Updated: UMass Dartmouth arts programs to leave New Bedford, return to Dartmouth

Aug 14, 2023

UMass Dartmouth’s Visual and Performing Arts program will leave downtown New Bedford after two decades in the historic Star Store Building, according to a letter from Chancellor Mark Fuller to staff and faculty. 

The announcement comes after the state’s budget was finalized on Aug. 9 and did not include funding for the space. Since 2001, state funding fully covered the costs to remain in the Star Store.

“The news is devastating, for a lot of different reasons,” said Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts A. Lawrence Jenkens. “We’ve been in that location since 2001 … we were an anchor institution for the revival of the arts and culture district [in New Bedford].”

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell blamed the university’s decision-making and planning skills in a statement Monday. 

“The notion that the University’s decision ultimately hinged on whether a particular line item was included in the new state budget strains credulity,” the statement read.

State Senator Mark Montigny criticized the university and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which handles state properties.

“The 20-year lease contained a $1 purchase option for the university that was repeatedly ignored by DCAMM and UMass,” Montigny said in a statement. “I am deeply dissapointed that DCAMM and the university neglected multiple opportunities to meet their basic responsibility to protect taxpayers and students by failing to secure the building.”

State Representative Christopher Markey, by contrast, said in a statement that he appreciates why the university decided to “re-center the CVPA on campus,” and that neither the legislature or the university can be blamed. 

The studio arts programs in the Star Store served about 200 students. The building also featured studio spaces for students and galleries for community and student exhibitions.

As of Aug. 14, school programs and classes will begin relocating, likely to the Visual and Performing Arts building on UMass Dartmouth’s main campus. 

“It’s very hard for us to go and it’s very difficult for us logistically to go,” Jenkens said. 

The move will be especially hard on graduate students without the studio space downtown, which also situates them in the middle of a vibrant artistic region. 

Molly Frackleton, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from CVPA in 2018, wonders where all of the studio supplies and equipment will actually go without the Star Store location. 

“Some of the majors at [Star Store] need special studios to work in [because] of tables and supplies and specific venting for chemicals used in certain classes,” Frackleton said in a direct message. “Is main campus CVPA completely changing to make room for all these majors?”

While the change might not be as impactful to incoming students, Frackleton said, current students “will definitely be impacted.” She worries that students won’t have the same opportunities to participate in New Bedford’s monthly AHA! nights, and that the downtown New Bedford art scene will shrink. 

“It was such a staple of being a CVPA student,” Frackleton said.

M. Cicero, who received a BFA in Art Education from CVPA in 2014, said they “loved the space and easy access to [New Bedford’s] trash” but “hated the travel back and forth” between New Bedford and Dartmouth campuses, especially having to take the shuttle. 

Jenkens said the school aims to meet the same standards of education and community participation even without the historic building and location. 

“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m going to do away with anything,” Jenkens said. “We are committed to starting this semester, and students that were scheduled to take semesters at the Star Store will have them somewhere else.”

The letter to faculty said the school is in the process of “securing some temporary classrooms to help mitigate the pressure” on the existing instructional space. 

The program did not leave without exhausting every option in the hopes of staying in place, the letter stated. However, without state funding, the school can not afford to maintain and update the building to be suited for the program, aside from the cost of tenancy. 

“It’s heartbreaking to leave this wonderful facility that has formed a vibrant nexus for the arts at the heart of downtown,” Fuller said in the letter. 

Jenkens said the art community has come to rely on the Star Store’s presence; many of the younger people in that population went to school there. The school will need to figure out how to maintain its connection with New Bedford, he said. 

“We're going to emerge from this,” Jenkens said. “We will look a little bit different … but we'll remain a cultural force in the region.”