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EASTHAMPTON — CitySpace announced the launch of its 2024 Pay It Forward program, aimed at supporting artists and organizations across Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. This initiative provides free access to CitySpace’s Blue Room, a performance and incubator space situated in Easthampton’s historic Old Town Hall.

Interested applicants can submit their proposals at cityspaceeasthampton.org/pif through May 6.

Pay It Forward offers artists short-term residencies and access to the venue for public performances and rehearsals between July and December 2024. Selected artists will receive a stipend of up to $1,000, along with proceeds from ticket sales generated by their public performances. Moreover, recipients will benefit from workshops, peer-learning cohorts, and personalized coaching sessions aimed at enhancing their artistic practice and fostering new skills, connections, and innovative ideas.

Open to performers of all disciplines, Pay It Forward seeks to empower the vibrant artistic community within Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. While open to all artists and creative organizations in the three counties, Pay It Forward focuses on supporting under-resourced artists and encourages BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) artists, LGBTQ+ artists, artists living with disabilities, and organizations that serve such artists.

Having piloted the Pay It Forward program alongside the unveiling of the Blue Room, CitySpace has witnessed the transformative impact of the program firsthand. Kim Chin-Gibbons, a 2022 pilot program recipient with her progressive rock band Sunset Mission, and recently appointed CitySpace artist advisory committee member, noted that “this program allowed us the time to really develop everything, not just to our liking but the necessary whole of what we are trying to do. We got to have rehearsals all day long, run tech, and shoot a music video. It was wonderful.”

Officially launching the program in 2023, Pay It Forward offered more than 1,250 complimentary hours last year to artists for theater performances, concerts, rehearsals, and more. Queer Community Theatre founders and 2023 Pay It Forward recipients Emily Fuller and Erin F. attested to its significance to their sold-out production of Bar Dykes, stating, “without the Pay It Forward program, we absolutely would not have been able to make this production the success that it was.”

Pay It Forward 2024 is made possible by the funding from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ Valley Creates, Greenfield Saving Bank, Peak Performance Roofing, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Delap Real Estate, Finck and Perras, and Tandem Bagel.

Class of 2023

She’s Guiding an Arts Renaissance That Will Reverberate Beyond Easthampton

Burns Maxey

Burns Maxey

Looking back over two decades in Easthampton, and her current work with a volunteer organization called CitySpace, Carol Abbe Smith saw, in its leader, someone who is making a difference in myriad ways.

“If you came to Easthampton in 2000, you would see empty storefronts and no foot traffic,” said Smith, owner of Delap Real Estate. “Today, Easthampton has restaurants, interesting shops, and music venues, in part due to the vision, energy, and leadership skills of one person: Burns Maxey.”

She’s right, though Maxey is quick to share credit — and share it with a lot of people — for the revitalization of Easthampton’s downtown in the form of an intriguing project to transform Old Town Hall into an arts and performance space, and the ways in which that project has caused, and will continue to generate, economic ripples far beyond the center of town.

“I think artists have the capability of making change happen on a smaller scale and creating reverberations with communities,” Maxey told BusinessWest. “And imagination is the key to thinking outside of the box and really considering what the possibilities are — or beyond the possibilities.”

“I think artists have the capability of making change happen on a smaller scale and creating reverberations with communities.”

Maxey has been heavily involved in Easthampton’s arts culture for the better part of two decades, including serving as arts coordinator for Easthampton City Arts from 2011 to 2016; during her tenure, she oversaw the creation of events like Bear Fest, Cultural Chaos, and the Easthampton Book Fest, securing grants in the process.

Also in 2011, she joined the all-volunteer board of CitySpace, which had been tasked with creating a flexible arts and community space in Old Town Hall, which was built in 1869 and housed the town’s municipal offices until 2003. In 2015, she became board president, and since then, she has helped secure Community Preservation Act funds, multiple foundation grants, and historic tax credits, as well as heading the capital campaign and events committee in an effort to raise about $8.5 million for the project.

