SpaceFinder launches in Massachusetts to help artists find unconventional venues

Gregorian Oriental Rugs on a regular work day. (Photo: Jessica Renaldi/Globe staff)
Gregorian Oriental Rugs on a regular work day. (Photo: Jessica Renaldi/Globe staff)

Gregorian Oriental Rugs opens at 10 a.m. every weekday, and with wood floors and high ceilings, this converted paper mill in Newton is an airy showroom for antique Turkish flat-weaves, Ikats from India, and countless other intricate, handmade imports from the Far East and Middle East. Some evenings, however, the expensive carpets and rugs are folded, stacked, and put aside, and the store is transformed into an intimate performance venue for local artists.

Last week, a group booked the space for a Friday story-slam. Two years ago, the 75-member Newton New Philharmonia Orchestra used the store for a private chamber concert. According to Scott Gregorian, who inherited his grandfather’s business as well as his commitment to the arts, the acoustics are great.

Most people hear about this unusual event space from friends. But to reach community art groups, Gregorian recently listed his venue on SpaceFinder Mass, a kind of Airbnb for the performance world that came to Massachusetts in January. The service connects artists hunting for budget performance or rehearsal space with unusual, informal, and affordable venues.

“We talk about SpaceFinder being a discovery tool,” said Lisa Niedermeyer, its program director. Venues can share their calendar for availability, and artists can search by square footage, rates, and timing. The website also handles payments for the bookings.

Started in New York three years ago, SpaceFinder was developed by Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit group that supports artists. SpaceFinder lists more than 6,600 spaces in 11 cities in the United States, plus Toronto, where you can rent a pirate ship. In Philadelphia, artists can rent a mosaic sculpture garden.

The Big Apple remains its most active market, with 1,800 venues in the city’s five boroughs.

SpaceFinder was launched in Massachusetts in partnership with the Arts and Business Council of Boston, and more than 200 venues in the state are listed, most of which are themselves in the arts business — small museums and theaters, for example, dance studios and art galleries.

In addition to Gregorian, other outliers include a fitness club in Dorchester and a winery in Southampton.

“I would never have guessed that a rug store would have listed,” said Jim Grace, the executive director of the arts council, who hopes other businesses will list their spaces on the site.

To connect with active art communities in far-flung corners of the state, Fractured Atlas reached out to Seth Lepore, an independent artist in Easthampton, to spread the word about the service among artists and to enlist venues.

“Space is a huge issue here in Western Massachusetts,” said Lepore, who helped connect SpaceFinder with local studios.

Lepore works and sometimes performs in a onetime plastics factory that was converted into a rehearsal and studio space. Among the venues that he persuaded to use SpaceFinder is Pioneer Valley Fencing Academy in Easthampton, which has a large gymnasium-like space that seats 49 and can be used for dance, music, and theater, according to its listing on the service.

Julie Hennrikus, executive director of StageSource, a nonprofit that helps theater groups and artists in Boston, said there has been an explosion of small dance and music groups in Boston, yet many rehearsal and studio spaces have become too expensive or unavailable. For example, Factory Theater, a 49-seat space that housed six theater groups, closed last summer and is now a gym.

The city lacks an easily browsable database of performance and rehearsal space. If SpaceFinder could become that central bank, Hennrikus said, the information it provides about demand for performance space could help artists make the case for the city to develop more of it.

In Boston, in particular, Niedermeyer would like to see SpaceFinder help other communities, such as the entrepreneurs and inventors who are using 3-D printers and other new technologies to make interesting new products.

After all, SpaceFinder already does cater to some specific and whimsical preferences. Among the more absurd: “There are a lot of people searching for cats,” said Niedermeyer, so she asked a dancer friend why that was the case.

“She said, ‘If a dance studio has a cat, I know they have a certain vibe.”

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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