Bates Art Center

The Joshua Bates Art Center Is…

An extraordinary place
The art center is housed in a unique historic building. Built of brick and stone in 1884, the Joshua Bates Elementary School was designed by Boston architect Arthur H. Vinal, in Richardsonian Romanesque style (H.H. Richardson was the celebrated designer of Copley Square’s landmark Trinity Church). Featuring massive arches and picturesque round-topped windows, the Bates School shares distinct similarities with such well regarded surviving examples of Vinal’s public design as Chestnut Hill Water Works Pumping Station (1887; restored 2006) and Back Bay Fire Station (1886; home from 1976-2007 of the Institute of Contemporary Art; now a part of Boston Architectural College). Named after Joshua Bates, founding private benefactor of the Boston Public Library, the lavishly designed ordinary public school exemplified the spirit of philanthropy and civic responsibility prevailing in the social thought of its time, and embodied the belief that public buildings should represent society’s highest artistic ideals to the teeming masses. Step through its doors into a lofty, paneled foyer painted in its original gold-and-caramel color scheme, and, if you squint hard, you might envision the golden light of reason falling by careful design upon the hopeful immigrant children of the old factory neighborhood like a gift from the late, great J. B. himself.

Part of a vibrant community of the arts
Today, talented artists use the high-ceilinged antique classrooms as working studios, maximizing their special light and space. Here, painters, sculptors, photographers, multi-media and new-media artists pursue creative work in a supportive environment at affordable rent. When the Bates had outlived its usefulness as a school after some eighty years, the Boston Redevelopment Authority assigned it to providing studio workspace for artists at below-market rent, and in 2003 initiated its rehabilitation as the historic centerpiece (and sole rental component) of an innovative neighborhood redevelopment plan that in 2006, with the completion of two modern residential towers on land surrounding the Bates, contributed 26 affordable live/work loft units to Boston’s shrinking pool of artist housing. The residences, adjoining gallery, and the Bates together comprise ArtBlock, an arts-oriented neighborhood in the heart of Boston’s culturally diverse South End.

A small group of creative people with big ideas
Now designated in charter and deed as permanent, affordable, non live-in artist workspace, the Bates provides studio space for sixteen artists in twelve renovated schoolrooms. Building upon the collective experience of its longtime tenants who remained in their studios onsite from construction planning through completion, the art center’s organizational structure is designed to support the Bates without profit, and govern it with strong tenant participation. The great challenge faced today is to preserve affordability in this great place, for the artists of tomorrow.