Tips for visiting Boston’s SoWa neighborhood

As many of you may know, Beacon Gallery is right in Boston’s SoWa (South of Washington [Street]) Art District. We are at one end of where all the art galleries are located, and as such, owner Christine O’Donnell often ends up orienting those not familiar to the area.

We figured that this same information might be of use online – so here is a general overview of the SoWa neighborhood and some questions we often have to answer.

Where can I park? 

There are visitor spots on the street (Harrison Ave in front of Beacon Gallery), metered spots on Washington, as well as paid lots at 510 Harrison and under Route 93 on Harrison Ave. Beware of street cleaning, the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month, when there’s no parking 8 am until 12 pm!

Is there a T Stop nearby? 

While the “Silver Line” (Bus) goes right up Washington Street, the closest train stops are “Back Bay” (Orange and Commuter Line) and the Red Line’s “Broadway”.

Are there a lot of art galleries in the neighborhood?

Yes, yes, and yes! So many! Even though the galleries may have “Harrison Avenue” addresses, many aren’t directly on Harrison. After visiting Beacon Gallery, Ars Libri/Robert Klein Gallery, and Boston Sculptor’s Gallery (all on the same side of Harrison, heading towards downtown Boston), turn right onto Thayer Street. Check out all the art galleries visible on the left and invisible on the right (go in the doors, and wander the halls!), as well as the artists’ studios at #450!

Check out the list below of galleries, shops, restaurants, etc.!

Some, like Adelson Galleries and Kabinett Gallery don’t exist anymore, but otherwise the list is pretty up-to-date!

Images from GTI Properties SoWa Booklet

Is there anywhere to eat nearby? 

Lots of places! The full list is above, but here are some of favorites

Area Four – haven’t been there, but a pizza place, and kid-friendly. 264 East Berkeley Street.

Burro Bar – Tasty Mexican food and a good bar scene at 1357 Washington St.

Cinquecento Roman Trattoria – an upscale Italian restaurant on the other side of Beacon Gallery. 500 Harrison Ave.

Coppa Enoteca – Tiny bistro, best for couples, not particularly kid-friendly. 253 Shawmut Ave.

The Gallows – Reliable pub food

Gaslight Brasserie du Coin – French Bistro food. It’s tasty, but be forewarned it can be slow on “First Fridays” 560 Harrison Ave.

Myers & Chang – Asian Fusion, easier to sit on a weekday lunch than weekends or dinner – quite busy.

South End Pita – Tasty mediterranean, an “order at the counter” place with tables where you can eat.

Southern Proper – Fried chicken done right! Creative drink menu too. 600 Harrison Ave.

Stella – With indoor and outdoor (on the street) seating and high quality food, this Italian restaurant is a great year-round choice. 1525 Washington Street.

El Triunfo – No room to sit at this hole-in-the-wall Mexican takeout (only a counter and two bar stools) but take your food to a nearby park for a great picnic! 147 E Berkeley Street.

Are there coffee shops nearby?

SoWa’s Harrison Ave is a little light on coffee culture, but there are places to grab a cuppa not too far away.

Cuppacoffee is at 57 Traveler Street, just a few blocks beyond the art galleries. An Australian espresso bar, it’s aiming to bring the excellent coffee of Oz to the Boston area. Check it out!

In a pinch, there’s Gaslight’s Coffee Shop, tucked between the Gaslight restaurant and Boston Sports Club. It’s in the office building’s lobby and offers traditional coffee shop fare and beverages. (Follow the cobble path towards the tables and BSC then turn right). Gaslight (Coffee) Lobby of 560 Harrison Ave, Boston.

South End Buttery is at 312-314 Shawmut Ave. A coffee shop with food and baked goods, and a restaurant at night; it’s a great place to stop for bite if you want something to eat and drink.

Closest Starbucks is 627 Tremont Street

There’s also a Cafe Nero at 564 Tremont Street.

When is the best time to visit SoWa?

Depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re looking to park easily and buy art, come any day but Sunday.

If you’re looking for a fun atmosphere with food trucks, beer, the Vintage Market and pop-up tent shopping, Sundays (May through October) is your day!

Keep an eye on the SoWa Calendar for fun activities and events throughout the year, including the Winter Market.

I’m an artist scoping out galleries… how do I get my art on your walls?

This is probably one of the most asked questions of all. And a good one, although one that’s tough to answer.

Clearly the response always depends on both the gallery and the person’s art, but here is some general advice:

Before visiting galleries, do your homework on a gallery’s website – does your art fit the style and price range you see online? If you’re coming to SoWa, select a couple of galleries where you think that your art might be a good match. Send an email, including your website and instagram (or 5 or less images of your work as attachments). (do note that a few galleries are co-ops, so either you could inquire about joining them, or there’s no point in trying to show there. These galleries include: Fountain Street Gallery, Kingston Gallery, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Galatea Gallery and Bromfield Gallery – although these places do sometimes have calls for art open to the public!)

Write an email directly to the gallery, and even better if you can name someone there to whom you can address it. A conversation can start from there, and an in-person visit, to see the space where you think your art might “fit” can sometimes make sense. It doesn’t however, do anyone any good to whip out your iPhone and start flipping through photos of your work. Gallery owners often have meetings or calls scheduled, or other clients and it doesn’t ingratiate you to dominate their time.

Remember that galleries often plan 1-3 years in advance as well, so meeting with them now is no guarantee of anything happening in the near term. Often times, even if they like your work it’ll be a question of scheduling a studio visit, looking at more work in person, talking about you and your art and then even further consideration from there. It’s not a fast process by any means.

More advice for getting work seen in general (especially if you’re getting impatient with finding a gallery)

  • Apply to open calls – use a site like callforentry.org to keep up with the many calls available in your state and beyond (knowing that the more you search, the more calls you’ll find!)
  • Beacon Gallery, for instance, has its Art Dash call out now, and will have more coming later in the year (its annual Juried Show)
  • Reach out to galleries in smaller cities or suburbs and start growing your resume
  • Create a concept for a show: either with just your own work, or yours plus a few other artists, and propose it to a library, city hall, small gallery, etc.
  • Leverage social media – marketing yourself is important
  • Be ready to hustle – the harder you work, the more opportunities you’ll find, or will think up for yourself – try to see them through!

Thanks for reading – hope you find this practical post to be useful on your next visit to SoWa!

Readers: What is this list missing (either on gallery advice or generally, on SoWa)? Comment and add places to visit and things you love in the neighborhood! Or, add a question!s

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