Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
East Bostonians and art enthusiasts gathered recently at KO at the Shipyard to show their support for a planned Museum of Realist Art that supporters say would transform the neighborhood’s old branch library into a destination for visitors from around the world.
“I think it’s just the kind of thing this neighborhood needs, to have something besides the airport,” that defines East Boston, said Brian Gannon, a 3-year resident of East Boston who is challenging City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina for his seat representing the neighborhood.
“It could just be this real hub of the arts in East Boston that could kind of connect Border Street with Harbor Arts,” Gannon said, referring to two of the neighborhood’s other visual arts sites.
The museum plan was first proposed last year by Pamela Sienna and George Kougeas, residents of East Boston’s Eagle Hill section since 1995, for the redevelopment of the old East Boston Branch Library on Meridian Street. The building, where the branch library moved in 1914, will be vacant after the opening of a new branch currently under construction in Bremen Street Park.
Melissa Tyler, a neighborhood resident who is developing a local business incubator with her husband, said she has supported the idea since its conception and joined the board of directors for the proposed museum. She said the city needs a museum showcasing art that any viewer can enjoy.
“I go to the ICA, and I don’t like the art that they have there,” she said. “I find it something that no one would hang in their home. I find it very cold. And I don’t think we’re supporting the artists that are trying something unique but really beautiful, but that you would hang in your home.”
Tyler said she wants the library building to remain an asset to the neighborhood’s residents and believes a museum could be a real draw for families. It could round out a day trip to the neighborhood to enjoy its parks and diverse selection of restaurants, she said.
She also said the museum could someday be the beneficiary of her personal collection of realist art.
“What happens when I die? Where do I leave it? Because the Museum of Fine Arts doesn’t want it. The ICA doesn’t want it,” she said.
Sienna and Kougeas have been meeting with neighborhood residents and city officials to discuss the plan. Kougeas said several city councilors have been receptive to the proposed re-use of the library building, and community groups welcomed the idea.
“It’s a project that everyone seems to be really interested in,” he said. “How can you not like it? It’s an art museum.”
Sienna said she hopes the City Council will begin the process of de-accessioning the building by the end of the year so they can submit a formal bid.
“Really, the keystone now is really getting the building,” Sienna said, “because we just can’t imagine it anywhere else. That building is perfect for it.”
Susanne May, an East Boston resident and an architect at the non-profit Architecture for Humanity Boston, has been working with Sienna and Kougeas on a set of schematic drawings to begin visualizing the changes that could be made to the building, which she said is ideally suited to their plan.
“It’s a large, open space. It has high ceilings. There’s natural light,” May said. She hopes the building can become a museum so that it remains an amenity for the people of East Boston and doesn’t wind up being converted into condominiums.
“It’s architecturally significant for me in that it’s the people’s building,” she said. “It’s not a developer’s building.”
Julia Brasser, a member of the board of directors for the proposed museum and a teacher at Mario Umana Academy, said having an art museum a five-minute walk from the school would be a great benefit for its students. She thinks the
“It’s art that is very accessible to kids and also very accessible to the writing standards that we’re working for,” Brasser said. “From an educational point of view, it’s a wonderful institution. It’s a free, easy local field trip that will develop visual literacy and written literacy.”