NORTH ADAMS — Maybe it was just a break in the week's wet miserable weather. Or maybe it was the doing of Jarvis Rockwell's modern temple to the little gods of pop culture.
Whichever explanation you prefer, the end result was blue skies and sun breaking through the gloom that had been threatening rain all day. And they were shining down on Main Street just in time for the launch of DownStreet Art.
While it couldn't compete with Thursday nights of old, when throngs of pedestrians would cover the sidewalks, there were people downtown. And they were going in and out storefronts and gathering in groups to chat.
The attraction was art — seven new gallery openings and a host of related activities and store openings in and around Main, Holden and Eagle streets. It might also have been the chance to stroll Main Street on a pleasant evening and catch up with old friends and meet the artists within their midst.
"This is just really a great idea," said artist Joel Rudnick, who discovered his own work had become a part of Rockwell's "Maya III," a stepped pyramid covered in action figures. Rudnick had done figure modeling years back, including work on some of Marvel's X-Men characters. He found a rubbery Magneto and Nightcrawler tucked amongst the thousands of toys.
"I just got a little thrill out of all of it," he laughed. "I'm just glad someone could use them."
Jessica Conzo, program coordinator for the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, was marking off visitors to "Maya III" at 73 Main St. It was at 400 about two-thirds of the way through the evening.
"It's just amazing. Everyone's really coming out," she said, adding that local businesses had wanted to be involved, even the new Shear Madness hair salon. "They were one of the first that asked about it."
DownStreet Art's goal was to provide a platform for local as well as outside artists to show their works and create an attraction to lure residents and tourists alike to the downtown area. Some 18 venues, ranging from the North Adams Museum of Science and History to Eric Rudd's Chapel for Humanity to four new temporary galleries in the city center, are marked on a map and brochure available various shops and restaurants.
"I think in general things went swimmingly," said painter Karen Kane at the North Adams Cooperative Gallery at 107 Main St. "I got quite a few comments on my pieces and other pieces ... all positive."
The project runs for four months through the tourist season; the galleries, new and old, will be open all summer. It is a collaboration of the city, businesses, Massachusetts College of Liberal Art, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (which is helping supply volunteers) and arts organizations and galleries.
There was young and old, newcomers and natives, artists and non-artists mingling Thursday evening.
Artist Jaye Fox, showing her work at the cooperative gallery, said she was rather surprised at who showed up — people she didn't realize lived in North Adams. There were "a lot of unique visitors ... people who were unexpected."
Kathy Keeser of Northern Berkshire Community Coalition said she saw a real cross-section of people, a good thing since that's one of the goals of the art collaboration — bringing diverse people together.
Visitors at the cooperative gallery had a chance to leave their names and comments in a guest book at the entrance. It was, they wrote, "Full of life," "very nice" and "Wonderful."
Eloise and Frank Stevens of North Adams were late getting to Main Street and trying to hit all the spots before they closed. The couple said they really liked what they had seen so far.
"We love it," said Eloise Stevens. "It's exciting, and we get to go out and see everyone."
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Here is a perfect opportunity to either shut the naysayers up or prove them right. I hope someone is attempting to record tangible results from this event. Did occupancy rates go up versus same time last year? Did sales increase? Did tax revenue increase? Did other businesses in the city see an increase? Will there be a bump in condo and home sales over the next few months?
Let's put some numbers to this event and see exactly what the benefits are. It could put an end to alot of the controversy that has filled the papers lately.
Its a feel good story, but obviously the store owners didn't believe the added over-time to the pay checks was going to made up by sales. I would love to read about the revenue side of the story.
There will be some that say you have to give a little to get the ball rolling and I agree, but how many times have we read about other projects that were shot down because they wouldn't put cash in the bucket from day 1?
It may that there will be some profits or not, however, generally, a business takes about a year to see gains and profits. It takes time, in the meantime, I think everyone did a great job in getting the ball rolling. We'll see, but hope they are succesful and continue with events like that was a treat for locals, tourists, young and old, artists or non artists. Congrats!
as a merchant all the way down eagle street, I have to say opening day was great! in terms of my retail business I saw alot of foot traffic,, and to be honest is was just nice to look down the street and see life!!
I think that this is a good base, but we definity need to keep the pressure on,, music venues on friday nights,, at least if not thurs, friday sat,, outside!
So Dragon are you saying that you saw an increase in sales from the event? A large increase? Did you stay open later and if so was it worth it? Or if not, why not?
All the emphasis on art is great, but there has to be something done for the other 50%, 60%, 75% of the community that doesn't see the wonder of a pyramid with kid's toys on it. The rest of the community can't survive by waiting tables or selling tickets or wearing an "Ask Me" T-Shirt.
My guess is that North Adams will end up being like Cape Cod. A nightmare for locals in-season with a large number of minimum wage jobs, nasty traffic, dependent on the whims of people who live elsewhere, and property bought up at un-godly sums of money and turned into rental property; and a ghost town struggling to survive in the off-season.