Phase one involved renovation of the first floor, including the creation of a small, 80-seat rental performance space called the Blue Room. In conjunction with that, Maxey established a program called Pay It Forward to allow low-income artists the resources, space, and support to create or collaborate on a project, or have a residency to complete a project prior to public performance. After a successful trial in 2022, the program will roll out more fully in 2023, with the help of a $30,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

“This gives access to this space for rehearsals or performances to artists who need it — underserved artists, artists of color, low-income artists, really — anyone who doesn’t have the capacity to pay for the affordable rates we have,” she explained.

It’s also a sort of incubator space, she said. “It’s used for performing-arts groups and everything from community meetings to nonprofit fundraisers to exercise classes and rehearsals. Last year, we had close to 100 events within the space, different populations coming into the building. They get to see what’s happening here and really get to learn about what CitySpace does. So it’s kind of a neat way for us to test some ideas.”

Burns Maxey stands in the Blue Room

Burns Maxey stands in the Blue Room, which hosted about 100 events in its first year.
Leah Martin Photography

One Pay It Forward recipient, Amherst-based musician Kim Chin-Gibbons, brought her band, Sunset Mission, to CitySpace for a three-day intensive to practice, hone their sound, create a video, and play for a crowd, followed by an audience talk-back session.

“We discovered things about our tech and performances I don’t think we would have for months or maybe years,” Chin-Gibbons said. “It was the perfect place to control all our variables and grow as musicians and people.”

The next phases of the Old Town Hall revival include the restoration of a 350-seat space on the second floor (likely double that capacity for standing-room shows). But that takes fundraising, and Maxey and her board continue that effort, seeing the impact a broadened arts culture has already had on the town’s vitality, and understanding how the completed project will multiply that impact.

“This was established in 1869 to be the hub for community, for performances, for meetings, for dances. It was the place where people gathered.”

“I believe everyone has a place to live and thrive in Western Massachusetts, and now we have a great opportunity to plan smartly to create both affordability and economic flourishing,” she told BusinessWest. “I believe CitySpace is a partial solution to concerns like gentrification by creating long-term affordability to creative space on Main Street, right in the middle of the region.”

By fostering the arts and community she added, “we can make a destination where people want to be, and this, in turn, has economic reverberations. It’s that cycle of reciprocity that will allow this region to fully lift itself up to its potential.”


One Step at a Time

While touring Old Town Hall with BusinessWest, Maxey stopped by Big Red Frame, a business owned by Jean-Pierre Pasche that moved into the building around 2007, a few years after the municipal offices moved out.

“I fell in love with this place 17 years ago when I heard that it was going to be transformed into an arts center,” Pasche said. “I approached the people submitting RFPs to the town, and I said, ‘if you need a tenant on the project, I’ll go in. And I’m still here.”

Maxey credits town officials at the time for having the foresight to envision an arts and culture hub in the building, and recognize the impact that could have on economic development in town.

“I could see the potential for this building,” she added. “And when they showed me the second floor, I was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m really interested in this project.’”

Old Town Hall housed Easthampton’s municipal offices until 2003.Staff Photo

Old Town Hall

The first floor, which includes a number of art spaces and the Blue Room, is largely completed. “When you look at the second floor,” Maxey said, “you see where the funding stopped.”

Elaborating, she explained, “when the pandemic hit, we started to think about phasing the project and what our options would be to continue the work. So we talked to our architects, and they said, ‘yes, you can phase it.’ Initially, we thought that it would be one project as a whole, but it grew from a $6.6 million project to an $8.5 million project, which is a lot, but compared to a lot of other projects within the region and beyond, it’s not too far off from where we originally started.”

Phase two of the project, which has already seen the HVAC system upgraded and modernized, will also add an elevator and newly accessible entryway in front of the building; Maxey said CitySpace needs about $170,000 to get there.

Phase three, easily the most expensive part of the $8.5 million project, will complete the second floor, restoring the ceiling and floors, adding restrooms, installing new electrical and fire-safety systems, and investing in state-of-the-art theatrical and lighting equipment. Amid the modern amenities, Maxey wants to retain as much history as possible, including the mahogany balcony.

“Easthampton, historically, wasn’t a wealthy town,” she explained. “Unlike Holyoke or Springfield or Northampton, we really don’t have a plethora of beautiful buildings throughout the city. This was established in 1869 to be the hub for community, for performances, for meetings, for dances. It was the place where people gathered.”

