Artist shanties get the boot in Newburyport

BRYAN EATON/Staff Photo. The five artist shanties adjacent to the embayment area at Newburyport's waterfront are on land owned by the Waterfront Trust and may have to be moved.

NEWBURYPORT — The five wooden artists' shanties which popped up on the west side of Waterfront Park over the weekend will be moved after Waterfront Trust officials learned the structures were on its property without permission.

Four, 6-by-8-foot shanties and one, 8-by-12-foot structure make up the Newburyport Arts & Culture Shanty Program. All five were delivered to the west side of Waterfront Park Saturday morning, on the grass between the parking lot and embayment boardwalk. 

But four of the five shanties sit on property owned by the Newburyport Waterfront Trust, while the fifth is on Newburyport Redevelopment Association land.

Waterfront Trust chairman Steve Hines said he received a phone call Saturday morning telling him the shanties were on Waterfront Trust property and he was "not too happy" about it.

"The trust does not have room for them on our property," Hines said. "Maybe the NRA might entertain putting them on their property. But they will be dissolved soon,” referring to a move by the city to dissolve the authority.

The shanties are intended to house a rotating lineup of artists and craftspeople who can work and display their wares inside.

“This is not what the waterfront is all about,” Hines said. “We spent thousands of dollars to fill in that area and put in an irrigation system. They will be removed shortly and we expect that any damage will be repaired by the city."

The shanties are a collaboration involving the city, local arts organizations and BLB Custom Builders and were funded by a $30,000 grant from the Essex County Community Foundation and the Barr Foundation.

The Firehouse Center for the Arts is the lead organization working on the program, Board president Lois Honegger said on Wednesday the current situation is the result of a "colossal mistake."

"I was mistakenly lead to believe that that piece of property belonged to the NRA," she said. "In reality, it wasn't and that is my mistake. I should have researched it more fully and we will be moving them as soon as we possibly can."

Honegger also works as Mayor Donna Holaday’s executive aide and was dealing with a death in the family when the shanties arrived in the city over the weekend.

"I happened to be down (on the waterfront) Saturday, I looked up and the shanties were here," Holaday said. "They were completed and arrived earlier than we anticipated. We had not resolved the site location yet."

Holaday apologized for the mix-up and said the shanties will be removed as soon as possible.

"This all happened a little sooner than we had anticipated and were prepared for," she said. "We will certainly work with the NRA and the Waterfront Trust in getting them to a place where they will work out."

Hines added that a "lack of communication and knowledge of our property lines" is the best way to sum up the situation.

"We spent a lot of money to keep the waterfront nice, free and open," Hines said. "It doesn't need to be cluttered."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan can be reached via email at jsullivan@salemnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.