Firehouse Converted To Artist Haven
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
“We want this space to be Boston’s underground destination,” said Katherine Bergeron of Engine 18, the decommissioned firehouse that she and her partner E. Stephen Frederick bought earlier this year. They plan for the old firehouse, located at 30 Harvard Street in Dorchester, Mass., to serve as their home and as a place to house artists that are sharing their art in the Boston region.
“Boston has a reputation of basically housing traditional art and not really encouraging new art,” said Bergeron, a dancer who performs under her stage name, Katrina Galore. Bergeron said that while the Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Ballet “do amazing work,” it is “not new work.”
Bergeron, a graduate from Emerson College who moved to New York before returning to Massachusetts, sympathizes with students in Boston who feel that the city does not have room for the different types of art they would like to create, opting instead to move to New York or even Europe to pursue their crafts.
“We would like to spearhead Boston being more of a destination for artists to not just study, but also stay,” she said of her and Frederick’s goals for Engine 18.
As a result, Bergeron said that she is unafraid of competition and hopes that others follow in her and Frederick’s footsteps. She compared the benefits of artistic rivalry to her experience with competition as an employee at The Gap, where she said that her superiors feared opposition from a nearby H&M opening. “In fact, we had record profits the day H&M opened,” she said. “There were more people at the mall. There were just more people shopping. Period. I would welcome competition if Boston had dozens of competing artistic interests.”
After moving back to Massachusetts from New York, Bergeron joined an artist community called Pan9 in 2004 until it suffered from an electrical fire in 2006.
“I lost everything,” she said.
The landlord forwent restoring Pan9 in favor of using his space to construct condominiums, according to Bergeron.
She and Frederick soon thereafter began searching for their own space. “We didn’t want to be at the whim of a landlord,” she said.
Bergeron and Frederick spent five years searching for a space that could serve dually as their home and art venue before they finally purchased Engine 18.
Bergeron said that they know that they could have owned an apartment and an artistic venue separately, but that there are benefits to combining home life and performance life. “I like being able to, after a performance, bring people back to my living room to talk,” she said. “I really enjoy being able to have a setup where people are able to mingle and get to know each other in a homey sort of setting.”
While Bergeron and Frederick hope to open this spring, there is not yet a set date for when Engine 18 will fulfill its intended role of housing artists and serving as a venue for artwork ranging from performance art to film. Engine 18 will also house Frederick’s own undertaking as curator of the Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project, which, according to him, embodies a type of post-apocalyptic “experiential theater based on inanimate objects as much as it is based on people.”
The firehouse requires extensive repairs before it can be fully opened, including structural repairs and a new heating system.
To supplement their income, Bergeron works at Harvard University as a staff assistant. Frederick, according to Bergeron, has had to mostly forego his typical side job in antique restoration to be the “foreman and superintendent” of the Engine 18 renovations.
“A lot of people have this misconception that there is actually money in the arts,” said Frederick on the sustainability of Engine 18. “Even in music, there isn’t much room for anyone to make money directly for any of the arts.”
Art’s “intangible benefits are not quantifiable in financial terms,” he said. “You just have to be doing it for the love.”