Local Press about Us

Mill City to Host Statewide Conference: Pawt Times 02/28/07
Designers Come Together: PBN 1/27/07
Upward in the Bucket: Providence Phoenix
Introducing the Grant: Pawtucket Times 01/11/07
Artists Racing Ahead of City Authorities: PBN 11/25/06

Published 10/22/2007
By Donna Kenny Kirwan | Pawtucket Times

For fliers and weavers, it's good to be home

Those involved with the Flying Shuttle Weaving and Art Studio are proving that you can, happily, come home again.

At Flying Shuttles, artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities create unique art. Using large floor looms, the artists weave rag-style rugs, placemats, table runners and other specialty items. Others put their painting and beading skills to use by producing note cards and jewelry.

In January, Flying Shuttles moved from a storefront in Providence back to Pawtucket, where the studio first opened 23 years ago. Its move to the more spacious and accessible Grant Building at 250 Main St. is considered to be a win-win situation by the artists and city officials alike.

The Flying Shuttles Weaving and Art Studio is a program of The Arc of Blackstone Valley. Founded in 1955. The Arc is a private, non-profit organization providing residential, developmental, employment and recreation programs and services to more than 350 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families from Pawtucket and surrounding cities and towns.

According to Barbara Lindsay, development director, Flying Shuttles began as part of a day program run by The Arc of Blackstone Valley at their 635 Narragansett Park Drive location. Needing a more public space for the display and sale of its artwork, the studio moved to the Mill River Arcade building at 250 Main Street in 1990.

Seeking a larger space with more visibility, the studio then moved to 782 Hope Street in 1994 where it operated until this January. Lindsay said that with the number of artists involved in the program, Flying Shuttles again needed a larger space.

There was also a desire to find a storefront type of location that would attract foot traffic. She said that Herb Weiss, Pawtucket's development director, was instrumental in steering the studio to the Grant Building, a budding community of artists and designers.

Lindsay said that Pawtucket artist Morris Nathanson, of Nathanson Design, worked with the studio to help turn it into a true gallery space for the artists. Another local company, Conlon Moving Systems, provided labor to move the looms and other pieces of large equipment to the new site. "We're glad to be back in Pawtucket and a part of the artists' community here," said Lindsay. "Plus, a lot of our artists are from Pawtucket." Toni Carroll, program director for Flying Shuttles, said that 26 artists are currently participating in the program. They typically work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. producing the crafts and are paid for their time through the state funding set aside for adults with disabilities. "This is their job," Carroll explained.

The handcrafted items are available for sale at the studio. Woven rugs, available in three sizes, are priced at $48.95 and up. There are also woven table runners, placemats and pillow covers, priced at $16.00 and up. The proceeds from all of the craft items are used to support the program, Carroll said. Although called rag rugs, the rugs are not made from rags but from new fabrics that have been cut into strips. The material is then stitched together, rolled onto a shuttle and firmly beaten into a unique piece of artwork. Carroll, a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art, and fellow artist Linda Gilbert, an alumnus of the Rhode Island School of Design, teach the participants the weaving techniques, tailoring the various duties to each individual's capability.

Carroll stresses, however, that it is not a weaving class as much as it is job training. "We provide the materials and try to encourage them to develop their own unique styles," she stated. "It's their job, and they are very self-directed, for the most part." Not everyone operates the loom. Some of the participants have the job of stitching together the fabric strips while others do cutting, rolling and color coordinating. Those whose talents lie in painting are assigned to work on producing note cards and greeting cards while others string necklaces and sew dolls.

Carroll said she doesn't consider The Arc participants as posing any particular challenges to her teaching process than anyone else learning how to weave. "They may need some more time, or a little extra coaching. Or they may need more tools to learn the steps. But they have certainly learned to recognize mistakes. They know quality control very well," she said.

Several artists spoke of how happy they are in the new studio space and how much they enjoy producing the craft items. Donna Brassard said she had never attempted sewing before, but was enjoying using needle and thread to stitch together colorful fabric strips. Damon Mayhan, operating the loom to weave an aqua-hued rug, said he finds the weaving process "very relaxing. I just love artwork," he said. Paulette Boucher, rolling and sorting leftover fabric for use in other weaving projects, said she, too, enjoyed her job at Flying Shuttles. She added that she was in the process of weaving a rug "for my friend, Dale." "I like to work here," said Jeanette Fillion, busy cutting fabric. She noted that she usually operates the loom that makes "the large rugs." Andy Lacougure, embroidering a square featuring a billiard ball design that will be made into a wall hanging, said he enjoyed the simplicity of the stitchery, finding it "relaxing" and "enjoyable."

