Rendering courtesy of Contemporary Craft/GBBN.

Contemporary Craft is heading to Lawrenceville — the still-industrial section of the neighborhood, not the hip, trendy part.

The nonprofit arts organization told NEXTpittsburgh they purchased the property at 5637 Butler Street which they plan to extensively renovate. The now-vacant building was previously home to Em-Bed-It, a light industrial company that made plexiglass trophies and awards. 

The future home of Contemporary Craft on Butler St. in Upper Lawrenceville. Photo by TH Carlisle for NEXTpittsburgh.

The 13,500-square-foot, two-story building will include a 1,164-square-foot retail area, a 2,539-square-foot gallery and exhibition space and a 1,711-square-foot classroom/studio area. Most of the space — more than 10,000 square feet — will be located on the first level, while the partial upper level will house offices that overlook the space below.

“It’s really industrial, with a cool vibe to it,” says Contemporary Craft Executive Director Janet McCall. “It’s really a great setting for contemporary art.”

Anne Chen of GBBN ,who has worked with Contemporary Craft over the years, is the architect. Construction is expected to begin in June, with hopes that the building will be completed by the end of 2019. Project leaders estimate that the grand opening celebration will be in March of 2020.

McCall says they have signed a tri-party agreement with the URA and McCaffery Interests and she wants to thank Dan McCaffery for his $1.3 million donation toward their $5.5 million building campaign.

“All three parties have amicably worked out a plan for our transition from the Produce Terminal at the end of December,” she says. “We are grateful for the lease extension we received for an additional, rent-free year to allow us time to exit the Produce Terminal.”

McCall says she and her colleagues were attracted to both the possibilities of the building itself and the chance to be a part of Lawrenceville’s burgeoning arts and maker scene in Upper Lawrenceville.

“We’re very excited about the connections we can make,” says McCall. “We’re committed to access for everyone so we are just thrilled to be in a neighborhood where we have a range of people to work with.”

While McCall declined to say how much the organization paid for the building, she said the total cost of the space plus renovations will eventually come to around $5.5 million, a sum that will require further support from donors and local foundations.

While the transition at year’s end will inevitably disrupt some of their normal operations, McCall says they plan on opening pop-up locations around Lawrenceville heading into the holiday season in late 2019.

“Our goal is to remain visible and active during this transition year,” adds McCall.

The retail section in the new Lawrenceville location. Rendering by GBBN Architects.

Once settled in the new location, McCall says the organization hopes to grow their lineup of youth apprenticeships focused on creative trades like ceramics and will be looking to hiring local artist-teachers in the coming months. They are also planning a series of evening social events.

A core value is supporting artists so they can make a living,” says McCall. “There are so many ways we can do that.”

The organization has spotlighted national and international works of art in clay, fiber, wood and more since its start in 1971. It moved to its Strip District location in 1986 following more than a decade in Verona. In June of 2018, the organization announced that they had reached an agreement with McCaffery Interests to vacate their 15,000-square-foot Smallman Street location to make way for the development firm’s renovation of the Produce Terminal building.

While McCall and her colleagues will miss their home base of many years, she says being able to own a building, rather than renting, will allow Contemporary Craft to be a stable, sustainable enterprise for many generations into the future.

“For a nonprofit arts organization to sustain itself through ownership, that’s a rare thing,” notes McCall.

Exhibition space rendering by GBBN Architects.

Upper Lawrenceville is more industrial than the densely populated and trendy Lower Lawrenceville. But the neighborhood is rapidly changing. The Mews on Butler townhome development is only two blocks down, as is the recently announced expansion of Hop Farm Brewing Co. The brewery is expected to expand into the space of Arsenal Strength next door, which in turn is opening a new space just east on Butler St. in the home of a former car wash.

Another big change to that area is the recent closing of Nied’s Hotel which has been a landmark in the neighborhood for more than 50 years.

And, across the street from the future home of Contemporary Craft is Cruze Architects, which recently bought the old Hunter Saw Building at the corner of 57th and Butler which they are renovating.

Contemporary Craft is holding its annual fundraiser, Out of Hand, on March 30 at its current location on Smallman St. Get more info here.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.