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City of Boston Shuts Down Fourth Wall Gallery Due to Permit Compliance

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The news spread like wildfire yesterday: 24 hours before the start of NEAR DEATH, the highly anticipated “Performance Art Experience” curated by Vela Phelan (Our March 2010 interview with Vela) and funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the owners of Fourth Wall Project, an independent arts space on Brookline Avenue, announced the venue was being shut down by the City for permitting reasons. In 2012, Boston’s Weekly Dig elected it Best Gallery in town. In 2010, the Improper Bostonian counted it among Boston’s Best.

Fourth Wall Project was founded in 2009 by owners and operators of Bodega, the oh-so-trendy sneaker shop. Their stated goal was to create “more places for punks to loiter, artists to flourish, and more voices to be heard.” The 3000 square foot space has hosted countless parties, magazine launches, performances and art events since it opened. Because there was no curatorial direction for the space, many of the shows were hit-or-miss, but it’s precisely that freedom and flexibility that made it such an appealing venue to many. It stood out for attracting street and graffiti artists, many art students from neighboring colleges, and a lot of ephemeral and performance art.

The idea which seeded Fourth Wall, that of turning dormant real-estate into vibrant, cultural pop-ups, has been a popular solution both around the country and internationally to reviving, or simply bringing a diversity of experience, to depressed and bland neighborhoods. Storefronts Seattle, a project launched in 2010, is an ongoing collaboration between the Emerald City’s business and art communities. “This innovative program […] shines a spotlight on Seattle’s creative sector, brings new life to empty storefronts and enlivens our neighborhood business districts,” says Seattle’s Mayor Mike McGinn on the project’s website.

In Boston, however, this simple act of injecting life into empty real-estate by calling on the city’s artists has worked best through private enterprise, when the owners of a space work directly with the artists, as in the case of 225 Friend Street in the North End. The Friend Street space, which looks like an abandoned set from The Office, has welcomed a number of pop-up shows funded by Kickstarter campaigns, from Susan Metrican’s Hung Jury, to this past summer’s Bricks and Mortar.

When reached about the current permitting issues, Oliver Mak, Fourth Wall’s founder and director, had this to say: “We are committed to bringing the gallery back to good standing with the city and resuming operation as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, NEAR DEATH will rise from the ashes of Fourth Wall Project, and we’ll be there to write about it when it does.

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