The Cogswell School in Haverhill sat abandoned for years awaiting its next owner. Then, in 2014 Creative Haverhill, an organization fighting to gain a foothold in the community, began the process of purchasing the property.
When the old school was listed for sale, Erin Padilla, the executive director of Creative Haverhill, knew she had a chance to bring her big vision to life. “The building itself plays such an important historical role in Haverhill; we knew we didn’t want to see it torn down and shifted into condos,” Padilla says. “With Creative Haverhill operating from here, this elementary school will keep much of its history preserved.”
Without a designated space, Creative Haverhill operated like a free agent, hopping from one location to another. The organization partnered with local schools and businesses to host events but felt incapable of fostering a profound impact on the art community without structured opportunities or offerings. “Ultimately,” Padilla says, “we knew that our growth was limited without a physical space. The Cogswell project has been our primary focus for years because it truly unlocks a new level of community involvement for our organization.”
To that end, Padilla mobilized a multifaceted effort to acquire the building. The key elements were reaching an agreement with the city and raising money to afford costly renovations, program creations, and the expansion of staff at Creative Haverhill to include teachers and administrative employees.
Though the purchase is done, fundraising continues, nearing Padilla’s goal of completion by 2022. The organization currently has raised more than $2 million out of the required $2.8 million. The price tag seems hefty, but Padilla points to the extensive renovations needed for the 21,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1891. The basement and the first and second floors of the two-story building require numerous upgrades in order to function as an art space and to ensure that the building can be utilized again after sitting unused and forgotten for almost a decade.
Padilla’s plans for Cogswell ArtSpace are lofty, but she believes the former school will serve the community for years to come. “We are going to bring massive amounts of programs and rentable spaces for local artists at extremely affordable rates,” she says. “We are going to have rentable artist spaces, gallery space, mixed-use class studios, youth program classrooms, ceramic studios, printmaking spaces, a woodworking studio, and so much more.”
Haverhill resident Mark Hayden knows all about the arts and their importance to the city. He has been a full-time professional artist since 1982 and has been connected with many local nonprofits linked to the arts. He sees a huge opportunity for Haverhill. “The city does a lot of things really well,” he says. “We have so many restaurants and bars — it’s great for young people trying to get out for the night — but we need more. Art has taught me how to follow my own intuition, and there are many lessons to learn for others if we are able to foster Creative Haverhill and help it grow.”
With the Cogswell project nearing completion, Haverhill can expect vast growth in its art scene, a development that’s already apparent in many of the murals and street art that are being produced. “We are planning fun events and partnerships with other local organizations after our opening,” Padilla says. “There will be something for everyone, and you never know, a gallery night could be the spark you need to come and appreciate art in a new way.”
Hayden offered a simple suggestion: “Lean into this organization and project. It is going to do incredible good for Haverhill as a whole.” Creative Haverhill is still seeking cash donations or volunteers if you would like to get involved.