Gateway City Arts gets lifeline with new partnership

  • Gateway City Arts in Holyoke GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 10:05:18 AM

HOLYOKE — Gateway City Arts, which was forced to close last December because of the pandemic, has formed a partnership with a music promoter to reopen its large performance space for shows.

The arts and entertainment center is teaming up with DSP Productions, based in Ithaca, New York, which will take over management and programming for “The Hub,” Gateway’s 500-seat performance space, for live music and other events.

Gateway, meantime, will continue to oversee its other facilities: two restaurants, a warm-weather beer garden, an art gallery, and a smaller performance area, as well as working space for small start-ups and artists. The hope, the owners say, is to bring these sections of the business back into operation bit by bit.

Lori Divine and her partner, artist Vitek Kruta, bought the Race Street property, a former printing company, in 2012 and in succeeding years steadily renovated it, transforming it into a cornerstone of the city’s arts scene. But the shutdown imposed by COVID-19 forced them to lay off most and then all of their staff, close their restaurants and then announce in December that they’d have to close for good while they searched for a potential buyer for the business.

Now, though, Divine says the arrangement with DSP, which has booked dozens of shows at Gateway dating back to 2017, will allow music to return to the venue, possibly by September, while she and Kruta consider ways to bring back some of the other parts of their business.

“We’re thrilled to do this,” Divine said. “We’re worked really well with (DSP) in the past — it’s easy to do business with them, and they’re really good at what they do.”

Divine said complete plans with DSP have not yet been finalized, so between that and the uncertainties of when and how pandemic restrictions will be lifted, it’s difficult to say when she and Kruta might be able to reopen their two restaurants, Judd’s and The Bistro, or other parts of Gateway, such as the smaller music space, called the Mark Landy Party Hall.

“We’ll start slow, probably with a minimal staff,” she noted. “We don’t want to rehire people just to have to lay them off again, though we’d like to bring back as many people as possible eventually. We had a great staff, and a lot of them have wanted to return.”

One possibility this summer is reopening Gateway’s Beer Garden, or biergarten, which is set up in a courtyard outside the building, Divine noted.

Meantime, John Sanders, a partner in DSP Productions with Dan Smalls, the founder of the company, said he and Smalls will lease The Hub from Gateway and take over management of the space: booking shows and hiring a small staff to run the facility and an accompanying bar, with part-time employees handling security. Their goal is to book as many as 200 or more concerts a year once live music can be firmly re-established, he said.

“We booked 52 shows at Gateway in 2019,” Sanders said. “It’s a great facility, a big part of the music scene in western Mass.”

He and Smalls are partnering with Neal Robinson, a former general manager at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, to produce shows at Gateway. Robinson is also a partner in another Holyoke business, Avalon Lounge & Game Cafe, while Sanders is a former booking agent at the Iron Horse.

Sanders anticipates having live shows back in place at Gateway by about mid-September, subject to the continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Massachusetts as well as the easing of restrictions on public gatherings. Much may also depend on an audience’s willingness to return to see shows, he noted, but he also points to “a lot of pent-up demand” among musicians to play and among people to hear music in-person again.

“I think we could certainly see a lot of music by 2022,” he said, adding that a schedule of shows for Gateway in the fall will follow. (DSP also has been booking shows for years in Valley venues such as the Academy of Music and the Pines Theater in Northampton.)

Divine, who’s also an artist, talked to a few other potential buyers of Gateway once they announced they were closing and looking to sell the business. But none was connected to the arts — one wanted to use the space as a warehouse, for instance — and the prospect of having much of the work she and Kruta done torn apart was not appealing.

“When you think about having to rip out stuff, after all the renovations we’d done, that would have been painful — like tearing apart your baby,” she said. “We’re much happier with this arrangement.”

As she and Kruta look at the possibility of getting funding from the federal Shuttered Venue Operators and Paycheck Protection Plan programs, Divine said she is especially grateful for the financial support many in the Valley provided to Gateway as it struggled to stay afloat in 2020, and for the emotional support they demonstrated after she and Kruta said they’d have to close last December.

“We’re deeply moved,” she said. “It’s really heartwarming to have people feel we have an important role to play here.”

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




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