It’s Maxey’s vision to see that happen again, and she intends to maintain affordable rental rates, not just in the small space currently open, but in the large performance hall on the second floor, once it’s complete.

“That’s part of our mission, to keep this building affordable for arts and community programming,” she said of the Blue Room. “When somebody comes into the space, there’s a flat, hourly rate. But they get everything, like the PA, the projector, tables, chairs. So it’s not like an a la carte menu where we’re adding dollars for each item.”

That model will continue upstairs. “We’re thinking of keeping it very similar to what we’re doing in the Blue Room. It’s a rental space with affordable rates, attracting and really serving artists throughout Western Massachusetts, and we want some traveling artists to come in as well. It’s really a place for people who want to produce events, and it’s also allowing for CitySpace to have our own programming.”

The 350-seat capacity is a “sweet spot” for the area, she added, larger than compact spaces like the Parlor Room in Northampton and the Drake in Amherst, but smaller than the Academy of Music in Northampton, which seats about 800. “Sometimes that’s too much to fill for some artists, and there are a lot of 150-seat locations throughout the region, so this is one step above that.”

CitySpace has a 44-year lease with the city on the building, and Maxey is looking long-term, including applying for Massachusetts historic tax credits after the building is completed, to go toward its continual upkeep.

“Even though we’ll be restoring the second floor,” she said, “we know that having a long-term plan for maintenance on the building will allow it to be here for another 150 years.”


Labor of Love

Maxey, like all the others on her board, serves CitySpace as a volunteer. Meanwhile, her career — which has taken her from Williston Northampton School as communications associate from 2005 to 2011 to her role as Easthampton’s arts coordinator from 2011 to 2016, to the positions of manager, then director, of Digital and Creative Marketing at New England Public Radio from 2016 to 2020 — has entered a new phase with BurnsMax, the art and design business she launched last year. She is also an adjunct professor of Marketing at the Arts Extension Service at UMass Amherst, teaching a class titled “Marketing the Arts.”

In a sense, that’s what she’s doing at CitySpace, too, a role she called “a joy because of the people who surround me.” In doing so, she singled out several other board members, including former Easthampton Mayor Mike Tautznik, Nikki Beck, Peggy Twardowski, and Smith, as well as an artist advisory committee including Trenda Loftin, Emily Ditkovski, Kyle Boatright, Amber Tanudjaja, and Pamela Means, not to mention a capital-campaign team led by Alison Keller and Tara Brewster.

“Seriously, CitySpace is a labor of love,” Maxey said, “and there are so many more that could be named since we are all volunteers right now — me included — as we kickstart this organization into adulthood.”

And pump some energy into the region as well, she added, noting arts organizations and venues opening up from Greenfield to Springfield, all holding the potential of boosting economic development through the arts.

“You can go to all of these locations, and it’s kind of like this renaissance; you see the potential for performing arts to really enliven and connect the whole Western Massachusetts region. And because of that, we have the capability for incredible economic growth within the region — not just a lovey-feely connection, although that exists too.”

Economic development and its many reverberations. The renovation of a historic building. Creating long-term affordability and accessibility for artists. That’s a lot of differences to make, and Maxey and her team are far from done.

“I’ve made my home here, and it’s such a fantastic place to live and work and play,” she said. “And I think we have a lot of potential to make it even better.”

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — CitySpace recently welcomed two new members to its board’s executive team. Nikki Beck will serve as CitySpace’s vice president, and Peggy Twardowski is the new clerk of the organization.

“We are delighted to welcome Nikki and Peggy to the executive team. Both bring exceptional professional skills, expertise, and dedication to CitySpace and the arts in the region,” said Burns Maxey, president of CitySpace. “Both are starting in these positions at a critical time for the organization as we expand programming and restore the Old Town Hall. We are fortunate to include them on our team.”

Beck has been a board member of CitySpace since 2017. She is the production manager for the Smith College Theatre Department and also works at the Academy of Music and as a freelance stage manager. She is passionate about connecting theater organizations and has been sending a weekly newsletter of theatre events (Pioneer Valley Theatre News) since 2015.

