GOING OUT IN STYLE, PT. 1 Math the Band. [Photo by Tod Seelie]
“We weren’t here for the beginning, but we’re here for the end — so let’s tear the fucking walls down!”
So screamed the lead singer of NYC band Unstoppable Death Machines between songs at Building 16’s final show on Saturday, November 23. His heart was in the right place, but he probably didn’t realize he was standing in a sea of people who would much rather see the walls stay intact. The packed show marked the end of nearly a decade of concerts and events at one of Providence’s most beloved DIY venues.
Building 16 is part of the Paragon Mills complex on Manton Avenue, a group of eleven brick industrial buildings that were once home to textile manufacturers, the most recent of which was Artcraft Braid. That company began renting the space to a group of former Brown students in 2004, and it’s since been home to a rotating cast of artists, musicians, and creators — a fixture in the Olneyville arts community.
That era began to come to an end over the summer, though, when Building 16’s most recent tenants received an eviction notice in July from Olneyville Housing Corporation (OHC), the nonprofit that purchased the Paragon Mills complex in 2011. OHC, a community development organization founded in 1988 with the mission of revitalizing the neighborhood, bought the complex with the intent of restoring and redeveloping the buildings for commercial use. When OHC thought they’d secured a suitable tenant, they told the folks at Building 16 they’d have to be out by December 1.
“We’ve been on the chopping block for a long time,” says former tenant Tatyana Yanishevsky, an artist and engineer who’s shared the studio space at Building 16 since 2007. The living situation there has been precarious at best, she says, both because the building is not currently zoned for residential use and because OHC made it clear that she and her three housemates were temporary tenants. But for Yanishevsky and her roommates, this makes the eviction no less frustrating or confusing. As former tenant Angela DiVeglia puts it, “[Building 16] is so valuable for our community, but there is nothing lucrative about a place like this.”
In other words, in its current arts collective incarnation, Building 16 will never generate the money OHC needs in order to make good on their plans to redevelop the property and bring the buildings up to code. Says OHC executive director Frank Shea, “Our goal for the building is to develop it in a way that attracts companies that will be more likely to offer jobs to residents of the neighborhood, or organizations that offer services to the neighborhood.” But as the head of an organization that very publicly supports the arts in Olneyville, Shea acknowledges the eviction of Building 16’s tenants creates a bit of a quagmire. “You can only pick so many missions to accomplish, and at the same time live in a world where banks and investors and the people who provide capital for what you do end up being satisfied,” he says. “So we feel like we’re doing the best we can.”