Art in an unusual place: Exhibit opens in Masonic Street Laundry

  • Masonic Street Laundry in Northampton, which is about to host an exhibit of art by Smith College students. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Smith College junior Amrita Acharya, left, with Jason Foster, the owner of Masonic Street Laundry in Northampton, which will host an art exhibit starting Oct. 23. PHOTO BY MARIAM HABIB/COURTESY OF AMRITA ACHARYA

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2021 10:35:38 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Over the years, art has popped up in many places around the city outside of traditional galleries, from cafes to utility boxes to the walls and pavements of downtown.

So why not put some in a laundromat?

On Saturday, Oct. 23, Masonic Street Laundry will unveil its first-ever art exhibit, a project that represents a collaboration between Jason Foster, the laundromat’s owner, and Amrita Acharya, a Smith College junior who runs a podcast at the school, “413 Ethnography,” that examines life in the Valley and in Northampton in particular.

The exhibit will feature art from some 40 Smith students, ranging from photography to painting to drawing (and poetry and video), and it will include a performance piece that will be staged during Saturday’s opening, which runs from 6 to 8 p.m.

Acharya says her podcast, produced through Smith’s student newspaper, “The Sophian,” is itself an outgrowth of her coursework. She’s a double major in architectural studies and data science, work that encompasses elements of regional and urban planning and ‘thinking about how different places can be repurposed,” as she puts it.

A few years ago, Acharya visited Masonic Street Laundry with friends and thought the laundromat “just seemed like a really interesting place, where people from different walks of life come together,” she said. She learned Foster was the owner and interviewed him for her podcast.

The two have stayed in touch; they discussed ways of making the space “even more welcoming,” said Acharya, including an art exhibit.

Foster, a former City Council candidate who owns other businesses in the area, including Northampton Karate, was game. “I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “I’m impressed with Amrita’s energy, her enthusiasm, and her interest in the city.”

He also jokes that his contribution to the exhibit is a “live art piece” based on hundreds of socks that have been left in the laundromat, a collection that’s constantly changing as new socks are added and old ones reclaimed.

Working with friends at Smith, one of whom is an artist, Acharya put the word out on campus about the show via social media, her podcast, and posters and flyers; she also asked the college’s Art Department and Poetry Center to let students know about the project. She’s been pleased with the response from fellow students and says there’s enough room to display all the artwork.

The show is due to run through May 2022. And after that? Might the laundromat become a forum for future art exhibits, including from artists outside the college?

“That’s a good question,” said Acharya. “It’s certainly interesting to think about what the space can be in the future.”

Foster added, “I’m generally up for anything.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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