Island Artist Matt Oates Losing Housing As NISDA Cottages Being Removed

Matt Oates was sitting outside his cottage and studio Thursday afternoon, blowing bubbles at the passing cars on Francis Street and looking generally amused despite his current circumstances. The homemade sign next to him, though, tells the tale. Oates, the eclectic Nantucket artist whose creations made from “unwanted and unloved” items discarded by others that have delighted islanders for years, is losing his home and studio. The Nantucket Island School of Design & The Arts (NISDA) cottage where he’s lived for six years is set to be either be moved or demolished.

“Everything here is crooked and different,” Oates said of the cottage. “This is where I was supposed to be.”

But NISDA recently filed for permits to move or demolition the remaining artists cottages at the corner of Washington and Francis streets, at the edge of Nantucket Harbor. Six of the cottages were demolished in 2019 after the lots were purchased by the town and the Nantucket Land Bank for $1.07 million to allow for intersection improvements and the creation of a pocket park. The NISDA cottages have been around since the 1950s, where visiting artists have stayed as part of the organization’s artist-in-residence program. Oates has lived at the cottage for most of the last six years after losing his home on Hummock Pond Road.

“NISDA took me in and helped me get back on my feet,” said Oates. But now the organization has told him he’s got to be out by June 14. “I’m searching hard. I’ll live in my car if I have to. But I can’t stay on Nantucket if I don’t have a place to paint. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

NISDA founder Kathy Kelm said Friday that the organization has been focused on its primary location, the Seaview Farm Arts Center in Wauwinet. The cottages along the harbor, she said, are in rough shape after being flooded numerous times over the years during storms.

“Keeping them in some way is the thought,” she said of the cottages and the permits filed to move or demolish them. “We love them. They’re very plain. But it’s a matter of what’s practical with the construction of them. We would love to see them moved. We find them to be classic, historic Nantucket.”

As for Oates, she said the organization is doing what it can to help identify a new home and studio for him, but cited frustration with the island housing options.

“He’s been with us and we love him dearly,” Kelm said of Oates. “We’re trying to find a place for him and do what we can do when the time comes.”

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