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By: Alexandra Cavallo
Cue the applause: The ArtsCommons is nearly ready to make its entrance, with two portable black-box theaters slated to start popping up across town this summer. It’s the brainchild of BostonAPP/Lab, a nonprofit spun out of the Boston Society of Architects that’s dedicated to invigorating the arts in public places. Its founder and director, Ron Mallis, first became acquainted with the notion of a creative “commons” from a friend in the theater community. “She saw her organization as a collection point for ‘people who make performance,’ ” Mallis recalls. “Somehow, that morphed into a ‘commons’ for all the arts, which became—ta da!—the ArtsCommons!”
Made from repurposed 200-square-foot steel shipping containers donated by the Eagle Leasing Company, the ArtsCommons will offer alternative spaces for performances, exhibitions, screenings, installations and community happenings. “The major design challenge is to keep the spaces flexible enough to accommodate and support arts and neighborhood collaborations of all kinds, while still designing something more than a minimally retrofitted shipping container,” says designer Ben Bruce, who got involved in the project while finishing his master’s in architecture at Wentworth Institute of Technology. “In other words, a space with enough character to inform the art that takes place there and enough flexibility to adapt to many sites.”
Those sites will likely include Jamaica Plain’s Hyde Square, where the team is aiming to debut the ArtsCommons this summer. Artists will be able to apply to a curatorial team of local community leaders and APP/Lab members for a chance to showcase their work in residencies of anywhere from two weeks to two months. “At the same time, we want to make sure that the programming is loose enough to leave room for improvisation and for what someone called ‘surprise,’ ” says Mallis, who also hopes to see the ArtsCommons pop up at locations like the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood and the Outside the Box festival. “It takes patience to move through the process of rethinking the role of the ArtsCommons in completely new contexts,” Bruce adds. “Each neighborhood, each community organization, each partnership has a different set of needs, resources and visions. The challenge is to make sure the physical thing can address all of those—and then to understand how to implement the project one step at a time.”