By Rachael Scarborough King
Providence Phoenix | June 15, 2005
It seems only natural that the Hive Archive, a collective of women artists located in Providence, would settle on a beehive-shaped building as its new permanent home. After several years of searching and fund-raising, the group now owns a former gas storage facility on Manton Street in Olneyville. The strange building, which consists of one triangular structure and one circular structure wedged together, will serve as a work and exhibition space for the collective, featuring performances, classes, and community space for female artists.
The Hive was founded in 2000 following the collapse of Fort Thunder, the fabled artists’ collective that was evicted from a mill building in Eagle Square. Arts impresario Sara Agniel, a Hive board member, says this event drew attention to the need for permanent artists’ spaces and to the predominantly male nature of many existing artists’ groups. “There was this overarching sense of, damn it, there is still this great disparity,” she recalls.
The Hive identifies as a feminist group, and Agniel says that many of its creative and business decisions are deliberate efforts to advance the cause of gender equality. The group raised $100,000 to buy the building, in 2003. Another $100,000 has been raised for construction and renovation. The group is currently accepting bids for work, and construction is expected to start early this fall.
While many mill complexes in Olneyville are being redeveloped, the area continues to draw for artists due to its low rents and historic structures. Agniel says there are only three former storage facilities – called gasometers – like the Hive’s left in the state. The building was originally used to store gas for the Atlantic Mills complex across the street, and then as a bead storage facility before going vacant. “It gives you a sense of the past, the historical use of this area in the 19th century,” Agniel says. “It’s nice to have this building coming back to life.”
While renovations continue, the Hive continues to partner with groups like AS220, the RISD Museum, and the Perishable Theatre to encourage a female perspective in their programming. Agniel says the Hive sponsors at least one event a month, including workshops, panels, group critiques, and collaborative exhibitions with local museums. Currently, the group–s main project is collaborating with the Providence Art Club for a statewide exhibition of female contemporary artists next spring.
The Gasometer building stored gas that was collected as a by product from manufacturing processes used the rest of the Atlantic Delaine and Riverside Mills. The gas could then be distributed back into the factories and also to some of the surrounding homes. Many large mill complexes used gasometers, but there are now only three left in the state.
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