The busy winter cultural scene in Pittsfield kicked off Friday with the First Friday Artswalk of the year.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Wintry weather may finally have blanketed the Berkshires, but Pittsfield cultural leaders say that hasn't slowed the hurdle into a busy season of festivals and other eclectic arts programming.
"I'm thrilled to see so much creative activity in Pittsfield in the winter months," Megan Whilden, the city's director of cultural development, told iBerkshires. "Especially because it showcases the work of so many members of our community, whether they are visual artists, spoken word artists, or musicians."
The festivities kicked off right at the start of the new year with the First Friday Artswalk, now in its ninth consecutive month of pairing artists with a diverse array of downtown venues each first Friday regardless of the weather outside.
Though the number of participating venues this Friday was about half that of the summer months, the recurring conjunction of exhibitions in downtown has grown rapidly in sponsorship and visibility since it was launched in May. Artswalk organizer Mary McGinnis said for the 15 or so businesses currently involved, the cross promotion that the event offers year round has been helpful.
"We don't have the same numbers as we did in the summertime," McGinnis said, but added that those remaining "notice and appreciate the added marketing and promotion that they can piggyback off of. We're helping each other out more."
Interest from more artists and volunteers has also helped keep the initiative vital, said McGinnis, who also credited collaboration with Berkshire Artists Association, Downtown Inc. and the Office of Cultural Development for making sure "the merchants are represented well, and the artists are represented well."
McGinnis said goals for the Artswalk in 2013 include creating a more comprehensive database of artists to draw from, as well as trying to do reach out to potential tourists from New York and Boston.
"Come on a Friday afternoon, book a room, enjoy the downtown, enjoy all the different cultural events, and go to the Artswalk to kick it off," said McGinnis. "If we can accomplish that, get people to really camp out for the weekend here that are from out of town, I think that would be huge."
The month of January will offer an early taste of WordXWord Festival, with four evenings of Writers Room events featuring names and features from the annual summer literary fest held downtown since 2009. Y Bar, the understated if not semi-secret poetry lounge at the corner of North and Bradford streets, will open each Tuesday this month with four different kinds of spoken-word functions. In the Hot Envelope, contestants will test their skills at competitive storytelling with prompts provided at random.
Jan. 15 is an open mic for short poetry or prose hosted by local author Gabriel Squailia, followed by a featured poet night on Jan. 22 with WordXWord audience favorite Jon Sands, director of poetry education programming at the Positive Health Project in Manhattan, N.Y.
The final Tuesday of the month will offer an invitational poetry slam with some twists, what WxW organizers describe as "the spoken word equivalent of an obstacle course." The first two Tuesdays are free admission, while Jan. 22 and 29 have a $5 suggested donation.
In early February, the Berkshire Museum will debut "Ansel Adams: Masterworks" a major exhibit of work by the renowned American landscape photographer.
"The Museum Set," a collection on loan from California's Turtle Bay Exploration Park, consists of 48 works showcasing Adams' love of natural landscapes. These pieces represent about two-thirds of those chosen by the artist himself to represent his life's work.
Events such as the First Friday Artwalks are becoming cross-promotional vehicles for merchants, restaurants and venues.
The exhibit will open with a free reception Feb. 9 from 5 to 7, and run through June 2. Complementing this collection beginning Feb. 2 will be a unique series of seashell images by Andreas Feininger, best known for his depictions of New York City, which will be paired with actual shells from the museum's collection.
February will also see another succession of performances, films, and exhibits divided into 10s as a coalition of culturals spearheaded by Barrington Stage Company and the city present the second annual 10x10 Festival. Formerly known as 10x10 on North, it has now been dubbed the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival, in acknowledgment of the Massachusetts Cultural District newly designated last year.
Many of the festival's events will closely repeat the popular highlights from last year's launch. These include another ten 10-minute plays by Barrington; a second annual "TEN SPOT" art show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Art as well as a 10×10 art show at Gallery 25; plus 10 more singer/songwriters at Mission Bar and Tapas, and 10 more poets at Y Bar. New attractions this year are said to include 10 decades of jazz composers from Berkshires Jazz; 10 improvised mini-musicals by the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe at the Colonial Theatre; Garage space, PechaKucha (10+10)×(10+10) at Berkshire Museum, and "10x10on10" — an interdisciplinary spoken word and art exhibit by WAM Theatre and Alchemy Initiative.
More family-friendly cultural programming is another expansion of the festival, and include "10 Days of Play" at Berkshire Museum, 10 creative projects in 10 days at Bisque, Beads & Beyond, a Shaker music and dance program by Hancock Shaker Village, and "THE TEEN TEN: A High School Art Show" at Pittsfield City Hall, organized by Miss Hall's School students.
"Winter is going to be a whole lot livelier in the Berkshires," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi, in a statement. "I'm especially excited by all the events for youth and families this year."
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