HARTFORD — Real Art Ways has announced plans to purchase and redevelop the building it calls home.
The nonprofit arts organization — which features a cinema and art galleries — has long been leasing space at the historic Underwood Typewriter Factory located at 56 Arbor St. By the end of the year, it expects to close on a $4 million purchase of the building.
Along with that comes a vision of a $14.7 million redevelopment and expansion of the property that would increase the nonprofit’s offerings.
“Real Art Ways has found our permanent home,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of Real Art Ways. “Purchasing 56 Arbor St. lays the foundation for the economic, artistic and community future of Real Art Ways.”
The expansion will expand its footprint from 12,000 to 25,000 square feet. That includes four cinemas compared to the single screen it has now, more educational space, a theatrical space for the performing arts, renovated exhibition spaces, a cafe, new outdoor spaces and event rental space.
“56 Arbor St. right now, the whole front of the building, is a hub for creativity, entrepreneurs, artists and creative businesses that we’re going to continue with into the future,” Wilkins said. “We’re also going to be adding aspects of our programming, which will add to our economic vitality. This is going to be a place where people gather and where all sorts of people from different backgrounds connect.”
Wilkins said this will expand the opportunities they can provide to young emerging artists.
“We play a unique role in Connecticut, in the capital city and in the neighborhood,” Wilkins said. “That combination of community and artistic excellence is unique to Real Art Ways. That tradition of working with younger artists early in their careers is essential to Real Art Ways and it segues into our ties into the community and giving young people an opportunity to be as creative as they can possibly be.”
Artist and Real Art Ways board member Olu Oguibe said the arts center has a strong reputation with artists beyond Connecticut.
“When I moved to Connecticut 18 years ago from New York to teach at UConn, Real Art Ways was a natural professional and social home for me,” Oguibe said. “I already knew its reputation from New York and from London where I lived before. Many of the artists from around the country that I have worked with got their first opportunities at Real Art Ways. It helped launch their careers.”
Oguibe said he can see the role Real Art Ways plays in teaching and preparing young artists in the area.
“It isn’t just giving them an opportunity to exhibit here. Real Art Ways was always providing internships for our art students at UConn,” Oguibe said. “Many of my graduate students ... they got their first jobs as curators. That’s very important to acknowledge. It’s a wonderful thing that Real Art Ways is getting the opportunity to move to a different phase in its history by acquiring this wonderful historical building.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said expanding the facility allows Real Art Ways to broaden its presence in the community.
“This is a really exciting day for the city of Hartford,” Bronin said. “Real Art Ways has been for so many years a vital force in our community. It is a convener. It is a center of creativity. It is a center of community. It is a place where artists and lovers of art come to share. It’s one of the few places in the city where everybody in the city feels at home. That is one of the things that is most beautiful about Real Art Ways.”
Bronin added he’s excited about what the expansion will bring to the burgeoning Parkville area of Hartford.
“This is a really big deal,” Bronin said. “It’s a powerful accelerator of what the city is trying to do and what we’re all trying to do in Parkville and in Hartford. We have seen a tremendous amount of growth. Real Art Ways was a major catalyst here in Parkville long before we started to pick up this energy.”
Real Art Ways said it is working with Providence-based DBVW Architects of the renovation, which they anticipate will begin in the fall of 2022 and take two years to complete. The renovation, they said, will create 120 temporary construction jobs. The nonprofit also expects the expansion to hire an additional nine full-time employees and 16 part-time workers.