Arts & Culture Featured

NEMPAC Unveils Renovations to Prado Building & Hull St. Space to Foster Sense of Home for Artists

Where is home for you? The North End Music & Performing Arts Center (NEMPAC) calls the city of Boston home.

While our geographical footprint throughout the state’s capital has certainly grown through the years, the heart of our home has always been the Prado Building. Owned by the George Robert White Foundation, this 1940s bathhouse is nestled within the North End’s Paul Revere Mall. At 570 square feet, the Prado Building houses both an administrative office and private studios.

As you may know, the Prado Building is gifted to NEMPAC for a single dollar per year through the George Robert White Fund, White’s $5,000,000 charitable donation entrusted to the City of Boston. We’re humbled beyond measure to play a small part in carrying out White’s legacy of community enrichment and engagement.

The guiding principle of the fund is to cultivate public beauty. Here at NEMPAC, we take this tenet very seriously and are driven by a quest to ensure that the quality of our instructional spaces mirror the quality of arts instruction imparted to our family of musicians and performers.

In this spirit, we couldn’t be more delighted to announce the completion of renovations to enhance the Prado Building as a hub of creativity and vibrance for artists of all ages and abilities. Funded by the state of Massachusetts and NEMPAC’s capital campaign, the transformed space will empower our network of artists to immerse themselves in their musical journeys even more fully.

Renovations to the Prado Building were made on both the acoustic and aesthetic fronts.

First, we knew we needed to tackle the space’s sound-proofing issues. As a washhouse, the Prado Building is complete with brick walls and concrete floors throughout. At the same time, enrollment in private music instruction has steadily grown through the years. We’ve also witnessed a profound increase in the number of students studying brass instruments and drums, both of which boast a percussive quality.

This combination of the Prado’s physical makeup and increased enrollment in the study of brass instruments and drums, created acoustic challenges within the space. To enhance the noise isolation within the private studios, we contracted with WonderSmith Audio, a Boston-based acoustic renovation and design firm.

Daniel Fox, WonderSmith Audio’s owner, shed light on the role of the acoustic treatment in making the space more enriching for artists.

“It’s about making that space more comfortable and more usable for music making and music education. Sound proofing means noise transmission, or making it so sound doesn’t get out or come into a room from external spaces. When you have a hard surface like brick, concrete, drywall, or plaster, sound is just bouncing everywhere in those rooms and contributes to a very loud, dense feeling. Singing or speaking in room like that can be exhausting, and it’s harder to understand the words coming out of someone’s mouth with the reverberation. To reduce base frequencies and target the kind of mid-range frequencies where most instruments and the human voice resides, we built acoustic treatments on the walls using semi-rigid fiberglass, which has sound-absorptive properties.”

The enhancements didn’t just stop there. We also tackled the space’s overall aesthetic.

Fox went on to explain,

“Aesthetics do matter. Generally speaking, we don’t want to be making music or engaging in art in a space that feels like an institution. That’s why when you’re inside a recording studio or performance venue, you’ll often see warm lighting, colors, and textures that enhance the experience.”

To imbue an even more innovative atmosphere in the space, we worked with WonderSmith Audio to experiment with our light bulbs as a way to bolster the color temperature of the private studios. In addition, we adorned the acoustic paneling in bold, bright colored-fabric to invite energy and enthusiasm into the practice rooms.

We also made significant investments in the Prado Building’s office equipment, studio furniture, and instrument inventory. These investments included, but were not limited to:

  • Four new Casio keyboards with accompanying headsets, which will be used for group music instruction
  • One Yamaha digital keyboard
  • Six soprano-sized ukuleles, along with tuners and music stands, for adult programming
  • One Yamaha full-size drum set
  • Two Mac desktop computers for staff members to streamline recordkeeping and cloud sharing
  • New reception chairs for parents, guardians and community members to gather (only once NEMPAC opens its facilities to the public in accordance with Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker’s reopening guidelines) as their children and teens participate in private and group music instruction

We invested in wireless microphones and a PA system for outdoor performances.

Sherri Snow, NEMPAC’s executive director, explained the rationale behind these purchases.

“We invested in this equipment for the purposes of supporting our performance-driven programming for both youth and adults. Specifically, the mics will be used by the Music Theatre Troupe in their winter and spring main-stage productions, as well as to support student performances outdoors. The mics will also be used in the future by professional visiting artists who may be performing outdoors, as we have many fundraisers and concerts where we were renting this equipment in the past. These were a great investment and give us more flexibility in our budget, especially as we plan for new innovative programming that will support guidelines, as well as health and safety policies, under COVID-19.”

In addition to renovating the Prado Building, we also moved forward with improvements to NEMPAC’s second home—the Hull Street space. We are humbled by owner East Boston Community Development Corporation’s generosity in leasing this facility to us at an amazing price that enables us to keep tuition costs affordable.

While the Prado Studios renovation centered on enriching student experiences in private music instruction, improvements to the Hull Street space focused on honing in-house music education courses in our community music school, specifically in the discipline of dance.

Over the past couple of years, we’re proud to say that our community’s interest in group instruction, as well as creative movement programming, has soared. Prior to the global public health crisis, we were using the space all seven days per week on average! In response to community demand for these types of programs, we enhanced the Hull Street space with wall mirrors, hardwood flooring, as well as a dance bar.

As an organization that prides itself on serving artists of all ages and abilities, we also renovated the space’s early childhood music corner, as well as the choral area (that’s now complete with early childhood instruments, yoga mats, and carpeting, as well as 24 choral chairs and accompanying music stands respectively!)

Last but certainly not least, we installed a wireless doorbell system to streamline the pickup and drop-off process for parents and guardians.

Renovations to both the Prado Building and the Hull Street space were empowered by the generosity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Office of Tourism and Special Events. Last year, this office made a major contribution that funded the renovations to these spaces and launched NEMPAC’s “The Next Act” capital campaign, an initiative to fund the expansion of our geographic footprint in the North End by opening a state-of-the art community space on Tileston Street. Slated to open its doors this spring 2021, Tileston Music Center will serve as a gathering place and hub of creativity for the public to convene through music and performing arts.

When asked how renovations to the Prado Studios and the Hull Street space will facilitate NEMPAC’s mission, Snow replied,

“With our institutional fundraising growth, we are fortunate that we have the ability to make these improvements. The improvements will allow us to maintain facilities that match the high quality of our programming. Our community is deserving of a warm, welcoming, quality space to participate in music, theatre, or dance programming. To encourage our students to get the most out of lessons, and have the best creative experience possible, these improvements were necessary, important, and valuable. I know our community members will feel at home in our renovated spaces.”

To learn more about NEMPAC, please visit www.nempacboston.org.

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