Holyoke’s Gateway City Arts offers space to create but founders now look to build crowds
HOLYOKE — Gateway City Arts has office cubicles in a coworking space, table saws in its woodshop where folks can buy memberships, a deli that turns into a taco restaurant, drag-queen bingo, resident puppet makers and a capacity-500 concert hall that regularly attracts acts like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and 90’s jam-rockers Rusted Root.
It’s got the Ghost Light Theater and Bread & Puppet Theater companies. It’s got yoga. Lecture space where folks gather for guided listening to Phish albums and Democratic presidential debate watch parties, and an art gallery.
Starting in January it’ll have a sit-down restaurant, Judd’s, with Czech food based on family recipes.
The owners even promise the bring back the ceramic studio.
“We just had to take it all apart during the construction,” said co-director Lori Devine on a recent whirlwind tour of the sprawling complex at 92-114 Race St.
Devine owns Gateway City Arts with Vitek Kruta — he’s the Czech half of the duo with the chicken paprikash and goulash recipes. They said a year’s worth of physical transformations is wrapping up as new programming plans come into focus.
“We are now entering the next phase at Gateway City Arts,” Kruta said. “We can never say the vision is complete. It’s evolving. But the physical work is complete. We have all the space developed.”
The coworking space, for example, opened this summer. It goes with the workshops that are also available for $80 or $120 a month, depending on what level of membership a person needs. Gateway City Arts also rents work space to “messier” creators like the puppet makers. One man used his membership in the woodshop to make dozens of beehives.
And that concert space will host even more shows, not only favorites from the record collection but also up-and-coming touring rock acts.
Working with promoters Signature Sounds, DSP Shows and lately on its own, Gateway City Arts hosted 70 shows in 2019 with plans to do about 100 in 2020.
“We are trying to be open every day with music or something,” Devine said “We are trying to see what people want and bring it.”
For many of the shows, Kruta and Devine’s take is only from food and the bar. Promoters and bands get the ticket money.
What Gateway City Arts needs is more people — visitors, customers — despite Kruta and Devine’s estimate that they already get 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year.
“We know this because we have sold-out shows,” Devine said. “People come from all over. We have people from New York, from Brooklyn, for shows.
But the problem is a lack of steady day-to-day, walk-up business in a neighborhood where, despite significant reinvestment in recent years, there just isn’t a lot of foot traffic. They need more members and tenants and more customers renting event spaces, along with more people going to shows.
Gateway City Arts is down the street from the Cubit building where Holyoke Community College has its new MGM Culinary Arts Institute. Devine and another group of partners own the Steam Building a few doors down, also a creative reuse of a mill property.