow us to expand our programming in the school; it will also allow us to expand our outreach.” 

She said that the BAA currently hosts small summer programs for middle school students, but they are only small because the previous school building did not “have the facilities to expand them.”

Clark said that “this new facility will allow us to run summer programs, but also vacation programs, [and] Saturday programs for middle and elementary school students to expand our offerings throughout the city.” 

She also said that a hope for the future is to partner with more cultural institutions throughout the city in terms of things like visiting artists and collaborations with Boston area dance companies.

“The new building will have two professional size galleries to show our students’ work and other visual artists from all over Boston,” Clark said, which is “really going to allow us to be a school, but also a cultural resource.”

Denella Clark, President of the BAA Foundation, said that she is full of “joy and hope for our future students,” though the pandemic has set the foundation back in their fundraising goals. 

She said that through the public-private partnership to build the school, it is “great that the city and state are taking care of the brick and mortar itself,” but she is “deeply worried that a year from now the building will be open and we’ll be in COVID and will need to raise a lot of money.”

She said that this year, the BAA Foundation’s revenue goal was $6 million, but was “functionally reduced by 50 percent.” The campaign was set to end in 2023, but has since been extended to 2024.

“The Foundation helps the arts portion of the program,” Denella Clark said. “We’re going to have spaces that we’ve never had before,” and are “going to need money to hire an artistic director, a lighting director, and things like that that just aren’t there.”

She said she and the other members of the BAA Foundation “are so grateful for supporters,” and are “very fortunate that NBC 10 has agreed to be our multimedia partner.” The Foundation has a fundraiser on Saturday, and a portion of the event will be aired on TV.

“We’re hoping that that will help us generate some more interest,” Denella Clark said, as “people would still prefer to be at home and…watch the event from home.” 

She said that she is most excited for the opportunity for alumni who did not have a chance to attend school in the new building to come back when it is open and either teach a master class, use the space, or just simply be there to support current students. 

“I would say the long wait is over and it’s going to be worth it for the next generation of artists,” Denella Clark said.

BAA student body president Anya Edwards is a senior theater student who said the BAA community is still as strong as ever, despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

“The BAA community sense is definitely still there, even over virtual [learning],” she said. “Everyone does check up on each other during this time.”

Though she will graduate before the new building is open, Edwards said she is excited to be able to come back and see students performing in the new spaces. 

Her dream career is to become and actor, and she said she truly feels that BAA has prepared her to achieve that goal. 

She said that “getting to spend half my day every day doing the things I love the most” at BAA has been a wonderful opportunity for her, and she said she “felt really prepared walking into college auditions.”

Edwards said that BAA has given her so many professional opportunities before she even leaves high school. She has already participated in a professional reading, among other opportunities. 

She said that while she does not yet know where she will attend college, she has her eyes on Carnegie Mellon University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, among others. 

“I want to train as a theatre actor,” she said, though she said the ultimate goal would be to act in films. “I finished my final BFA audition on Sunday,” she said, and will know in early March what her final options are.

She said that “the only reason” why she is able to stand in front of people and cameras and perform is because of her teachers at BAA. “I learned all of that in the last four years,” Edwards said. 

She also said she misses her peers, as “we don’t do anything in student government without peers. The community is incredible.”

Overall, there is a great deal of support for the BAA community and a great deal of dedication and passion from BAA students, as indicated by those involved with the school, and as the building is now one big step closer to completion, the excitement is palpable.  

“This is a big investment from the City of Boston and the youth of Boston and we’re incredibly grateful for that,” Anne Clark said, “and we also hope that the City of Boston will see that investment multiplied many times over…” and “also in the arts education for all youth in the city of Boston.” 

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