Most Burlington residents have heard of the South End Arts and Business Association: SEABA organizes the annual South End Art Hop and spends the rest of the year promoting the Pine Street corridor’s growing throng of artists and small, creative businesses. Few members of the public, though, venture to the organization’s headquarters, which executive director Roy Feldman describes as “tucked away” behind Switchback Brewery off Flynn Avenue, in the Vermont Hardware Company complex.
That will change in early October when SEABA moves to the Howard Space — the group of buildings on Pine between Marble and Howard streets. The new location, bookended by Fresh Market and Speeder & Earl’s Coffee, will make the organization far more visible and accessible to residents and tourists alike. (The venue has been occupied for several years by Pine Street Art Works; owner Liza Cowan is moving down the street to the Soda Plant, where she’ll set up a new, downsized business, called Small Equals, as part of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery.)
While SEABA’s new home will include its business office, its main purpose, says Feldman, will be “disseminating cultural information” to the public. Staff will direct visitors to cultural events not only in the South End but throughout Burlington — including ones at the Fleming Museum and the Firehouse Gallery — and the region.
“It will be like a way to walk into the Seven Days arts calendar,” Feldman quips. “We’re hoping to provide as much information as we can.”
As a one-stop info forum and welcome center, the new SEABA office will be unique in town. Currently, says Feldman, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, Burlington City Arts and a small kiosk on Church Street each offer only selected cultural listings.
The new SEABA space will also contain a members’ gallery, Feldman says, and facilities for art classes and talks. And it will have a “didactic aspect” — a display that documents the South End’s 40-year history of transformation from a manufacturing district to an arts and small-business, postindustrial incubator complex.
That shift began with the Howard Space building SEABA has chosen for its new home. The former brush-manufacturing plant lay vacant, like many of its industrial neighbors, from the 1950s until the early ’70s, when local developer Ray Unsworth bought it with the idea of providing low-rent commercial space for start-up businesses. (Ray’s daughter, Karen Unsworth, now manages the complex for Unsworth Properties Inc.) Lake Champlain Chocolates and Conant Metal & Light both got their start at Howard Space.
Since then, many of the area’s vacated warehouses, factories and distribution centers have been transformed into affordable — and aesthetically desirable — office and studio rental spaces, including the Maltex Building and Soda Plant on Pine Street and the Flynndog and Vermont Hardware Company complexes on Flynn. A Seven Days story prior to last year’s Art Hop detailed the past and present uses of postindustrial buildings in the South End.
SEABA’s mission to advocate for the South End’s thriving creative economy will be well served by its move, says Feldman. Though it won’t take place until after next month’s Art Hop, which happens September 10 and 11, the new center will be across the street from the Maltex Building — the hub of the Hop this year. Notes Feldman, “We’re stepping front and center.”