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September 29, 2023

Hartford’s Real Art Ways anticipates 2024 launch of $23M overhaul after securing state grant

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Executive Director Will Wilkins stands in front of Real Art Ways’ 56 Arbor St. home, which it purchased and plans to renovate as part of a major expansion. It has been allocated $9 million from the Community Investment Fund.

With the recent announcement of a $9.1 million state grant, Hartford-based Real Art Ways is looking forward to launching a $23 million overhaul to its roughly 83,000-square-foot building next year. 

The contemporary arts and cinema group was among 21 municipalities and nonprofits whose applications for grants were endorsed by the state’s Community Investment Fund 2030 board on Tuesday. 

Those grants, totalling $101.3 million, still require an endorsement by Gov. Ned Lamont. But they are unlikely to meet any challenge. 

Real Art Ways has been a pillar of Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood since the nonprofit began leasing a space in a former manufacturing office on Arbor Street in 1995. 

Real Art Ways bought the 83,000-square-foot building at 56 Arbor St. for $4.1 million two years ago. Today, it occupies about 13,000 square feet and leases the remainder of the space to 90 tenants. Those include a mix of for-profit companies and nonprofits, largely centered around arts or creative industries.

Plans for renovation include putting a new roof on the 1917-vintage building; increasing from one to four cinemas; adding educational space for classes and workshops; adding a 3,500-square-foot performing arts space; creating a comfortable cafe; and renovating galleries, offices and studios. 

A rendering of Real Art Ways' expanded and renovated Hartford campus following a $23 million redevelopment that is expected to begin next spring.

The project involves a roughly 7,000-square-foot addition to the existing building. 

“So, there’s going to be a lot more activity,” said Executive Director Will Wilkins. “It will be a generator of economic activity.” 

Between the CIF grant, historic tax credits, a prior state grant and fundraising, Real Art Ways is within about $2.5 million of its project budget, Wilkins said Thursday. 

With the CIF funds nearly secured, Real Art Ways is “very optimistic” it will be able to begin construction in late spring or early summer of next year, Wilkins said. 

The renewed and expanded facility will allow Real Art Ways to become even more involved in the community and serve a broader audience with more programming, Wilkins said. 

“Our visibility with our project is going to change,” WIlkins said. “We are going to be a much more visible organization and people are going to get a sense of what an excellent organization exists in this place.” 

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