Open for business: CitySpace opens ‘incubator space’ in Easthampton’s old Town Hall

  • Khalif Neville, seen here playing in Montague Center, will play in Easthampton’s old Town Hall Nov. 6 to recognize the opening of the first floor for artistic performances and other events. Photo by Paul Franz/Gazette file photo

  • This space on the first floor of Easthampton’s old Town Hall has been refurbished and is now reopening for artistic performances and other events. Image from CitySpace website

  • Old Town Hall, at right, in Easthampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2021 12:08:05 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The first floor of old Town Hall, partly vacant since the Flywheel Arts Collective moved out late last year during the depths of the pandemic, is now being reopened for a range of possible artistic performances and other events.

CitySpace, the nonprofit group that manages old Town Hall and leases space there to Easthampton City Arts and Big Red Frame/Elusie Gallery, says it’s opening an “incubator space” on the first floor, making it available for rental to artists for rehearsals and performances, and for a variety of community events as well.

It’s the first step, says CitySpace President Burns Maxey, to returning Town Hall’s first floor to its previous role in hosting varied events. And, she adds, it can also serve as a guide for CitySpace as it continues its longer-term work of turning Town Hall’s second floor into a flexible performing arts and community space with seating for 350 people.

“We’ve been pretty excited about this, though we’ve actually been pretty quiet about it, too,” said Maxey, referring to the decision to reopen Town Hall’s first floor. “With all the problems and uncertainty that have come with the pandemic, we want to do this right and figure out the best possible use for the space.”

That plan — to rent the space for varying rates depending on the length and type of usage — is the product of several months of research by CitySpace, following Flywheel’s departure, during which the organization sought feedback from area residents, artists, and members of its own artist advisory committee on how Town Hall’s first floor might be refashioned for new use.

“We surveyed people on what they would want to use the space for and what kind of amenities they’d like to see there, what kind of improvements we could make,” Maxey said.

She notes that CitySpace will consider all kinds of inquiries for using the first floor, including private events, but that the organization wants to prioritize arts-related activities.

“(That’s) a part of our mission after all,” she said.

CitySpace is already fielding inquires and requests for use of the first floor, Maxey said, and the organization plans to roll out some programming in the coming weeks. Rental rates have been calculated to allow CitySpace to raise funds for making continued renovations and improvements to old Town Hall, including the second floor, said Maxey, while also giving artists “a way to earn revenue.”

“We really tried to do our due diligence on what (rental) rates would be reasonable, where artists could leverage the space to make some income,” she added.

The first floor will now be available as rehearsal space, or for a non-public event, for $25 an hour Monday through Wednesday, and for $35 an hour Thursday through Sunday. Public events cost $40 an hour, and a full day’s usage runs $250; it’s $750 for a week’s rental. Discounts are available for repeated usage; security deposits are also required for all rentals.

Maxey said a good number of changes have been made to the space. The small stage used by Flywheel now has steps and a ramp leading up to it, and lighting and sound systems have been added (the used lighting was donated by the Smith College Theater Department and refurbished by CitySpace, Maxey said). The organization also was gifted an electric piano, she noted.

“We’ve had some really great support,” Maxey said.

Moveable chairs are now available as well, and some tables; the space can accommodate about 60 to 100 people, Maxey says. More equipment is being added, like an A/V system, and additional improvements will be made over time.

Meanwhile, CitySpace’s capital campaign to make the second floor accessible and to update the whole building continues. Since 2019, Maxey says, the organization has raised over $4.2 million of the $6.9 million needed for the work; the group hopes to conclude the campaign in the fall of 2022 and then begin renovations.

Maxey, in a followup email, noted that Town Hall’s first-floor performance space and the second floor “are connected by a stairwell and will be able to be used in tandem once the 2nd floor performing arts and community space is available. Think fringe festival opportunity, additional green room, or staging area. There’s a lot of possibilities!”

But for now, CitySpace is focused on making old Town Hall’s first floor a renewed location for arts events.

“This is a big step for the organization,” Maxey said. “We’ve been so focused on the second floor, and now we’re taking on additional programming. But we’re excited about having a new location that can be part of the whole western Massachusetts art scene.”

Per Easthampton’s Covid regulations, masks are required in old Town Hall, and attendees will be encouraged to be vaccinated or have a negative PCR COVID test 72 hours before a performance.

CitySpace has scheduled a “soft opening” for the space that begins Saturday, Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m., featuring a tour of the venue and then a free performance by keyboard and bass player Khalif Neville. Registration for the event is full, but you can learn more about CitySpace’s plans and submit a request for booking the first floor by visiting cityspaceeasthampton.org.

Also in Easthampton this weekend, over 50 artists and craft workers in Eastworks will open their studios on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (see related article on page C1).

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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