Art Studios in the Wilds of Pawtucket

Both of us had just gotten off shifts from our retail jobs, which kept us indoors while the sun remained overhead, so it was difficult for us to see inside. Our snooping through the windows on Exchange Court was justified by a banner that hung out front, which read “Studio Tours.”

Previously, the only reasons we had ventured to these parts were to catch the occasional AAA ballgame, overindulge at the Chinese buffet or visit the novelty shop – when it was in a basement.  The city to the north was now alluring with something new: cheap space.

We liked to write and were good at making people laugh – particularly one another. As recent college graduates we had not a single clue what we were doing with our lives. Sure, we could tirelessly quote from Boogie Nights and did a smashup Jimmy-finds-out-that-Tommy-got-whacked-and-then-knocks-over-the-phone-booth impression. But did this qualify us for anything? Did any of this make us Artists?

Eventually we arranged a meeting with someone in the city who had connections. I made certain to wear a “funky” shirt, just in case there was any doubt. It had a huge collar that would thwap either side of my chin, if ever my bipedalism rose above it’s calculated saunter.

“Evan and John,” my partner thumbed side-to-side, thus informing the portly gentleman with greying, carefully maintained (or so he thought), chin-strap beard. “We’re looking for studio space,” Johnny finished. From the stacks of detritus strewn across the desk it would be safe to assume we had arrived shortly after his second nap of the workday.

“You’re the filmmakers?”

We glanced at one another before relenting with tandem nods.

“I have a place on Pine. Enormous. Property manager says you can go anytime to look around. There’s another one, behind Tolman. You’d be sharing with a magazine.”

We said whatever it is that two dudes like us should say to city hipsters and soon found ourselves on the road.

The spot on Pine – right next to where I had successfully parallel parked for the first time as part of my driving test – was a total dump. We loved it. It was massive, but loaded with so much junk that we agreed it would take too long to clear a channel just for the purposes of hanging.

A fraction of the stuffy but skylit 2,000 square feet on the fourth floor of 80 Fountain Street soon became ours. It had a freight elevator along with rooftop access and came fully equipped with not-for-profiting redheads.

During our 10-month tenure, there were murmurs of an event, normally held in early fall, where curious, possibly would-be-patrons were bussed to and from the many industrial stacks of bricks in the city. Their objective was to witness firsthand the spaces where those who were actually creating for a living did their thing. When the date arrived, we made sure to make ourselves scarce, to avoid any confusion. Plus, there was no way we could have been granted the weekend off.

Much has changed in the nearly 15 years since – especially my appreciation for studio tours. They are an integral part of the Pawtucket Arts Festival and free to the public.

This year features work from over 50 practicing artists, representing print, sculpture and photography as well as found and wearable art, painting and ceramics. Visitors can drop in, meet the makers and even purchase unique work — tax-free – without worry of being picked up for trespassing.

Open studios take place on September 26 and 27 from 10am – 4pm as part of the Pawtucket Arts Festival. Visit Riverfront Lofts at 10 Exchange Court, Blackstone Studios at 163 Exchange Street and the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center at 172 Exchange Street.

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