Local Crowdfund: Stone Soup focused on developing picture-perfect facility

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With creative industries involving arts, culture, design and media innovation breaking through the barriers of traditional entrepreneurship, Worcester stands on the cusp of a new, demanding economy – but is it ready to take on the booming demands of co-ops, shared spaces and innovative projects?

Stone Soup, 4 King St., is a nonprofit run by volunteers and activists of the Main South area. Its mission is to “build community and economies based in cooperation and creativity while resisting oppression and gentrification.”

Dee Wells, Dania Flores and Cailin Duram are among the driving forces behind Stone Soup's initiative to add photography offerings to the community center.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Dee Wells, Dania Flores and Cailin Duram are among the driving forces behind Stone Soup’s initiative to add photography offerings to the community center.

It is no surprise, then, that Stone Soup has added another project to the extensive list of services it offers to the surrounding neighborhoods for little to no cost.

The community center/artist collective launched a GoFundMe campaign to fully outfit a community-based photography center and darkroom for use by local artists, individuals and children enrolled in photography classes and workshops. Stone Soup hopes to host art gallery exhibits for local artists and members after opening.

A relatively modest goal of $2,000 is the target to complete the darkroom space and install plumbing. The group had raised $665 as of midday Saturday.

Although this project sounds like the perfect fit for the growing creative economy in Worcester, the organization continues to face extreme obstacles.

Its biggest obstacle? “Safe and efficient plumbing” in the basement space for running water to conduct print washing, proper disposal of printing chemicals, and eye washing stations. The Photography Project is running out of options for funding for such a costly expense.

“To date, we have unfortunately not successfully secured grant money because it’s tricky to secure money for this type of capital expenditures,” Cailin Duram, team member and organizer of the Photography Project and crowdfunding campaign, writes on the campaign page.

Stone Soup has applied for funds for the project from various Worcester organizations, including the Worcester Arts Council in 2014, but has been turned down.

“We have been paying rent on an empty room for nearly two years after trying and failing to raise money to cover the high cost of plumbing expenses,” Duram said. “Like any other space in Stone Soup, we share when needed and has been used for bike storage as needed but is being reserved for the photography studio.”

The Photography Project isn’t a shot-in-the-dark kind of venture.

The idea was born when it was realized there was a market of artists, photographers and individuals inquiring about darkrooms and photography shared space within the community.

“There is a demand by Worcester artists for a place to develop black-and-white film as darkrooms in the area dwindle. A local photography supplier says at least 2-3 people per week come in to inquire about darkroom space in Worcester. … There is a definite need to give Worcester youth more access to the resources they need to express themselves creatively,” Duram said.

Brian Boisvert, owner of L.B. Wheaton, 261 Park Ave., said, “We do not have photographers inquiring about darkroom on a daily basis but we do receive inquiries – especially from students.”

“Arts classes in public schools have become a privilege and are no longer a part of the core curriculum in many schools and/or have inadequate funding to support the population. We believe that youth empowerment starts with permission to fully express your talents with the support and resources of the community,” Duram said. “The project aspires to give youth in the neighborhood the tools to express and tell their stories by many mediums, in this case photography.”

Building a new home for youth empowerment through artistic expression and adding another element to the creative economy in Worcester, the Stone Soup Photography Project is attempting to fill gaps in the city.

Stone Soup, 4 King St.

Courtesy Stone Soup

Stone Soup, 4 King St.

“Four community-minded artists who are also involved in activism in Worcester have made up the core group so far, but envision involving many more residents and aspiring artists when the space is ready for operation,” Duram said.

The other core team members are: DeJongh “Dee” Wells, co-founder of Future Focus Media Co-op and Youth Training Institute; Dania Flores, a forensic photographer; and Judy Diamondstone, a member of the Stone Soup Building Committee and a student of the West Coast photography movement in the ’70s with Ted Orland.

Duram, a student of photography since 1995, specializing in black-and-white composition, has worked with the Boston Photo Collaborative and taught school-aged children photography.

Her dedication to seeking and securing funding for the Photography Project has become an uphill battle, but she will continue to submit grant proposals to several Worcester-based organizations and push her efforts with grassroots attempts such as the GoFundMe campaign, she said.

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