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Renovated Mudflat mixes old and new in East Somerville

Posted by Marcia Dick  September 15, 2011 10:04 AM

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Danielle Dreilinger photos

The renovation preserves the old theater's proscenium arch.

East Somerville advocates are hoping clay can make a neighborhood stick together. Mudflat Studio formally opened its grand new space on East Broadway Sept. 10.

The $3.8 million project has reinvigorated a 1915 building that was originally one of Somerville's 14 movie theaters, according to an exhibit by historian David Guss. The last picture was shown about 30 years ago. It was then a warehouse, and then the City of Somerville took it over.

The studio submitted its redevelopment proposal nearly 10 years ago, said executive director Lynn Gervens in an impromptu tour Sept. 12, and "even then, 10 years ago, we had run out of space" at the building the studio owned down the street.

A legal battle with a tenant at will followed, and then it didn't seem like a good time, economically, to do the project, Gervens said. However, a $300,000 Massachusetts Cultural Council cultural facilities grant sparked the organization to line up financing. The builders broke ground in June 2010.

You probably wouldn't expect a pottery studio to create a new neighborhood anchor point. But Mudflat is 40 years old, and "we've had such a loyal student base" that up until the new building project "95 percent of our income was earned" from students, Gervens said. That gave the organization flexibility to save money and made it an attractive bet for grant-makers and banks. About half the students live in Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston, she said.

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Artists went up on a ladder to try to get the beat-up theatrical mask back in shape.


The 16,000-square-foot space preserves the original theater's soaring proscenium arch, including a rather battered mask of tragedy ... or comedy ... it's hard to tell which.

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Mudflat students contributed to a mural of tiles that will stretch outside the building.


The interior walls, second floor, windows, heating, plumbing, and wiring are all new, Gervens said, as is a clerestory to let light into the building. A new outdoor balcony mimics the long-gone theater marquee.

The old studio was less than half as large. "We had one sink between two classrooms. Now we have four sinks," Gervens said. Handbuilding students had to toil and coil in a windowless basement with 7-foot ceilings. Now they have a spacious mezzanine room with tall windows overlooking Broadway -- and a sink. 34 clay artists rent studio space upstairs.

Naturally, Mudflat's programming capacity is also expanding. The organization is hosting three artist presentations this fall instead of one, and a new multipurpose room will allow community events such as the dessert course of East Somerville Main Streets's Oct. 25 "Foodie Crawl."

Mudflat has been part of the East Somerville community for a long time, Gervens said, sending teachers to public schools and the Cross Street senior center. The proof was clear: As she spoke, two little boys wandered in. "I think we did something in May," one said. Gervens dug around in a pile and found his piece: a flower pot with a drip tray. The boy declined a box and said he'd just carry it unwrapped. "Don't trip!" she warned.

Fall classes start this week. Learn more at mudflat.org.


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The Broadway Theater originally opened in 1915.



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