Mapping the Artscape: Initiative Highlights Galleries, Museums

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS — An individual may create art but it takes a village to create a platform for its appreciation.

Or least a cooperative effort between key elements of a community.

That's the idea behind DownStreet Art, a primer to everything art in the city, including four new galleries opening for this summer on June 26.

"It is the harnessing of all that is here," said Jonathon Secor, director of special programs for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, describing the effort as "bottom line, a celebration of art in North Adams." "We'll finally get to that critical mass to get people to go downtown to buy stuff ... yes, we love art but it really is about how we get people downtown."

The collaborative effort includes the city, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Scarafoni Realty, which is providing gallery spaces. Local banks and businesses signed on as sponsors.

The long-anticipated cultural map was unveiled Monday afternoon at MCLA's Gallery 51 with a host of artists and partners on hand to mark the occasion.

"Arts is an economic factor unto itself," said Mayor John Barrett III. "It plays the single most important role in changing the image of our community."

The fold-out brochure offers the map of 18 central gallery and museum locations, Western Gateway Heritage State Park, the Porches and Holiday inns on one side and descriptions and contact information on the other.

"Those coming to the area who know they're coming for visual arts are going to get it," said Secor. "And those who are coming to the area and don't yet know they're coming for visual arts, they're going to get it, too."

Three of the four galleries are set to open on June 26 through Oct. 31. The fourth, "Lumens" at 61 Main St., will have a soft opening on June 26 and open on July 10 along with its Adams twin.

  'Maya' at Mass MoCA in 2001.
At 73 Main St., Jarvis Rockwell will create the third version of his popular "Maya" artwork. "Maya," which was on exhibit at Mass MoCA in 2001, proved so popular that visitors continue to ask about. Named for a Hindu deity who creates a illusions,
the massive pyramidal works are influenced by temples Rockwell visited in India.

"Maya II" was created in Scottsdale, Ariz.; "Maya III" will be 11-foot square and 9 feet tall.

As Sean Riley, gallery manager, tried to describe the Rockwell's intentions, the artist supplied the word Riley was struggling to find: translation. Rockwell's works are covered with thousands of toys and action figures, their inspirations with Hindu gods, linking consumerism and pop culture with worship.

Rockwell will also be working at the 73 Main St. space on an original wall drawing.

Riley said Gallery 51 will offer "Terms of Surrender," an exhibit by Rich Remsberg of the Eclipse Mill. Remsberg is an archival image researcher who works on documentaries and independent filmmakers.

"He has a way of framing and reframing images to bring out their power," said Reilly, adding there will be five new films, photographs, books and T-shirts. "It's going to be a wild exhibition."

At 107 Main St., the North Adams Artists Cooperative Gallery will host works by 30 members and consignment artists from around the region in a wide array of mediums.

View Larger Map

Work on the space, which has been used by a variety of groups, began last week as the artists and volunteers painted the walls in preparation for the gallery opening.

Cooperative leader Diane Sullivan said the artists, mostly local, are thrilled to be participating in something positive in the downtown and plan to spend time "gallery-sitting."

"Artists work alone at lot in their studios but they really also like to talk to people and found out what people really think about what they create," she said.

The exhibit will feature talks and mini-exhibits focusing on two or three artists every few weeks.

"The 800-pound gorilla," Mass MoCA, will also have a spot downtown at 28 Holden St.

The museum is in the midst preparing 30,000 square feet in additional gallery space for the permanent exhibit of the wall drawings of the late Sol LeWitt.

The project, a collaboration of the museum, Williams College and Yale University, has brought two dozen artists to the city to create the drawings of the conceptual master.

DownStreet Art offers a chance for the artists to show their own work, said Denise Markonish, a curator at Mass MoCA. "They often get cast in the shadow of this master artist that they're working for and they're all amazing artists in their own right.

The show will be split into two pieces, "Primary Secondary Volumes I and II," and will reflect both LeWitt's influence and the artists' original creations.

"I really wanted to show how Mass MoCA can be part of this active downtown," said Markonish.
"Lumens" at Gallery 51's annex at 61 Main St. and Greylock Arts at 93 Summer St. seeks to link the Mother Town, the city and the Internet through two installations using lamps from local residents and sensors. Project partners are Gallery 51 and Turbulence.

As explained by Greylock Arts co-owner Marianne Petite, someone approaching a set of lamps in North Adams will turn on lamps in Adams and vice versa; people reading stories about a particular lamp on the Internet will also turn that lamp on.

While the initiative is a collaborative venture, it may well not have happened without MCLA, the glue that seems to be bringing all these elements together through Gallery 51. Established as a temporary space, the gallery quickly became a cultural cornerstone of Main Street and an essential portal between residents and the college. 

"We consider Gallery 51 to be a hub for creative energy," said college President Mary Grant. "It's a community resource, it's a resource for the city, it's a resource for the arts, it's a resource for the college and it's a resource for our students."

Barrett, who's become a prophet for the creative economy, pointed to the successful partnership with college and the role of David Carver of Scarafoni Realty as important factors in making this latest venture happen.

The city's been transitioning from industrial to creative over the past two decades. The mayor thinks it's now "matured" enough to really take hold. "First come the artists, then the restaurants, then the stores," he said, adding that the soon-to-be-refurbished Mohawk Theater will provide yet another downtown destination.

While the economy is beginning to look dire, Barrett's optimistic, especially if these new partnerships continue.

"We have to work together," he said. "The government can't do it alone. You have to have a cooperative effort."

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