NISDA Nears Completion Of Seaview Farm Renovation Project In Wauwinet
JohnCarl McGrady •
The Nantucket Island School of Design and the Arts (NISDA) has reached the final stages of a seven-year-long renovation of its historic Seaview Farm property in Wauwinet. The repairs, covered in part by four grants from the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), are intended to preserve the property, which includes grain silos and a barn.
“Once it's done, you can never change it. It’s in perpetuity,” NISDA founder Kathy Kelm said. “We’re glad...because we want it that way too.”
The repairs funded by the CPC include new insulation, shingles, roofing, windows and barn doors, and new vents in the main building. In addition, NISDA is funding more extensive renovations including a new septic system, new flooring, and a new ceramics studio.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the renovations dramatically, but NISDA believes they will be done by next Summer and hopes to return the farm to its full capacity in 2023. NISDA also hopes to put solar one at least one building, a 100-foot-long shed facing directly south.
“The solar would really take care of all the energy needs for the farm,” administrator Denese Allen said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
NISDA is also in the midst of a second construction project. Their decades-old artist residency program was temporarily interrupted in recent years as NISDA sold its properties at the corner of Washington and Francis streets to the Land Bank.
NISDA had owned the cottages for decades, but the increasing number of coastal flooding events and the interest from the town prompted Kelm to consider selling them. A portion of the property was sold in 2018 to the Land Bank, and the final piece was transferred earlier this year, closing for a total of $4.3 million. Six of the cottages – the ones closest to the water that had sustained the most damaged from flooding – were demolished in 2019.
“The reality was between the frequent flooding and then the fact that that road really did need to be widened for the good of the community...it had to happen,” Kelm said. Still, she admitted that it was hard to see them go. “My heart kind of hurts,” she said.
NISDA relocated the two remaining cottages, which were less damaged by flooding than the others, to 55 Wauwinet Road, a property it owns down the street from its main campus. Once the repairs to those buildings are completed, the residency program will resume. Kelm and her staff are optimistic that the relocation is for the better.
“When you get here, it’s so peaceful,” said administrator Laura Herhold. “I think our location is actually growing in value to people because it’s a place where you can get away from all of the hubbub and energy, and you can calm down and just be in a really peaceful setting.”
“People love to get away from how intense everything is in town,” Kelm agreed.
None of this restoration will fundamentally change the appearance of NISDA’s buildings, and when they reopen, they will bring the same unique atmosphere and passion to their work that they have since 1975—which over the years has attracted well-known artists including Buckminster Fuller and Bread and Puppet Theatre.
“One of the charms of NISDA is when you walk through that door of the barn, we constantly get that feedback ‘of my gosh, it hasn’t changed,’” Allen said. “So many things on Nantucket have changed, and we’ve just stayed the way we are.”
This commitment to authenticity is something NISDA is proud of, and they think their unique, historic location helps them facilitate it.
“This has been so perfect,” Kelm said. “It’s a place people love to come to.”
Before acquiring the farm in 1981, NISDA bounced around the island, renting rooms in the Coffin School, Academy Hill, and several private residencies. For two years, Kelm and her team worked tirelessly on plans to use a building in the old Navy base at Tom Nevers, only for the Navy to pull the plug at the last second. It was then, with only months before their summer students arrived, that NISDA, desperate for any building they could use, stumbled across Seaview Farm.
“And guess what happened to that little building we were supposed to get out at the Navy base?” Kelm asked. “It fell into the ocean!”
Before they bought the cottages on Washington Street, they also struggled to find housing for their artists, at one point renting bunks in the lightship docked in the harbour. But the lightship was also a museum, and the students had to open their doors in the morning when visitors came.
“There were mornings where I’d be pretty tired,” recounted Herhold, who was a student at that time, “and I remember once lying there and hoping no one would notice me, and there was this family standing at the door, and this little girl goes ‘is that person alive, or is that a mannequin?’ And I’m just lying there like ‘please go away.’”
When the lightship was sold, NISDA acquired the cottages they used for almost forty years. Now, a new day is dawning on Seaview Farm, but NISDA’s passion for art hasn’t changed—and many of the people are the same as well.