'Creative economy' in works; Former school slated for conversion to studio space for artists.

AuthorOwen, Paula J.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

FITCHBURG -- It will be the only artist housing adjacent to a major museum in New England, according to Nick Capasso, director of the Fitchburg Art Museum, and it will provide artists who cannot afford to live in Boston with a place to live, work and showcase their art.

What also makes the proposal to repurpose the sprawling former B.F. Brown Middle School complex into artist housing attractive is that it is within walking distance to Fitchburg's downtown commuter rail station and the rest of downtown.

The three buildings in the Academy Street complex -- the former middle school closed three years ago to save money; the annex that was once Fitchburg High School; and the former municipal stables where the city's horses were kept in the 1920s --- are the perfect spaces to repurpose for artists, Mr. Capasso said.

Former schools have large windows, and the large classrooms and wide hallways and stairwells allow artists to move things around fairly easily, he said.

"I realized soon after arriving here, one of the most important tasks was to get the building across the street fixed,'' Mr. Capasso said. "In a few years it will degrade to the point that is not worth repurposing and the city does not have the money to tear it down. We'll have a giant piece of blight across the street from the museum that degrades the museum and downtown Fitchburg, perennially. We can't have that. The key to the health of this neighborhood is the B.F. Brown building. We don't want a building the size of ours boarded up next door.''

Once created, he said the FAM will initially hold programs on the grounds of the complex. There are plans for outdoor public art programs at the museum and artist complex, he said, and a program centered on contemporary New England artists.

"We really want artists to feel the museum is part of their everyday experience,'' he said. "The other reason we're so thrilled about this is that it is a great economic development opportunity for Fitchburg. There will be close to 100 creative, educated people living and working downtown who are actually producing things that will enter the economy. It is a giant flag in Fitchburg that says, 'creative economy.' ''

Marc S. Dohan, executive director of the Twin Cities Community Development Corp., said the agency applied for a competitive TD Charitable Foundation Housing for Everyone grant in August and will use the $100,000 grant it received to kick-start the project.

"We've been...

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