Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Peter Valentine’s house on Brookline Street near Cambridge’s Central Square. Some arts advocates want the house preserved as a community center. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Arts advocates were warned Monday not to get their hopes up for the creation of a community arts space at the home of outsider artist Peter Valentine, who died Aug. 9.

“We don’t purchase buildings,” vice mayor Alanna Mallon said, even though “there’s been a number of times where the city could have stepped in to save a building or to save a space.”

Citing Green Street Dance Studio, Studio 550 and the “nonprofit row” office building near Central Square, “I can’t remember a time on the council where the city has purchased a building for this type of purpose,” Mallon said.

Valentine died at the age of 80 after transforming 37 Brookline St., in Cambridgeport, into a showpiece art installation called Cosmic Moose & Grizzly Bearsville. An advisory board is advocating to turn the property into a community art center owned by the city, with four city councillors filing a policy order in support, and its leader made the case for the purchase this week at the regular council meeting.

“Peter’s house and its fence are one of the last vestiges of funk in the city,” Zusy said. “They represent a time when the city was rich with hippies, artists and spiritual awakening, and not bio- and high-tech. What Peter created is so rich, and so very human. It’s the opposite of sterile, which is where we’re heading. That’s why I believe that this vision to make Peter Valentine’s property an art Center has so much power.”

“I don’t recommend this idea lightly,” Zusy said. “I’m actually a fiscal conservative, and I believe that this would be an excellent use of city dollars.” As a longtime museum curator, Zusy said she considers Valentine’s work “important.”

The proposal passed 8-1 – with Mallon in favor but councillor Paul Toner opposed.

The vote against was “not because I don’t want to see more cultural centers or opportunities to showcase art in the city,” he said, but because “there was one thing that was absent for me tonight. And that was Peter’s family. I didn’t hear anything from Peter’s family about their desire for the property.”

Toner also said he couldn’t imagine the city buying the property for an arts center, though maybe the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority or Cambridge Housing Authority could “buy the property and do affordable housing.”