Monday, June 24, 2024

The Hive dance space is coming to Somerville’s Union Square area. (Photo: Callie Chapman)

Union Square is already buzzing with nightlife and construction, but professional dancers will soon have a space of their own with The Hive. The Somerville Arts Council has announced plans to open the dance class, rehearsal and performance space in September, with a soft launch in August, at 561 Windsor St. The building is perhaps best known as the home of Taza Chocolate.

The council planned its five-year lease to start with property owner DLJ on Saturday, then release a request for proposals for a booker to work with dance artists and groups.

As council art space coordinator Callie Chapman explained, the SAC will prioritize the needs of professional dance artists, especially to help them create works. “We love Zumba, but there are plenty of spaces you can rent to teach Zumba,” Chapman said.

The project was spurred by an onslaught of dance studio closings in the past few years, some Covid-related and some resulting from rising rents: Chapman’s own Studio@550 and Green Street Studios in Cambridge, and Third Life Studio in Union Square.

“It seems weird to me that Somerville has so many dance artists” and yet so few places for them to rehearse, Chapman said. While she’s performed at venues such as the Somerville Theater, she can’t remember ever rehearsing in the city. “You just couldn’t do it. Everybody had to go to Central Square, or they had to go over the river.”

Chapman has been a working artist in Somerville for more than 15 years. She managed Studio@550 from 2016 through December 2020, when the organization had to vacate the property.

An opportunity arose in the mixed-use development Assembly Row in 2021 when Greg Jenkins, the SAC’s executive director, brought Chapman on to manage new dance spaces there. At the time, the city was partnering with Federal Realty to occupy units emptied during the pandemic. But the owner found a new tenant, and the SAC will have to leave the Assembly building by July 11.

With The Hive, Chapman said she wants to prioritize artist needs – not just in terms of amenities, but in making sure each dancer “feels respected as an artist.” For the past year Chapman has been focused on building partnerships with the choreographer organizations Monkeyhouse and Midday Movement Series to help the city learn about and prioritize dance community needs.

“Even as funding for dancemakers increases, artists still feel stymied by the lack of adequate studios,” Monkeyhouse founder and artistic director Karen Krolak wrote. “Since Monkeyhouse lost our artistic home in 2012 when Springstep in Medford shuttered, we are acutely aware of how much time and energy this constant search for space requires. This problem has become even more complicated for us as my health condition frequently causes me to rely on mobility devices and so many spaces are up multiple flights of stairs.”

What should artists and visitors expect from the new space? It’s “a little bit perfect,” Chapman said. It is 3,000 square feet and has a “massive” 14-foot ceiling.

Floors are being installed by Wooden Kiwi of Waltham, and DLJ shared photos with Chapman recently of ceilings being painted. Work is expected to be complete in August.

The Hive’s technology should be easy to use and flexible for artists, Chapman said. The mini black-box theater at Assembly Row included slider-controlled, colorful LEDs that artists could experiment with and mix on their own. She hopes to repeat this at The Hive and ensure the space is well set-up for video projections, she said, so artists will be able to build projection design thoughtfully into their pieces that’s “plug and play” to set up.

In an era of arts space closings, Somerville zoning law will help make The Hive sustainable, Chapman said. The 2019 ordinance requires that new developments designate at least 5 percent to 10 percent of square footage to arts and creative enterprise organizations. That helped the council secure rent that was “a little bit below market,” Chapman said. Even if DLJ refused to renew the council’’s lease after five years, it would have to rent to another arts organization.

An info session and open house is expected in the coming months, when artists will be able to book the space on the SomArt website.