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A while ago I wrote a piece for Contemporary Magazine about the new ICA building and it's potential impact on the SoWa district, which has finally been published in their 81st issue. In that piece, I wrote:

The construction of the new ICA has many looking towards the waterfront as the new art district of Boston. When the ICA opens, there is a commonly-voiced hope that the area around it will blossom, which has some developers thinking big. The most advanced of these plans includes a new arts commerce complex, with studios and commercial spaces, designed to compete with SoWa. The potential of such a space could be huge, drawing gallerists and collectors away from SoWa to this new destination, and destabilizing the successes of the SoWa consolidation.

As the grand opening of the new ICA building draws nearer, and developers finalize their projects in the surrounding area, the impact on SoWa has become very clear. This very issue of Big RED features three articles concerning the closing of galleries in the 450 Harrison building: Clifford-Smith, Gallery Katz and Boston Frame/BF Annex.

Rob Clifford has already done a better job than I could of summarizing the growth and changes that have occurred in that building, and the neighborhood in general in the last decade. He has also made clear what many have started to feel in the circus-like atmosphere of the First Fridays - that success has brought many growing pains to SoWa. Those of us who talk regularly with gallery directors have had a sense for some time that discontent lurked under the surface, and that new opportunities and locations might draw some folks away.

I would like to note here that I have never liked the 'SoWa' name, and use it because there is no appropriate way to describe the area. To refer to 450 is to exclude Boston Sculptors Gallery, Ars Libris, and the other venues nearby but not in the main complex. Referring to 'the South End' is way too broad, and thus we have been stuck with 'SoWa' which bears with it all of the pathetic longing to be NYC that keeps Boston in a mopey rut. I can only hope that any new art district that springs up along the waterfront will not be burdened with such a name, and will be allowed to develop an identity that is unique and appropriate to our city.

To this end, I'm going to launch a section in our Forum for Big RED & Shiny readers to propose appropriate names for any new region that may appear on the waterfront. Let's claim the right to name our city, before some developer comes up with 'WaFro' or 'BUMBO' or something equally awful.

As for the galleries leaving SoWa, we will have to wait and see what the future holds. I'm inclined to be optimistic, and hope that new galleries open in their vacated spaces while Clifford-Smith, Drew Katz and others find new homes where they are happy.

Contemporary Magazine
Institute of Contemporary Art

About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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