Carroll said that in addition to the retail store, Flying Shuttles sells its handcrafted items at local art festivals and craft shows. The studio is open on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Published 02/28/2007
By John Castellucci, Providence Journal Staff Writer

Old mill city to host statewide historic preservation conference

(Exerpt, as part of a story about the Statewide Preservation Conference to be held April 14, 2007) At least 500 people are expected to attend. Panel discussions will take place in the Pawtucket armory, which a nonprofit group has transformed into an arts high school and performing arts center. The closing reception will be held in the W.T. Grant building, the former department store at 250 Main St. that J. Hogue, a graphic artist, and Michael Lozano, a nonprofit real estate developer, have carved up into studios for designers and artists, and small businesses, such as cafes.

Both venues show that historic preservation is taking hold in the city, thanks in part to the availability of state historic tax credits, Sanderson said. The last time the annual preservation conference was held in Pawtucket, in 1996, neither building was available, he said. “I can remember 10 years ago scrambling around for places to meet.”

Published 01/27/2007
By Natalie Myers, Providence Business News Staff Writer

Designers come together

Photo by Stephanie Ewens
The Businesses on the main floor of The Grant include co-owner J. Hogue’s Highchair designhaus and several other design businesses, as well as a small art gallery.

The Grant, at 250 Main St. in Pawtucket, is helping artist Joanne Luongo realize her dream of operating a gallery that artists can rent out to show their work for as little as $60 per week.

Though the Paper Girls Studio and Art Gallery is only 200 square feet, including a small work space separated by a wall, Luongo said that she expects big things to come of it – that artists will sell their work for a profit, and she’ll make connections to further her own artistic career.

For the past seven years, the mixed-media sculptor has worked on and off out of her home. She was one of the first potential tenants to approach J. Hogue and Mike Lozano, owners and developers of the 21,000-square-foot, miniature-Arcade-like building in downtown Pawtucket.

“Her idea really fit that particular space,” Hogue said. “She fits in well, because some of the tenants already expressed that they want to curate a show in her space.”

That is exactly the type of collaborative spirit Hogue and Lozano hope to capture with The Grant, which opened this month in a century-old former department store in the heart of downtown Pawtucket.

They purposely chose a mix of tenants that would complement one other, Hogue said, because they want The Grant to act as an incubator for design and arts-related businesses.

Hogue, a graphic designer, conceived the idea based on his own experience of working in a mill space in Pawtucket and feeling isolated from the rest of the world. He thought that, if a group of design businesses could exist in the same space, the opportunities for referrals of clients and collaboration on projects would be endless.

The Grant’s tenants so far include four graphic design firms – among them Hogue’s Highchair designhaus – and an interior designer, a toy designer, an ad agency, a recording and production studio, three poster designers/silkscreen printers, a specialty gift store, a furniture store, a café and a nonprofit weaving studio for people with developmental disabilities.

Hogue said he originally wanted only designers, but then he saw the benefits of a little diversity. For example, interior designer Jessica Hill, of Studio Hill, could benefit from having access to the Zoo, which sells vintage furniture.

“There’s definitely a need for this collaborative kind of space, to get these sole proprietors out of their homes and into their own space,” said Lozano, who is also director of real estate development for Greater Elmwood Neighborhood Services in Providence. “There’s definitely a demand. … We had all the space committed before we were even halfway through the construction process.”

Reasonable rents also helped. The building cost Hogue and Lozano about $430,000, and the renovations, when completed within a few months, are expected to cost about $220,000. Lozano said the rents range from $8 to $15 per square foot, depending on the location in the building and the quality of the space.

“If this building were in Providence, we would not be able to offer the rents we are offering to people,” Hogue said.

Alyssa Zelman, of Alyssa Zelman Design, said the rent is much cheaper at The Grant than at buildings she looked at on the East Side of Providence.

But it was the collaborative atmosphere that really attracted her. Zelman said she anticipates the graphic designers will help one other with technical production issues and software problems. More important, she said, she hopes they can serve as a sounding board for ideas.

Hogue said he doesn’t anticipate competition between the designers, because each caters to a specific niche in the market.

Luongo, the sculptor, said she’s already made valuable connections at The Grant. She found a new place to show her work through Limen Creative designer Josie Morway, an artist who organizes exhibits in various places, like this past weekend, in rehabbed homes as part of “Project Digs,” thanks to space donated by Greater Elmwood Neighborhood Services in South Providence.

