After a year of uncertainty, Nashua’s Picker Building artists are back.
Nowadays, they call themselves the Picker Collaborative Artists, which is the name of the LLC they put together in order to begin renting at their new home at 3 Pine St. This weekend, they celebrate finally getting their certificate of occupancy with a grand opening and holiday open house.
“This is our baby. I love the fact that it’s ours,” jewelry artist Gail Moriarty said during an interview at the new place a few weeks before the opening.
At the time, there was still so much to do; molding needed to go up on doors and windows, and most artists were still unpacking. But there were hints that the end was in sight. Newly hung plants decorated the hallways, and outside Moriarty’s door a light box made by glass artists Mark and Kathleen Frank was waiting to go up.
Moriarty was stressed but, as she explained during a tour of the new facility, it was a good kind of stress, a different kind of stress from what artists felt last fall when longtime Picker Building owner Jack Bolger announced to his tenants he was going to retire and had accepted an offer from Clocktower Place Apartments to buy the building. The 20-plus artists had hoped to stay together but didn’t know where they would go. Moriarty led the charge.
But finding the venue proved to be difficult. The artists wanted a place downtown with cheap rent and accessible parking, which is hard to find in the city. They also wanted to use the building for retail and as a makerspace — uses that have different building and zoning requirements. And not everyone wanted to take them in.
“People outright said to me, ‘I’m not renting to artists,’” Moriarty said.
One of the issues was that landlords didn’t want to rent to 20 people. They wanted to work with one entity — which is how Moriarty came to partner with the Franks to form the Picker Artists Collaborative LLC.
“They just needed to become a formal, legal entity to make themselves marketable,” Nashua’s Community Development Division Director Sarah Marchant said via phone.
Throughout the year, the Picker artists’ numbers dwindled. The ones from Massachusetts and Manchester found art studios closer to their homes. When their numbers reached 13, Moriarity decided to take another look at 3 Pine St., an old mill building owned by Gate City Fence. It had been one of the first places she’d looked at early on in the search, but it was too small to house more than 20 artists. Thirteen, though, would be doable.
Rent there would be one third the cost of other downtown Nashua options, and Moriarty liked that it contained parking and was close to Broad Street Parkway.
Then came the issue of capital. The community stepped in with donations of all kinds — emotional, manual, financial — and Mark Frank said Gate City Fence owner Ken Forrence Jr. was helpful from the beginning, working with the artists to bring the building up to code.
But everyone would have to downsize.
For the Franks, this was an inconvenience, not a deal-breaker; it required getting rid of tools they hadn’t touched in a decade. It was a small price to pay, he said, when you consider their new top-floor space is surrounded by windows, perfect to display their glass art.
“It is a lot smaller, but it’s much more visible, with the new parkway coming through here, compared with before, when we were buried underground,” Mark Frank said. “In the other place, sometimes we wouldn’t see pieces with natural light going through them until somebody bought them and we helped carry them outside. Now we have morning and afternoon sunlight coming in on three sides of the studio, which is nice.”
Moriarty and the Franks signed the lease July 28 and began working on it full time Aug. 1. Anything they didn’t need to hire professionals for they did themselves — demolition, doors, windows, floors, you name it.
Moriarty met regularly with city representatives to make sure they were still on track to open by Christmas.
It’s a little riskier for the Franks and Moriarty, who are managing the rest of the artists’ rent and charging pretty much what it costs them to stay there. Leading this endeavor also meant a break from art production.
“I almost had to close my business for a year to get it done,” Moriarty said.
The building was a Baptist church before, and the artists wanted to keep the integrity of the building. Light spills through the mill windows on the second floor, and the walls don’t quite reach to the ceiling. This way, you can see the old church’s exposed beams and sloped ceilings.
“If somebody sneezes four studios over, you’re going to hear them. But that’s OK. We all get along fairly well here,” Mark Frank said.
Marchant has been working with Moriarty throughout the process and is glad to see the effort has paid off.
“As for the city, we feel the Picker artists, and all our artists downtown, are a massively wonderful resource, part of the fabric of our community. It would have been a giant loss for our community if they disbanded or separated, or moved to other towns, so it was a high priority for the community development office that this group of artists stay downtown,” Marchant said.