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In new space in New London, Cultured Studios shifts from live events to content production

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New London — Before the pandemic, Cultured Studios was a live event venue, art gallery and community gathering space. While the business has the "same energy," owner Juanita Austin said, the focus is now on content production, such as videos, livestreams and virtual events.

Cultured Studios, which Austin founded in 2019, was operating out of 176 State St. up until April.

"We weren't able to do live music, and that was sort of our bread and butter there," Austin said. The lease was ending, so she opted to leave while figuring out next steps.

Cultured Studios reopened a month ago at 237 State St., in a long-vacant space that has a street-facing entrance — featuring works by local artist Klashwon — but is mostly underground, under Spark Makerspace.

It reopened through New London's Pop-Up Marketplace Program, which provides business and nonprofit tenants entering new leases to $400 per month or 50% of the monthly lease, whichever is less, for the first three months. It's the same program that enabled Title IX, a pop-up bookstore, to open a few doors up the street.

Austin also got a grant from the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, and she bought new equipment, including camcorders, lighting and a video switcher. Austin said she will build a stage for this area, which eventually will become an art and music lounge. She is also putting in an audio studio.

Another area downstairs has a heat press and a cutting machine, for Austin to make branded merchandise — such as T-shirts and bags — both for Cultured Studios and for the artists with whom she works. She sells both in a small boutique in the space, along with books from The Key Bookstore, a feature of her previous location.

Austin works with visual artists, musicians and poets, and she sees Cultured as a "creative incubator." She doesn't have a fee structure set up yet, and considers this space a longer-term investment.

With a background in digital media and design, she does other contract work, and she recently got a job working with the Cultural Coalition and Connecticut Office of the Arts to produce events for the region.

She explained this on Friday to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who visited as part of his efforts to get the word out about the new round of Paycheck Protection Program funding. Also there for the visit were Mayor Michael Passero; poet and teacher Josh Brown, who also goes by AnUrbanNerd; and Seanice Austin, Juanita's mother and a member of the New London Economic Development Commission.

Blumenthal noted that this round of PPP funding is targeted to smaller businesses, and that it's first opening to women- and minority-owned businesses, both of which apply to Cultured Studios.

Seanice Austin said there is a lack of funding for Black-owned businesses not only in New London but across the country. Blumenthal said Black-owned businesses have closed due to the pandemic at disproportionate rates, "which is just going to exacerbate the problem" Austin mentioned.

Beyond the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill passed in December, Blumenthal is hoping for "an even bigger, bolder program" that not only provides more aid to small businesses but also provides more stimulus checks, unemployment insurance and aid to state and local governments. President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion plan Thursday.

Juanita Austin said Blumenthal's visit came about through Anne-Marie Knight of the Black Business Alliance. Austin said she will be talking to Knight to determine which grants make the most sense for her to apply for.

e.moser@theday.com

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