Vernon Street Studios Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Somerville is home to more than 400 artists and a quarter of those work out of Vernon Street Studios, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. What started as a rough space for 13 artists has blossomed into a creative labyrinth housing photographers, jewelry makers, painters, sculptors, graphic designers and more.

To honor the work of those who founded Vernon Street and all who have come after, the studio is hosting a special Anniversary Exhibit at the Somerville Museum from this Friday, November 14 through Saturday, December 20. More than 60 artists are participating in this celebration of art, creativity and community.

“It’s stuff that you don’t normally get to see for Somerville Open Studios,” said Heather Balchunas, the studio coordinator at Vernon Street, office manager at the Somerville Arts Council and an artist herself. “It’s a really wonderful show.”

Vernon Sign

In addition to the special exhibit at the Somerville Museum, Vernon Street will host its annual winter Open Studios event on Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7 from noon-6 p.m. Seventy artists have signed up to participate in the event, which tends to be a bit less chaotic than the full Somerville Open Studios weekend.

“There’s the mindset of the holiday time,” Balchunas said, noting that many artists focus on creating smaller, more affordable work that’s giftable. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to talk to more people.”

Vernon Street has grown immensely since those first 13 artists rented space from Rogers Foam Corporation, which still operates in the building, 40 years ago. Cheap rents and forgiving landlords drew artists to the area and a welcoming community has kept them coming.

“That’s what’s driven the creative community, making it accessible to artists too,” Balchunas said. “We need to have that symbiotic relationship. That’s what’s been able to have spaces like Vernon Street and Artisan’s Asylum. That’s hugely helpful.”

Vernon Mara

Photographer Mara Brod, who is curating the Somerville Museum show, in her Vernon Street studio.

More artists joined the ranks after the first wave and some of them are still creating in the same space they moved into nearly four decades ago. Once the number of artists reached a critical mass, the studio space expanded from 20 Vernon St. to 6 Vernon St. to accommodate the growing creative community.

Artists new and old work side-by-side in the studios, which have a waiting list, drawing inspiration from each other’s work. Zoe McCarthy, a newer Vernon Street addition, creates geometric paintings that play with scale and space.

“It’s such a great building to work in,” said McCarthy, who is participating in the upcoming Open Studios “I always wanted to be in this building.”

Balchunas knows the feeling, having moved her work out of her home studio and into a space at Vernon Street in 2008. She enjoys having a separate area to create and being part of the group of artists that call the studios home.

“I feel very lucky to be a part of this community,” Balchunas said. “Developing, encouraging and fostering this growth is very near and dear to my heart.”

Vernon Stairs

So with the 40th anniversary of Vernon Streat approaching, Balchunas knew there needed to be a celebration of this unique space.

“There’s so much buzz about Somerville and the arts community,” Balchunas said. “There’s so much history here. The pioneers are so much of why Somerville is the way it is right now.”

With all the changes happening around the city, it’s the perfect time to look back on the things that made Somerville what it is today and ensure it thrives in the future.

“The Rogers Foam Corporation is very excited about the anniversary,” Balchunas said. “We’ve only gotten positive feedback about us being here. We have a vibrant art community and we want to keep that going even stronger.”

See the work of Vernon Street artists at the Somerville Museum from Friday, November 14 through Saturday, December 20, and at Open Studios on Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7.

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