Lawrence Arts Center adds new performance, rehearsal, gallery and storage spaces in major expansion – The Lawrence Times

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Almost from its launch nearly 50 years ago, the Lawrence Arts Center found itself looking for space.

When it opened in the former Carnegie Library building in 1975, dance lessons spilled over into a borrowed space on the second floor of a nearby building. The construction of a dedicated arts center building on New Hampshire Street in 2002 provided a brief respite, but it soon outgrew that too, and the arts center found itself renting space throughout the center- town of Lawrence for classes, rehearsals and performances.


Now, however, the Arts Center may have solved its space issues. It opens a large new performance, rehearsal, gallery and storage annex at 1000 Massachusetts St., around the corner from its main building.

The new facility, dubbed 10th and Mass Studios, is already in operation and will make its public debut this weekend with an open house “an immersive, multi-dimensional, community-based art party” hosted by art group d high school students Hang12. A large-scale grand opening is planned for later this summer.

“We’re already using it to the fullest,” Arts Center CEO Margaret Morris said Friday morning, standing in the new lobby gallery where Hang12 will be exhibiting artwork during the open house from 4-8 p.m. Saturday.

The storage room at the new 10th and Mass Studios is already full of props and costumes. (Mark Potts/The Lawrence Times)
Bins full of dancers’ costumes line a wall in the new storage room at 10th and Mass studios. (Mark Potts/The Lawrence Times)

A few steps away, an international film webinar was taking place in the large rehearsal/studio space, and Hanan Misko, director of the arts center’s dance program, had just stopped by to visit the new dance studio, whose rubberized floor already bears marks left by ballerina shoes. “We can’t wait to fill it all out,” Misko said.

Lawrence Lowdown

The rehearsal studio and dance studio replicate the dimensions of the Arts Centre’s main stage, a huge plus to ensure artists can practice in spaces the same size as those in which they will be performing. The new space also means that rehearsals won’t link the two halls of the Arts Centre, giving it much more flexibility in programming.

“It makes the main stage accessible more often,” Morris said.

The new facility also contains a large storage area for props and costumes, further relieving clutter in the main Arts Center building. “We were really crammed in there,” Morris said.

The COVID pandemic, by opening up downtown real estate, has given the Arts Center room to expand, but Morris believes the expansion will also help the center recover from the upheaval of the past two years.

“We knew having this kind of additional space would be critical to our economic recovery from the pandemic,” she said. “So it was a no-brainer as an investment in our future.” Morris declined to discuss the cost of the new facility, which was covered by grants and donations from longtime Arts Center supporters.

The new 10th and Mass Studios occupies space that for several years housed Laugh Out Loud Studios, a children’s play space that closed during the pandemic. “When it became available we realized it was absolutely perfect,” Morris said.

Originally built as a bus garage, the building has also housed a small mall, main store, record store and who knows what else. “All of these places had remnants, either on the floor or on the walls,” Morris said. “It was like an archaeological dig.”

Working with architect Dan Sabatini and contractor BA Green Construction, the Arts Center gutted the building and modernized it according to its needs. The new dance studio, for example, features a professional-grade Harlequin dance floor, an exclusive design built on suspended timber to reduce wear and tear on dancers’ feet. The other rehearsal space and the studio will be equipped with high-tech multimedia equipment and a cinema screen so that it can be used for film screenings and other events.

The rehearsal/performance studio at 10th and Mass studios replicates the size of the Lawrence Arts Center main stage and will include high-tech multimedia equipment for film screenings and other events. (Mark Potts/The Lawrence Times)


Morris is still awaiting delivery of this equipment – ​​pandemic-related supply chain issues have taken their toll on the project schedule.

“The whole project has been an exercise in supply chain management,” she said, and it will delay the official inauguration until this summer. “When we have all that, we’ll have a big party.”

In the meantime, however, the center is using the new space and already renting it out to other groups. And Morris is already planning another kind of expansion – in the alley behind the building. When Morris and owner Jeff Shmalberg, a longtime supporter of the Center for the Arts, first walked through the building and saw attractive graffiti portraits in the driveway, Morris had the idea to decorate the aisle with a series of murals. While this idea is pending grants and permits, Morris is considering a “mural hallway” and perhaps even offering a mural course.

Lawrence Arts Center CEO Margaret Morris envisions the alley behind 10th and Mass studios becoming a “corridor of murals”. (Mark Potts/The Lawrence Times)

The building’s history and long list of past tenants give it a certain vibe, Morris said.

“One of the things I love about it is that you can feel the joyful energy,” she said. “It’s sort of embedded in the walls.”

To note: Mark Potts is an Arts Center donor.

Lawrence Lowdown is a feature on developments around the city. Do you have any advice? Let us know.

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