HARWICH — In place of ones previously marked “Harwich Cultural Center,” new signs are now in front of the former Harwich Middle School building that read “204 Sisson Rd.”
The rebranding, which came as a surprise to some, includes a new website, www.204Sisson.com.
Town Administrator Joseph Powers said the new moniker is a better description for the facility, which has other municipal uses beyond being a cultural center.
Formerly Harwich Middle School, the building has been widely referred to as the Harwich Cultural Center since 2016. Its former classrooms now host 40 studios for artisans and crafters, and because of shared studio spaces, 44 tenants now rent studio space, Cultural Affairs Director Kara Mewhinney said.
Powers said the facility is primarily a municipal building which hosts the cultural center. The new name reflects that broader mission, he said. Powers declined to elaborate on the non-cultural uses of the building, saying he intended to bring a proposal to the board of selectmen.
“It wasn’t necessarily a cultural center,” Mewhinney said. “It was always a municipal building with an emphasis on cultural programs.”
Beyond the artists’ studios, the facility has a gymnasium used by the town’s recreation department and an auditorium and other spaces available to be rented by local nonprofit groups, clubs or businesses. Those spaces include a cafeteria, the former music room and the former library, which can accommodate groups of up to 200.
The building also has a number of outdoor spaces available for rental, including the large front lawn and the semi-enclosed courtyard.
There are also plans to reuse the former school’s kitchen for nutrition and culinary arts programs under the name Cafe 204. The kitchen requires certain modifications for that purpose and is not currently available for use, according to the facility’s website.
Bernadette Waystack, who chairs the Harwich Cultural Council, says she strongly supports the name change as a means to help give the facility a unique identity.
“The biggest concern I had was that it is constantly confused with the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth,” she said. In a conversation with that facility’s executive director, Waystack said she learned that some people show up in Yarmouth looking for programming offered in Harwich. When Harwich began calling its facility the cultural center, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod “had already established that brand,” she said.
The name change certainly does not signal any change in the town’s commitment to cultural programming at the center, Waystack said. Evidence of that is the decision to hire a full-time cultural affairs director in July. In that post, Mewhinney has demonstrated a great deal of energy and creativity, “already, in four months,” Waystack said.
Waystack said Mewhinney is expected to make a presentation to the board of selectmen on Nov. 21 to explain the rebranding.
But not all the potential uses of the old school are cultural in nature, Mewhinney said.
“Municipal offices are going to be there,” she said.
Powers has previously mentioned the possibility of using space there to house the town engineer and land surveyor positions, both of which are currently vacant.
Acting on a petition article, town meeting voters in May authorized the town to study ways to make the facility financially self-sustaining. Key to that effort is boosting rental revenue at the center. The new website, which brands the building as “The 204,” aims to “give the building an identity for rentability,” Mewhinney said. The site will post opportunities for classes and events as well, she noted.
“You’ll be able to see an up-to-date list of what’s happening in the building and how you can partake in that,” she said.
A series of open house events are being held to show off the activities at the building and its available spaces. The next one will happen on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will feature a special “holiday market” with children’s activities and a scavenger hunt, Mewhinney said.