When artist Shep Abbott, co-author of the 1984 cannibal horror movie C.H.U.D., returned from New York to his hometown, Gloucester, he never intended to become the savior of Cape Ann youth. But, in 1994, when a group of artists renting a storefront below his film-and-video studio were evicted, he offered them space he'd leased on the building's third floor. Suddenly, local bands had a place to play, and the crowd they attracted was very young.
In 1995, Abbott and company used the facility to create a free art school to serve low-income teens. They called the place Fishtown Artspace. Abbott became the project's director and president. He applied for 501(c)(3) non-profit status and received a series of grants over the years that allowed him to expand the program to include a summer art camp and afternoon teaching programs that provided art education to teens.
“Having an open door for teenagers, without a lot of rules, is kind of a new idea,” Abbott says. “The reason it worked is we were catering to what they wanted to do and they had very particular ideas. They had their own rules and they always worked.”
Sadly, what has since become an integral part of the Gloucester’s teen community and a mecca for area musicians is closing for lack of funds.
In 2002, Fishtown Artspace relocated to larger (3000-square-foot) quarters at 50 Maplewood Avenue, in a neighborhood closer to the city’s low-income housing projects. That year, the city of Gloucester even contributed $30,000 for capital repairs to renovate the facility’s building, which soon housed several stages, music studios, and even a movie-screening room. Gloucester officials followed that with $10,000 to fund more after-school activities for low-income kids.
This year, however, that money dried up. Abbott explored all of the grant sources that help spaces such as his, but the city ponied up nothing to help out. He put out a series of pleas for assistance from the community, but, ultimately, nothing more could be done, and Abbott made the difficult decision to close down the popular community focal point he’d worked so hard to create. “I’m sorry that I can’t keep running it, but I am looking forward to being an artist again,” he says.
Fishtown Artspace will go out with a bang this Saturday, August 18, with a New Orleans–style wake. Starting at noon, there will be a garage sale to sell off art supplies, a PA system, and other musical equipment left behind over the years, followed by a barbeque, a silent auction, and a closing performance featuring solo artists from Artspace’s history, capped by a set from the North Shore four-piece the Benedict Arnolds, who first played the space nearly a decade ago.