Northampton Community Arts Trust gets $2.5M to finish multi-use venue

  • The main entrance to the Northampton Community Arts Trust building on Hawley Street is shown in October 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Jen Polins, founding director of the School for Contemporary Dance and Thought, sweeps the marley dance floor in the Workroom Theater of Northampton Community Arts Trust building before a class on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. —GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2022 8:15:43 PM
Modified: 3/13/2022 8:15:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A large influx of federal funding will soon allow the Northampton Community Arts Trust to complete work on its downtown, multi-use arts facility.

In an announcement Friday, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern revealed that his office had secured $2.5 million in federal funding for the arts trust, which can now complete the remaining 30% of renovations needed at its 33 Hawley St. facility. That work includes its 3,800-square-foot black box theater, the only such performance venue in the region.

“The reaction was pretty much jubilation, I have to say,” arts trust board member Dorothy Nemetz said Sunday. “We’ve been working on this project for a long time.”

The funding was part of $11.3 million that McGovern said was coming to the district as part of a bipartisan appropriations bill that passed last week. Also included in the funding is $1 million to the organization LaunchSpace for the creation of an employment training center in Athol, and another $1 million to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for its robotics program.

In a statement, McGovern said the funding will go to support “essential organizations.”

“As Chair of the House Rules Committee, I fought hard for the inclusion of community projects in this appropriations bill to deliver vital support to worthwhile causes across the Second District and the nation,” the Worcester Democrat said.

In total, the Massachusetts federal delegation said that some $138 million for projects in the state was included in the spending bill. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said that his 1st Congressional District will receive $8 million, including $250,000 for Mount Holyoke College’s Professional and Graduation Education Department and $200,000 for the Franklin County Opioid Task Force.

“These investments support and foster economic development, making a real difference in the lives of so many in our community,” Neal said in a statement.

For the Northampton Community Arts Trust, the funding will mean the completion of a project a decade in the making. The organization acquired the space in 2013 and began construction in 2015 on the 25,000-square-foot facility.

“This brings us to the finish line,” Nemetz said.

When McGovern visited the building in 2018, he pledged to find some $2 million in support. Nemetz said McGovern never forgot that promise.

The funding — known as Community Project Funding — was only possible, however, because of substantial community support beforehand, Nemetz added. That includes Community Development Block Grant money from the city, many individual donors, a $500,000 grant from the state, help from the Northampton Center for the Arts and more.

The Hawley Street building is owned by the arts trust, whose mission is to acquire and preserve space in perpetuity for the arts. But programming is run by the organizations that rent space inside: the Northampton Center for the Arts, Available Potential Enterprises Ltd., and Northampton Open Media.

Though the building is currently functional, it is not yet complete. Nemetz said work is still needed on the lobby, including the installation of a box office. Work is also needed to complete the black box theater — a performance space that can be used for a wide variety of productions — as well as the art gallery and theater support areas like dressing rooms.

“It’s our hope to really button up the whole thing with that money,” said Kathy Couch, the president of the art trust’s board of directors. “That will include finishing the big performance space … and outfitting that for performance, as well as finishing the lobby, and a visual arts gallery.”

Couch said the project has been made possible by many different organizations and constituencies. When word came that McGovern had secured the funding, she said she felt both excitement and relief.

“I was really so awestruck,” she said. “It was a mouth-hanging-open moment.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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