A Mount Holyoke College graduate and CitySpace board member since 2021, Twardowski is the Business Information director for the video-game industry’s largest representation agency, Digital Development Management, where she oversees research and data services. She has sought ways to actively promote the arts in the area, using her experience from top-grossing video-game crowd-funded campaigns to advise regional creators on Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns. Previously, she organized the Paint & Pixel Festival, a small press expo for regional children’s book illustrators, comic artists, and web comic creators.

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON —  CitySpace launched its application for Pay It Forward, a pilot program for artists who live in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. The program provides free venue access to CitySpace’s Blue Room, a performance and incubator space located in Old Town Hall in Easthampton. Applicants may apply at cityspaceeasthampton.org/pif through Friday, April 1 at 11:59 p.m.

CitySpace’s introductory program, Pay it Forward, invites artists of all kinds for short-term residencies and venue access for public performances and events. In addition, artists will receive a $500 payment for a public performance or event hosted in the Blue Room. Further, recipients will have access to artist-tailored workshops, peer-learning cohorts, or one-on-one coaching to deepen their practice, build new skills and relationships, and explore new ideas.

Pay it Forward is open to all artists (musicians, performers, dancers, and multi-media, literary, and visual artists) who live in Hampden, Hampshire, or Franklin counties. Priority will be given to artists who identify as BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) and economically disadvantaged artists.

The Pay It Forward pilot is made possible by funding from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.


Historic Renovation

An architectural rendering from Kuhn Riddle Architects

An architectural rendering from Kuhn Riddle Architects of the second-floor performing-arts and community space at Old Town Hall.

With the financial support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Cultural Facilities Fund and the Easthampton Community Preservation Act, CitySpace is beginning the first phase of a multi-million-dollar project to restore Easthampton Old Town Hall, the majestic brick building centrally located in the city’s downtown, as a center for the arts.

The $511,000 first phase, a portion of the total $6.9 million restoration, will prepare the building’s air systems for energy-efficient use, add new HVAC systems, and upgrade the historic building’s electrical system. Phasing the project will provide system upgrades and prepare the building for its next phase: completing the renovation of a 3500-square-foot, 350-seat arts and entertainment venue equipped with theatrical lighting, sound and projection systems, flexible staging and seating, and full accessibility.

“This is not a new project; it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. I consider it the single most important, impactful project this city has going forward for economic development … I’m excited that we are starting it,” Easthampton City Councilor Dan Rist said at a Community Preservation Act Committee meeting in November. The committee and Easthampton’s City Council unanimously voted to push forward $255,576 of reserved funding.

“This is not a new project; it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. I consider it the single most important, impactful project this city has going forward for economic development … I’m excited that we are starting it.”

CitySpace originally intended to build the $6.9 million project in one stage. However, this past summer, the organization explored the option of phasing the building project with the help of Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, and found that dividing the scope of work was feasible. Other than the addition of an energy-recovery ventilator, the infrastructure improvements entirely reflect the established 2018 architectural plans created for the rehabilitation project.

In 2019, CitySpace was awarded $200,000 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council through its Cultural Facilities Fund in support of the restoration of the Old Town Hall. In collaboration with MassDevelopment, the Cultural Facilities Fund provides important funding for capital projects of creative spaces, “in recognition of their profound economic impact on communities across Massachusetts,” according to the council’s website. These funds will go toward this project located in Easthampton’s Main Street corridor, with an expected ripple effect to the region’s businesses.

“The incomparable support of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MassDevelopment, the Easthampton Community Preservation Act Committee, and the generosity of our Western Massachusetts friends, neighbors, and businesses is why we are able to make these infrastructure improvements,” said Burns Maxey, president of the board of CitySpace. “This project will have extraordinary impacts on our economy while providing affordability and access to space for the arts and people in our region. I am so thrilled to see this project begin.”

The infrastructure improvements are expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Subsequently, with funding secured by the end of 2022 for phase 2, construction is planned to begin in 2023.

To date, more than $4 million in grants and contributions have been received for the $6.9 million project. Most recently, the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation awarded CitySpace $100,000 in support of the project’s second phase, creating the 350-seat space for performances, concerts, and community events. Besides seating, lighting, and sound, renovations also will include a new box office, elevator, and entryway. CitySpace is seeking further support for the project and has naming opportunities available.