Published 01/26/07
By Phillipe + Jorge, Providence Phoenix

Upward in the Bucket

The former WT Grant Department store in downtown Pawtucket (250 Main Street) is now the home to a collection of artists, designers, retailers, and other emerging geniuses, as that city continues to make strides as an urban arts center. The artists have been moving in since last November and working on the interior.

J. Hogue and Michael Lozano, the artists who envisioned transforming the old department store shell into open, collaborative office space, added retail to the mix, giving the whole scene what they call a “quirky historic little village” atmosphere.

A few retail shops (Earthly Realms and the Zoo) have already opened, and a café is expected in March. Check the latest development in the bucket at the project’s website.

By: Douglas Hadden, Pawtucket Times staff writer

Introducing The Grant

PAWTUCKET - The ribbon will be cut Saturday on an innovative reuse of the former W.T. Grant building at 250 Main St., restyled as the The Grant to host 13 spaces for design and arts-related businesses with more to debut in coming months.

Operated for five years as Poamlands Mall, the 21,000- square-foot building came on the market with several others on Main Street being sold by downtown developer and China Inn proprietor Louis Yip.

Its possibilities caught the eye of Michael Lozano, an architect who manages the nonprofit community development corporation Greater Elmwood Services in South Providence, and piqued the imagination of J. Hogue, owner and operator (with James Re) of graphic design firm Highchair designhaus who came aboard after Lozano's initial partner dropped out.

"He had the money ideas and the real estate ideas and the financial expertise," Hogue said of his partner. "And I had more of the marketing idea, how to present it," and what type of tenants to attract.

That tenant mix will concentrate a lot of new creative force downtown in one compact place. Tenants include interior designer Jessica Hill (Studio Hill), graphics designer Alyssa Zelman (Az), toy designer and manufacturer Wayne Losey (Dynamo Development), Web and print designers Josie Morway and Stacie Parillo (Limen Creative), Joanne Loungo's Paper Girl Studios sculpture gallery and work studio, John Speck's Real Advertising ad agency, and Diana Russas's Mada Visions Web and custom graphic design studio, among others.

Still to come in the next few months will be Karen Pace's Kafe Lila, which will sport tables in the building's large wood-planked courtyard, and Flying Shuttles, moving from Providence, featuring hand woven rugs and wall coverings as well as weaving classes for people with special needs.

Hogue said he had been involved in mill conversion studio spaces in the past, but "none of them had that community I was looking for. A creative place that was more open, where at least you can see your neighbors, have a cup of coffee, share ideas," and perhaps get help solving a problem or finding a needed resource. "So that was the idea."

After closing on the $435,000 building purchase late last spring, the 50-50 partners did a $200,000 buildout, including about $30,000 to upgrade the existing fire suppression system, and the first tenants began taking up residence in mid-November. Lozano and Hogue will also live in the building, after they renovate the two separate loft style spaces on the top floor.

"It always takes longer and costs more than you think," Hogue said of the renovations, though in retrospect he said the time has gone fast.

Besides the 13 finished spaces on the first floor, there are also three built spaces in the basement with one yet to be constructed.

Saturday, the 18 entrepreneur-occupants of the building will open the doors at 8 p.m. as they celebrate The Grant with a grand opening.

Hogue said The Grant proved a relatively easy sell to prospective tenants even before the buildout took shape. "They had the vision to see the space and what could be done with it," he said. "Probably three out of the four people I talked to actually signed up to be a tenant. So we were able to get people to believe in it fairly quickly."

Hogue said he and Lozano were "pretty lucky to have found a building of this uique character and done something with it. If it was any other building I don't know if we could have made it work, because it's friendly and open, with tin ceilings and skylights."

Eventually, The Grant will offer a common conference room and prep-style kitchen and general access printer-copier and possibly video conferencing services, and it's already wired for broadband access with Wi-Fi to be available in the café area.

"I see all that stuff being done by the summer," Hogue said.

More details about The Grant, including photos and a brief history of the W.T. Grant Co. and its turn of the century building in Pawtucket, are available at www.thegrantat250.com.

"I think it hasn't quite hit me yet," Hogue said Thursday as he and Lozano were completing finishing touches for Saturday's grand opening. "But now that it's done, it's kind of nice to sit back and say we've come a long way in six months."

