Warren artist takes to 'net to save home

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A Water Street artist facing foreclosure is spreading his net far and wide in hopes of saving his beloved home and studio — an Internet-based fund-raising campaign.

In the 12 years he has owned “Fort Foreclosure,” his 1800s home at 164 Water St., William Schaff has seen it evolve from modest home into a hub of sorts for art, music, culture — all the things he loves about Warren. But with money tight and the Fort’s future uncertain, he started an online campaign earlier this month on www.indiegogo.com, hoping to raise $120,000 to pay off his mortgage and prevent the cycle of near-foreclosures he has lived with for years. To date, he’s received $18,700 — and counting — with donations coming in from across the globe.

“This is not just about saving my bedroom,” Mr. Schaff said Monday morning. “This is about a place where incredible art and music is made and goes out into the world. I don’t want people to think I’m only out to save my own a$$, which I am partly. But this place is special and unique. I want to preserve that.”

Fort Foreclosure is a nod both to Mr. Schaff’s past and his own troubles making ends meet as an acclaimed, but perpetually broke, artist.

Prior to moving to Warren, he lived in Providence and was always a fan of an artists’ collective known as Fort Thunder, which ended up being evicted from its home to make way for a Shaw’s Supermarket. The second half of the name came after he entered the first of what would be three foreclosures.

“I always thought it would be nice to give a nod” to the collective, he said. “Then the foreclosure part came as just sort of a dark joke.”

Mr. Schaff, who works full time as an artist and illustrator, bailed himself out of previous foreclosures and over the years, his home evolved and grew into an unofficial hub with an open door policy for art lovers, musicians, artists and neighbors. It is not uncommon to hear music coming from the second floor, where Brown Bird, the musical duo of Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain, live. It’s also not uncommon to see Mark MacDougall, from 75 Or Less Records, recording a podcast in Schaff’s bedroom. He welcomes all, and loves being part of the friendly, accepting Warren community, he said.

His situation is a far cry from his original plan when he bought the house in 2002, initially thinking he’d live there for a while and then sell.

“I was looking for mill space, and I wasn’t super enthused about living in a normal house,” he said. “But over the years this house has become exactly what I wanted. Everyone in it and around it is creating art. I’m glad I kept it.”

But the life of an artist is not easy, and never brings with it a regular paycheck. When his financial situation became dire this winter, Mr. Schaff thought long and hard about starting an Internet campaign, and decided to go for it despite reservations.

“I really waffled back and forth,” he said. “There’s a part of me that feels incredibly not happy about doing this. It seems like I’m standing on the corner with a sign that says, ‘Will draw for food.’ But (foreclosure) is soul crushing and scary. I had to do something.”

For their money, his benefactors can choose from custom gifts, including prints, music and art packages, residencies and other goodies. The idea is to bring everyone into his fold and make them part of the solution. He hopes to do a little external good too: 10 percent of proceeds will be donated to the Innocence Project, which provides legal help for the condemned, awaiting execution on death rows across America.

“I can’t think of anything better than helping get a guy off death row who doesn’t belong there,” he said.

Apart from a small percentage reserved for repairs and work at the Fort, the rest will go toward the mortgage. And if it’s paid off?

“I’ll breathe a big sigh,” said Mr. Schaff. “Art will forever come from this building!”

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William Schaff

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rdgaryc -

I would love to be able to make a living with my art full time but have not been able to....So I got a job to pay my bills and work in the studio at night and weekends.

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