"I think it is a good thing for Pittsfield to celebrate and be proud of his legacy," Cultural Director Megan Whilden said on Wednesday, after the dedication of a plaque at Pontoosuc Lake for a newly created self-guided Melville trail had to be postponed because of rain. "It's made people more aware of his life. It's humanized Herman Melville."
The 19th-century writer lived in Pittsfield and area sites have been credited for inspirations in his novels and stories. His historic home on Holmes Road, Arrowhead, has been turned into a museum and is the home of the Berkshire Historical Society.
"They've [Arrowhead] seen a very big increase in visitors and gift shop sales," Whilden said.
The celebration was a "hybrid" of previous celebrations the city has put on — such as the Art of the Game or Sheeptacular — and community book initiative. Cultural Pittsfield organized music, plays, art shows, lectures and readings to promote both the book and the author. Residents were asked to read a chapter a day — 135 chapters — and sculptures were were installed in various city locations.
"I feel like he's happy," Whilden said. "It's kind of like welcoming him back to the community."
The community book events will go back to only one a month and will not be nearly as large in the next year. However, Whilden said another large city celebration is in the works for 2014.
"Call Me Melville was an exception to the rule," said Whilden of the merging of two projects. "This was more than a community book read."
The project kicked off on Memorial Day with a "flash mob" of PHS students filling the outline of a white whale. It was funded at an estimated $15,000 from the state Cultural Council, the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum, the New England Foundation for the Arts and sponsorships from Berkshire Gas and Greylock Federal Credit Union.
"Doing these kind of collaborative cultural projects bring people together," Whilden said. "It is making history and great art accessible and approachable."
The concluding weekend, which will also be the last weekend Arrowhead's open for the season, will feature a "crowd-scribing" of the short story "Bartleby the Scrivener," the dedication of the bench and the annual "Melville Haunted" performance at Arrowhead. Leading up to the final chapter there will be theater performances at the Colonial Theatre's Garage and Berkshire Museum. The interpretive plaque will be dedicated at Pontoosuc Lake park on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 11:30.
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