One other innovation: Pets are welcome, including the cat they found upstairs and adopted but have yet to name. Or as Lozano, cradling his year-old female Boston terrier, Poppy, put it, "It's definitely a pet friendly environment."

By Natalie Myers, Providence Business News Staff Writer

Artists racing ahead of city authorities

Projects run into barriers, especially to mixed use

Nearly two and a half years after starting renovations, Firehouse No. 13 last week finally got the thumbs-up on its fire inspection from the Providence fire marshal.

One would think the mixed-use residential/commercial/exhibition and performance space for the arts might soon get its certificate of occupancy as well. But Firehouse director Anna Shapiro said she has learned not to get her hopes up.

Getting this far in the development process has taken much, much more time than she or owner Nick Bauta or project manager John McGurk had anticipated, she said. And there are still more inspections to pass.

Developers of The Grant, at 250 Main St. in Pawtucket, faced similar delays before getting their temporary certificate of occupancy, said Michael Lozano, co-owner of the 21,000-square-foot building that he and Art In Ruins founder J. Hogue plan to develop into a mixed-use space for design firms, a café, an art gallery and two residential units.

Many of Lozano’s and Hogue’s development issues have stemmed from adhering to strictly enforced fire codes.

“Rhode Island is in a strange climate because of The Station fire,” Lozano said. “People don’t seem to be understanding that it is becoming a really huge impediment for development.”

He is concerned about far more than the fire code, however. Small arts developers face even greater challenges coming into compliance, he said, because they don’t have the time or the resources to pay someone to help them navigate the system and manage the relationships.

Relationship management with the inspectors has been a specific hardship for Firehouse No. 13, said Shapiro, because of several personnel changes in city departments.

“There has been no communication between retiring, promoted and incoming personnel assigned to our project,” she wrote in a letter to Mayor David N. Cicilline dated Oct. 31.

Shapiro added: “Much of our frustration stems from the feeling that this project has been passed like a hot potato through multiple shifts in personnel and policy, with no continuity.”

The Firehouse might need a second rough inspection, for example, because the inspector who conducted the first rough inspection didn’t sign the paperwork, Shapiro said. And because the inspector in question no longer works for the city, there is no way to prove the first rough inspection was ever completed. There was no transfer of information within the department.

Things have improved, however, since the city assigned a point person specifically for the Firehouse project, Shapiro said. The process has accelerated.

Lynne McCormack, director of the Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, called Shapiro’s letter a “call to action, to get things rolling.”

“It’s not just these small projects that are struggling,” she said. “It’s any building project in the city.”

There are several management positions in the city’s Department of Inspections and Standards that need to be filled, said Karen Southern, the mayor’s press secretary. And the city is in the midst of a national search for a director of that department.

“Things are not happening as fast as we’d like, but the city is working on that,” Southern said.

Lozano said Pawtucket has made a concerted effort to improve the code-compliance process by providing weekly meetings for developers who want to discuss concerns with department heads.

But more could be done. “The whole process needs to be streamlined,” he said. “It needs to be re-evaluated from the state level.”

In addition to being a developer of The Grant, Lozano is the director of real estate development for Greater Elmwood Neighborhood Services, a nonprofit that develops affordable housing in the Elmwood section of Providence.

Having prior development experience helped him to navigate the system in a fairly timely manner, Lozano said. It took four months to get The Grant’s temporary certificate of occupancy.

“For young developers, when it’s their first time going through the process, the development process is very complicated,” said Laura Mullen, coordinator of the sustainable artist space initiative for the R.I. Council for the Arts.

The process is especially complicated for developments mixing residential with commercial and venue space, she noted.

That complication is precisely why Cutler Mills owner and developer David Wescott said he has limited the development of his 150,000 square feet of mill space in Warren to artist studios and small commercial enterprises.

“It is more difficult with the zoning and building officials when you have residential,” he said.

But unlike other small developers, Wescott said he hasn’t had trouble navigating the code-compliance system.

“I have to give Warren credit,” he said. “They’ve worked with me all along. Because it’s a small town, it’s probably a little easier.”

Wescott said he has developed more than 40 units into artist studios and small commercial space since he began the project 11 years ago. He does most of the work himself.

Meanwhile, as Wescott plugs along, Shapiro keeps her fingers crossed.

Shapiro said she’s already lost the 12 artists who had been waiting to move into the Firehouse’s second floor residences. And the Art Recreation Center, a company that owns and develops the Firehouse, is losing money with each passing day.

“It’s just a matter of how far in debt can you go,” Shapiro said.