The Atlantic Works Building at 80 Border Street in East Boston is visible on maps as early as 1892, as part of a large parcel owned by the Atlantic Works Company. It appears to have been part of the shipbuilding industry in East Boston.
In the late 1990s, the building was privately owned and being used primarily for storage space. I don’t know when artists started moving in. Many say that Fran Rowan was the first, but she’s no longer with us and can’t be asked. As previous tenants moved out and other artists in the area heard there was affordable space available, they moved in. As they built out their own work spaces, the building became a warren of studios, nooks and crannies, plus a few curtained off piles of other renters’ belongings.
The first East Boston Open Studios was held in 2001. By then, 80 Border Street consisted primarily of artists’ studios. When a large room at the end of the top floor became available in late 2002, a number of artists in the building decided to pool their resources and rent it as a group, using the space both for exhibits and whatever creative endeavors seemed appropriate. This was the birth of Atlantic Works – A Collaborative Space for Art and Ideas. The inaugural exhibit was held in February of 2003.
Atlantic Works quickly evolved into a co-op gallery with monthly exhibits and a rotating board of directors, now called the steering committee. The membership has also changed over the years, though several of the original 22 people who were in the inaugural show are still active members today. There are some of us who have dropped out for a while and then returned, welcomed with open arms. We are an all-volunteer organization, with no paid staff. We survive on members’ dues and an annual grant from The East Boston Foundation, plus a small commission from occasional sales. All of the labor involved in keeping the Gallery going is performed by Gallery members.
In 2005, the building was sold to the East Boston CDC, who were in the process of razing and redeveloping the old Maverick Housing Development into what is now known as Maverick Landing. They needed space to relocate their day care center, and agreed to maintain the rest of the building as artist studios. The building was closed for renovations in early 2006, and reopened in 2007. During the renovations, the gallery members kept in touch with each other, and held at least one show at the Gallery at Spencer Lofts, in Chelsea. After the building renovations were complete, the Gallery reopened in an expanded space that extended across the entire northwest end of the building’s top floor.
At this time, some of the Gallery members have studios in the building, but many do not. Likewise, there are many artists in the building (and elsewhere in East Boston) who are not Gallery members. Individual members may come and go, but the core idea of Atlantic Works as a space for nurturing and encouraging artists remains.