NORTHAMPTON- For almost three decades, the Northampton Center for the Arts has operated out of space in the Sullivan Square building in downtown Northampton. In that time, the Center has helped make Northampton the arts destination it has become, hosting a wide-ranging assortment of performances, exhibitions, arts programs and community events over the years.
For most Northampton residents, the Center for the Arts is synonymous with the space -- the elegant high-ceiling performance hall, spacious art gallery, and community arts classroom -- it occupies in the Sullivan Square building. That soon could change. The city originally sold the building to a private developer in 1983 with the caveat that space on the third floor be used for Northampton’s arts center for 30 years, says Penny Burker, director of NCFA. Now that 30 years is almost up. The city’s lease on the space will expire this July, and the location of the Center’s next home remains in question.
For the city, renewing the lease is unappealing. “It wasn’t as if someone kicked us out - we had the option to buy the space,” says Burke. “Obviously it increased in value considerably. But I again want to make it clear to everybody that the board of directors chose not to go ahead and purchase, renovate, and develop this space because of a number of reasons: one, the actual location of it; two, the fact that it is embedded in a residential condominium, and it really is not as accessible to the community as it should be.” Given these issues, says Burke, the potentially huge cost prohibits a renewal, and the Center must look elsewhere.
Though the situation was riddled with issues, the space itself is ideal, and the task of finding a suitable replacement has been difficult. According to Burke, too many of the candidates, such as the St. John Cantius Church buildings on Hawley Street, the First Churches on Main Street, and the historic Round House behind Pulaski Park, have been disappointing after assessment and reassessment. “Most recently, the Arts Trust actually made an offer to purchase the Union Station property,” says Burke. “The proposal was never either accepted or rejected. it turns out the owner evidently has other plans for the building. So that just happened about less than two months ago, so here we are moving...nowhere. Nowhere so far.”
NCFA is currently taking a look at the Florence Community Center. “It’s not in downtown Northampton,” says Burke, “but the space is already being utilized by artists. So working with the Arts Trust, we’re taking a really close look at that too.” Burke says the Center will be able to operate out of a temporary office in Northampton if a deal remains elusive by the expiration of the Sullivan Square lease this summer.