Walking through Beacon Hill these days, you’ll see a lot of buildings that look like they’re not long for this world - soon to fall under the hands of developers and the never-ending, tsunami wave of gentrification.
The building on the corner of Beacon Avenue South and 15th is no different, the smattering of retail stores and an old warehouse there are to become a seven-story apartment building with 99 units (a whopping three of them affordable). Sigh. Another sign of the times.
But, at least until this weekend, knock on the door outside of this building by where the whale mural is, and you’ll find 103 murals created by 75 fine art and graffiti artists inside an otherwise empty warehouse bursting with color and life.
Betty Jean Williamson is the former director and board president at Beacon Arts, a volunteer-run organization that works to help support Beacon Hill artists. When developer Scott MacDonald, who is building the “Beacon Crossing” apartments, allowed Beacon Arts to temporarily take possession of the building in late April, Williamson knew exactly who to call to activate the warehouse as an art space.
“I knew that I wanted to ask Crick Lont about bringing graffiti artists in to paint the walls, because he and Charms did the mural outside of the building,” Williamson says.
Lont, creator of Dozer Art, was at the Paradiso Festival at the Gorge, an EDM festival in the summer whose ‘graffiti walls’ draw in artists from around the globe. He was painting with some friends there when he realized the opportunity that was right in front of him.
“I saw that they all had extra roll-over paint, and they were going to go use them a skate park, usually, or you know, find somewhere to go because they can't fly with the paint.”
So when the festival ended, Lont brought his pals over to the warehouse on their way to the airport to hit it up. And hit it up they did.
“They started about one in the afternoon, I came in at four, and the whole place was full of a dense fog of spray paint. There were three guys on ladders with respirators, and three guys outside smoking,” says Williamson, laughing.
As more and more out-of-towners and local graffiti writers heard about the warehouse, they wanted in. At 25 artists, Lont knew he had to turn the snowballing turnout into an actual show.
“And then once that happened,” says Williamson, “Crick just kept asking ‘Can we paint this wall? Can we paint that wall?’ And at first, I was like well, let me think about it…and then finally I was just like, here have a key, just do it.”
The artists involved are all too aware that their work will get demolished, along with the building and a few other retail stores on the block, in 2018. But, Lont says, destruction comes with the medium.
“That's part of graffiti, is we know that our work is temporary. It's not always going to be up, it's going to get buffed, it's going to get destroyed. And that's just what comes along with it.”
“We knew going in the building was going to be torn down. And if it wasn't being torn down, this wouldn't happen at all,” Williamson points out. The inevitable development of Beacon Hill, Williamson says, is both a curse and a blessing.
“At least in this case, we’re lucky in that this particular developer is a mensch,” she says. “He's a generous guy. He supporting Beacon Arts to be able to open the space to the community.”
“He gets the bad builder rap because, well, you're always going to get that when you're changing a community, but he's trying to make it as smooth a transition as possible,” Lont says.
In fact, Lont and Charms will be able to recreate their mural on the new building, and then to commission other Beacon Hill artists to create pieces for the inside of the new space.
“So, it's actually trying to find a way to flip the gentrification process,” Lont says. “We're going to incorporate our art into whatever they are changing, keeping the art in the community.”