“As we embark on this year, momentum is building to complete this campaign,” Maxey said. “The incredible support from the Mabel Louise Riley Foundation is a windfall for CitySpace and our upcoming plans for Old Town Hall. We are so very thankful.”

CitySpace is a nonprofit that serves to restore, preserve, and manage Easthampton Old Town Hall as a center for the arts. Old Town Hall was built in 1869.

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — Finck and Perras Insurance donated $15,000 to CitySpace in a multi-year pledge for support of the restoration of Easthampton Old Town Hall into a center of the arts for Western Mass.

In 2006, beginning with Old Town Hall’s first floor, CitySpace embarked on an effort to create affordable space for arts organizations and creative businesses under one roof in Easthampton’s Main Street Historic District. Now, CitySpace is raising funds to convert the unused second-floor, 3500-square-foot hall into a flexible, accessible, 350-seat space for performances, concerts, and community events. Renovations also will include a new box office, elevator, entryway, theatrical lighting, and sound and projection systems.

“I have always viewed Old Town Hall as a centerpiece of the city,” said Gen Brough, Finck and Perras president. “For over 85 years, Finck and Perras Insurance has been a proud member of this community. Being a part of the community and giving back to it is one of the core philosophies we feel is essential to our success. Sponsoring youth sports, supporting nonprofits, volunteering at community events, or projects like CitySpace’s Old Town Hall restoration makes us feel even more connected.”

To date, more than $4.2 million in grants and contributions have been received for the $6.9 million project. CitySpace plans to begin renovations in late 2022 and seeks further support for the project.

“CitySpace’s project to bring the Old Town Hall back to its glory of a usable community space for everyone fits in with our values of community support,” Brough added. “We are proud to make a donation and look forward to the grand reopening of this great historical icon of the city of Easthampton.”

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — The Beveridge Family Foundation awarded CitySpace $35,000 in support of the restoration of Old Town Hall into a center of the arts for the city of Easthampton and Western Mass.

In 2006, beginning with Old Town Hall’s first floor, CitySpace embarked on an effort to create affordable space for arts organizations and creative businesses under one roof in Easthampton’s Main Street Historic District. Now, CitySpace is raising funds to convert the unused, second-floor, 3500-square-foot hall into a flexible, accessible, 350-seat performing-arts and community space for performances, concerts, and community events. Renovations will include a new box office, elevator, entryway, theatrical lighting, and sound and projection systems.

To date, more than $4 million in grants and contributions have been received for the $6.9 million project. CitySpace plans to begin renovations in late 2022, and the organization seeks further support to complete the project.

“From the beginning of our campaign, the Beveridge Foundation has been incredibly generous and encouraging of CitySpace for the restoration of Old Town Hall,” said Burns Maxey, CitySpace board president. “We are deeply thankful and honored for the foundation’s growing support to create a vibrant destination for the performing arts for our Western Massachusetts community.”

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — CitySpace announced that Andrea Kunst will fill the role of capital campaign manager for the organization, and will guide the Transformation Campaign, a project to restore and create a flexible performing-arts and community space in Easthampton’s Old Town Hall.

Kunst brings 20 years of advancement experience, raising close to $30 million in funding for schools and mission-driven nonprofits.

“My interest was piqued for this position because the Transformation Campaign is an important project in a great community, and allows me to use a career’s worth of experience to help achieve the goal of an enduring renovated arts and performance space,” she said.

After being introduced to the field of development at a Jesuit middle school in Jamaica Plain, Kunst found her calling and has continued to support organizations with strong missions of meeting community needs. Prior to retiring from Boston public schools, she spent a decade as the director of Advancement for a competency-based alternative high school in Roxbury.

With a last name that translates to ‘art’ in German, she has worked extensively in many creative fields, including writing columns for Boston magazine, teaching technical writing at Boston Architectural Center, managing a jazz club in Cambridge, and serving as board chair for Dorchester Arts Collaborative during its successful opening of Dorchester’s first community art gallery.

In 2016, Kunst began Cushing Mill, a contracting company for schools and nonprofits in need of advancement services. In that role, she has worked for the Center for Health and Food Law Policy at Harvard University, Fields Corner Main Street in Dorchester, All Dorchester Sports and Leadership; Boston Green Academy in Brighton, and Boston Farms Community Land Trust. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications from Emerson College.