Arts industry incubates in Brookside

David Taber

Gazette Photo By David Taber
Ben Mauer of web-design co-op Quilted and Allana Taranto of Ars Magna photography studio at work at Ad Hoc Studios, a Brookside Avenue space they share with other small arts-business owners.

BROOKSIDE—Nestled in the nearly to defunct industrial district near Green Street on Brookside Avenue, a group of five creative economy start-up businesses have banded together to make their way in the world.

Projects coming out of Ad Hoc Studios include web-design work for political guerilla theater group The Yes Men and a forthcoming documentary about local drag troupe All The Kings Men.

It started with a conversation between Ben Spear, owner of the graphic design firm Thinkside, and Ben Mauer, a worker-owner in the web-design co-op Quilted, about moving their businesses out of their bedrooms.

“We were looking for space for a long time, and were frustrated with the options for transitioning out of working from home,” Spear told the Gazette.

One day, while the pair was having lunch at nearby Ula Café. Spear said he described his dream of a cheap, open workspace where he would be surrounded by a community of other creative entrepreneurs. On their bike ride home, Spear and Mauer saw a “for rent” sign at 128 Brookside Ave.

By December of last year, they had rented the 1,200-square-foot open ground floor of the former carriage factory, and by April they were moved in to the new space and Ad Hoc was off-and-running.

A recent Gazette visit to the space found a busy-looking studio that five different businesses are calling home: Thinkside, Quilted, independent documentary filmmaker Justin Francese; and two photography studios, Lux Umbra—specializing in “editorial and corporate photography”—and Ars Magna, a wedding and portrait photographer.

Fracese served as associate producer and videographer for “Communities and Consequences: The Unbalancing of New Hampshire’s Human Ecology,” which won the New Hampshire Documentary award at the New Hampshire Film Festival. He is currently co-producing “Play in the Gray” a movie about Boston drag troupe All The Kings Men.

Ouilted, which also has an office in California, has worked with groups including guerilla theater troupe The Yes Men; the feminist pop culture periodical Bitch Magazine; and the Buckmeister Fuller Institute, a non-profit working to “deeply influence the ascendance of a new generation of design-science pioneers who are leading the creation of an abundant and restorative world economy that benefits all humanity,” its web-site says.

For the Ad Hoc crew, the set-up has both practical and psychological benefits, Ars Magna owner Allana Taranto told the Gazette.

“It’s really great to not be in isolation,” she said, “to have a supportive community of other entrepreneurs.”

“In film, most folks have their own editing suite, but I would rather be in a space like this, surrounded by other artists. If I need space, I come in at night,” Francese said.

“Working for yourself, you are putting a lot of faith and trust in your abilities,” said Matt Hakola of Lux Umbra—who used to rent studio space in Allston. “The work you draw is a matter of if you are going to be in business tomorrow.”

In that context, the moral support of being surrounded by people who are in the same boat is a plus. he said. The other business owners are also a source for advice on things like billing and how to charge for travel.

And the set-up allows collaborations on projects like Spear’s recent holiday card photo shoot for his business. Taranto shot the pictures in Hakola’s space and Francese filmed it as a promotional piece for the Thinkside web site. “We were all talking about branding and brand exposure. It is so seamless we don’t even think about it,” Taranto said.

“We are not operating as an agency for one client, but we can function as an agency,” she said.

The upper stories of the 128 Brookside building is right in the middle of property owned by the last industrial interest in the once-thriving industrial zone—Carlysle Engineering—an industrial fire safety equipment company. The upper stories of the building are taken up by art studios these days.

While they get along with their neighbors—they met many of the artists upstairs during Jamaica Plain Open Studios in September and they trade a Carlysle employee parking space in exchange for snow-plowing in the winter—the Ad Hoc group said they see themselves as distinct from both of those camps.

“We are all tradespeople in that we make something for a client,” Spears said.

But, on a practical level, Mauer said, “When we were clearing out the space, there are things like having to seal the ceiling because dust is not cool for photography…This is a radical shift from what was here before.”

And that shift, even if it proves to be a temporary blip, may have have left a mark, he said. Ad Hoc has already moved some office furniture to the buildings basement, alongside carriage wheels from the buildings original incarnation and molds from when 128 Brookside was apparently a machine shop.

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