Friday, February 27, 2004

Whose Creative Economy Is It?

More on My Life...

The vitality of Providence’s artistic underground is weakened by the demise of Olneyville’s fabled music scene

BY IAN DONNIS

THE BUILDING, a partially stucco-laden four-story structure with an improbable pink hue, seems unexceptional from the outside. Yet tucked amid old brick factory complexes in an industrial-age labyrinth of streets behind Olneyville Square, this was the place — with lofts bearing such names as the Pink Rabbit, the Bakery, Box of Knives, and the Providence Civic Center — that until recently served as the throbbing heart of Providence’s musical underground.

Serving as a successor to the late, lamented Fort Thunder, which was replaced several years ago by a new shopping development in Eagle Square, the old warehouse at 244 Oak St./71 Troy St. attracted its share of touring bands, and the almost 60 artists and musicians who called it home considered it a fertile artistic ecosystem. Although the residents, including people like Lighting Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale, and Jim Drain, a member of the critically regarded art collective Forcefield, kept a low official profile while operating in a forgotten part of town, their efforts nonetheless raised Providence’s reputation as a cool place. "It’s underground," notes Bert Crenca, AS220’s artistic director, "but a very large part of the positive perception that people have nationally of Providence as an arts-vital city."

Well, it was underground, anyway. The Shangri la that intensified at the Oak Street-Troy Street structure over the last six or so years — one loft was even dubbed Valhalla — abruptly came to a halt after inspectors visited the building on January 8, reportedly after a call that people were illegally living there. Arriving the next day, a larger group of officials was alarmed by what they found, telling the building’s tenants that living there was extremely dangerous. Although lawyer Michael J. Lepizzera Jr., who represents about 32 of the tenants, says they had residential leases from property owner Walter Bronhard of Fall River, Massachusetts, their legal case for remaining was weak since the building was not zoned for residential use. After a tense two-week period — which, tenants say, was marked by conflicting information and uncertainty about whether they’d have days or months to move out — the residents were forced to leave on January 24, during one of the coldest weeks of one of the coldest winters in recent memory.

For the time being, the displaced residents have scattered to different locations, Lepizzera say he’s trying to recover security deposits from Bronhard (who didn’t return phone messages left at his Fall River chiropractic office), and many are mourning the passing of the vibrant center of the Olneyville scene. And for a fair number of observers, the situation is emblematic of how Providence, which seemed to be much more affordable just a few years back, is becoming a less hospitable place marked by rising rents, scarcer mill space, more luxury housing, and the general specter of...

Providence Phoenix Article

R.I.P.

244 Oak St.
Providence, RI 02909

Former home and headquarters of the Institute for Business Cycle Research, Aubrey Herbert's Economic Education, The State Life Resistance Company, Iglesios de D*os and many other exceptional entertainment and educational cooperatives.

Thankfully, the IBCR staff is diligently at work in our satelite office on Bloody Brook Rd. in the great state of New Hampshire while our new location at Eagle Square undergoes a few renovations.


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