These Two Women Are Building An Arts Hub In Worcester And Found Empowerment Among Female Entrepreneurs In The Process

By Aviva Luttrell MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Two Massachusetts women are creating a dynamic arts hub in Worcester which will include creative offices, a visual arts maker space, a classroom space with educational programming for local youth and an art gallery.

MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.

It all started with two women who had an idea.

Now, three years later, Laura Marotta and her wife, Stacy Lord, have obtained nearly all of the $8.1 million in funding that it's going to take to transform the former Ionic Avenue Boys Club into a hub for the arts in Worcester.

Marotta and Lord hope to close out the financing of their capital campaign by the end of the year and begin construction with an opening date of spring 2020.

Through that process, they've joined a community of female entrepreneurs in the city, becoming more confident and empowered during the age of the #MeToo movement, when the narrative around women is changing.

"Real women lift up other women, that's so important," Marotta said. "We're all dealing with and facing the same types of adversity in our lives."

They said traditionally, women have been taught that it's bad to make others feel uncomfortable. But with the need to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the facility, Marotta said she's become less afraid to speak up and push back.

"I don't feel like I'm in a box anymore where I have to protect people from anything, people don't step around us and especially in the world that we're in, the fundraising world, there's no tip toeing," she said. "When I was growing up, I never wanted to disappoint anybody -- you have to take that out of it. You have to learn that this is not your personal life, this is not a friend thing, this is something that you're building and that you have to convince people, no matter what, that this is going to happen."

The 1914 building, once home to thousands of boys every day, will become a dynamic ecosystem of creative offices, a visual arts maker space, classroom space with educational programming for local youth, an art gallery, private studio rentals, and a rooftop event venue for creative and cultural events.

Lord said the three-year process has been a rollercoaster, and learning how to adapt became a necessity. Both she and Marotta are teachers, which they said made the process easier.

As educators, she said they learned to be flexible and juggle multiple things at the same time, assessing situations and reacting accordingly. Marotta and Lord also want to hear any and all ideas from the community, as the space is intended to be a true community hub.

"It's passion-driven and it has been since the beginning," Lord said. "If it's something you're very passionate about, you go after it with everything you have and hope for the best."

Through that process, both women said they've found more strength in their own voices.

"It's not inherently masculine to want to be powerful and want to have your voice heard and want to get to a 'yes,' and I don't want to see a future where you have to be like men, I think that's the wrong way to look at it," she said.

And once Creative Hub is complete, Marotta and Lord said it will be home to many female tenants, from weavers and event planners to dancer instructors. They hope to create an ecosystem of positivity, encouragement and creativity within the space.

"We are now mentors to young women wanting to start businesses," Lord said. "It's very empowering to see that. It's an offshoot that I wasn't expecting."

The women are now in the final stages of wrapping up their capital campaign, with $467,000 left to raise. They plan to do so, in part, through naming rights and a brick-engraving program.

"Getting the whole community involved with the fundraising aspect, too, is kind of nice," Marotta said. "We want the big fish and the small fish. We want the whole community to feel ownership of what's here."

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