It took a while, but it seems as if the former Harwich Middle School has found its purpose.
In January, with Community Center Director Carolyn Carey acting as de facto manager, artists and craftspersons began leasing space in the capacious building. Now, in some 28 classrooms and other spaces, including the former industrial arts shop in the basement, a thriving creative community exists. In a way, throwing open the vacant classrooms was a shot in the dark, which has paid off both in establishing a vibrant scene and generating revenue. Who knew there was such a demand?
This weekend, the doors of the new Harwich Cultural Center will open to the public in an open house stretching from Thursday to Saturday. Many of the artists who rent former classrooms will be on hand to talk to residents and demonstrate their art. The graphic artist who leases the former industrial arts space will print broadsides for attendees as keepsakes. There will also be a display about the Cape Verdean museum planned for an as-yet-undefined location in the building, and a marketplace for vintage and handmade items in the former cafeteria.
The former school is also being used frequently for educational and recreational programs and other activities, breathing life into what has been a dark spot on the Harwich municipal building map. Affordable housing was the top choice of voters in a referendum question on the future of the building held in 2016, with cultural and recreational uses coming in second. The housing option, while laudable, is a long slog, and perhaps should not be dismissed entirely. The cultural center, however, is here now, required a minimal amount of resources and time, and is making the town money, at least to cover insurance and utility costs of the building. As long as the demand is there, it seems the best use for the retired school, creating a new cultural beacon for the town. We encourage residents to check it out over the weekend, and see how good ideas can blossom under the right circumstances.