Introducing Studio 916 on Dot Ave., one man’s gift to the arts locally

Fifteen hundred square feet may seem like an ample amount of floor space, until you hear all that William Harris wants to do with it. Harris, who spent the first 28 years of his life living on Grant Street, has returned to his Columbia stomping grounds to open a brand- new gallery and arts center.

“I’m putting my heart, my soul, and my wallet behind this project,” says Harris, who has been repeatedly warned not to expect much of a return, monetarily at least, on his investment.

Located at 916 Dorchester Avenue next door to Coleen’s Flower Shop, Studio 916 features small, medium, and larger exhibit/classroom spaces with gleaming hardwood floors. Out back, the crushed stone yard is being transformed into a sculpture garden.

The big-hearted, some would say quixotic, project is the fulfillment of the dream of a St. Margaret’s Grammar School grad who now, despite juggling three jobs, has time and money to plow back into his old neighborhood.

Currently Postmaster of Woburn, Harris also works shifts as a unit manager at Boston Medical Center in addition to owning Allard Farm Custom Sportswear, a custom T-shirt and embroidery company based at the Dot Ave. site.

“I’d be thrilled if Studio 916 grew into a non-profit and pushed my tee shirt business out the door. I’d be proud just to say that I was part of the start of it.”

His vision is to turn what was briefly a real estate office building into flexible learning spaces for the visual and performing arts and a gallery with monthly group shows spotlighting undiscovered artists.

So far over 300 local artists have responded to his Craigslist ad, saying they deserved to be discovered.

He has corralled fellow arts enthusiasts, mostly from among those pursuing graduate degrees from Boston’s art schools, to curate shows and decide exactly what classes to offer. The opening exhibition will showcase works by these gallery staffers including Studio Director Rima Rahal, Assistant Curator Saskia Stephens, and Promotional Director Nikkia Hall.

Especially striking will be the basement installation: Sofya Belinska’s 36” x 58” hanging charcoals on paper, depicting women dangling in midair suspended by the clothes hangers still on the dresses they’re wearing.

A free reception on Sat., Aug. 1, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m will serve to welcome the community to the space and the first show, which runs through August 23. The next exhibit, debuting, August 28 will feature pieces by Dot resident and stained glass artist Rose Montgomery, a former St. Brendan’s art teacher.

Check out studio916.net for gallery hours and details as they become available about uses of the space from kids’ art classroom to recording studio, from a day workspace for the disabled, to a rentable elegant site for evening receptions.

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