MassDevelopment

Getting creative with mill space: Couple have big plans for Great Barrington property

November 12, 2018 : The Berkshire Eagle, by Kristin Palpini


GREAT BARRINGTON — Before wife and husband artists Jamie and Asher Israelow announced they were going to turn the empty Housatonic Curtain Company building on Park Street into creative workspace, they got a note from an interested person looking for a studio.

It was slid under the door of the mill's main entrance.

"Before we even closed on the place, someone slipped a letter under our door," Jamie said.

"I think Housatonic is the perfect place for something like this," she said noting the village's artist community. "I see a lot of synergy between what we're doing and the town."

So far, interest in the building has been better than expected, said the Israelows, and they've even received a boost from the state. Last week, the project was awarded a $147,000 MassDevelopment grant to build out the four-story mill by the Housatonic River. In a related move, Berkshire Community College received a $25,000 MassDevelopment grant to develop a learning kitchen in Great Barrington.

The Israelows said the money will help them get the collaborative space open quickly — with some spaces being available within several weeks or so. Renovating the building will be done in phases with the top floor among the first to have work done. That space will include studios and a gallery; carpenter Amalae McCloud, of Great Barrington, was hired for the job. Zac Culbreth, of Great Barrington, is the architect.

"Working with other professionals in one space — it elevates your own craft. It's not working against, but in congruity with each other," Asher said.

Collaborative workspace and mixed-use buildings have been popular second lives for the unused, sprawling mill buildings leftover from the Massachusetts' manufacturing industry boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several of those structures dot the Berkshire landscape where woolen and paper mills were once commonplace.

Some of those often massive buildings have been vacant for decades, but not in this case. The more than 100-year-old structure that the Israelows purchased for $500,000 in June most recently served as the production facility for Country Curtains, the Berkshire-based home decor company that went out of business after 60 years at the end of 2017. The former mill was the last of Country Curtains' five Berkshire properties to be sold.

POSITIVE MOVE

Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon congratulated the grant recipients in a statement. He called the money "a welcome sign that the state values creative entrepreneurship and small business initiatives here and across the state."

The Israelows said they relocated to the Berkshires from New York City to raise their family and expand the artist studios their businesses had outgrown. Jamie is a textile artist and founder of Hart Textiles. Asher makes custom wood furniture at Asher Israelow Studios.

"Two ideas came together," Asher said. "In our studios — we needed to expand and make something bigger out of our businesses and why not see if other people can benefit from this as well."

On Wednesday the Israelows gave a tour of the building that they purchased under the name Studio for Integrated Craft LLC. Inside the structure, the Israelows — who had their second child about three months ago — are hard at work clearing leftover manufacturing equipment and office furniture from the building. Jamie is keeping a few of the 50-plus industrial sewing machines for her textile work, but most of the items are being donated to affordable housing nonprofit Construct Inc., domestic violence and sexual assault services provider Elizabeth Freeman Center and adult special needs program Stanton Home.

In addition to the woman who slid the note under the door seeking studio space, the Israelows have received more — and more formal — inquiries, Jamie Israelow said, including those from a photography collective, artist group and test kitchen.

The Israelows said they have benefited greatly from working in collaborative spaces with various professional artists who can talk shop and share their knowledge with each other. They hope their creative space in Housatonic will help support and grow the local art scene.

"There's a lot of artists living in Housatonic," Jamie said. "My dream is for the Housatonic Art Walk to come back."