Bill Kolis Jr., left, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi and Phil Sellers lead a wide-ranging panel talk on funding for the arts, highlighting Adams' creative community and 'cross pollinating' efforts between Adams and North Adams.
ADAMS, Mass. — Barely three years old, the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace and Museum is attracting tourists from around the Northeast and as far as Japan.
But the small homestead can't be the only destination.
"We need your help," the museum's new director Colleen Janz implored the gathering at the Fire House Cafe on Saturday night. "We're a small museum, it only takes about an hour to go through ... There has to be something else for these people to do."
The nearly 50 members of the area's "creative community" — artists, writers and representatives of cultural venues — agreed that it was time for North Berkshire region to develop a "cross pollination" of effort, including in advocating for greater cultural funding.
It is also time for Adams to step out from behind the county's two cities and realize its own potential, said Bill Kolis Jr., owner of the cafe who hosted the meeting for Massachusetts Creative.
"We still have our front teeth," joked Kolis, referring to the town's intact Park Street, "and we're on the busiest road in the Berkshires."
The meeting was primarily to advocate with state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, on funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Commission and other creative or tourism ventures. The House budget released last week cuts the MCC's budget by $1.5 million, or 15 percent, on top of a midyear cut of 1 percent and reduced National Endowment of the Arts funding.
Cariddi, a member of the Cultural Caucus and the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, said she was aware of the cuts and had spoken to Speaker Robert DeLeo about them.
"I fully support you," she said, acknowledging the growing significance of arts and culture to the region's economy.
While she is no longer on the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, Cariddi said it was appropriate to contact members of that committee. State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, sits on the committee.
MassCreative has been promoting such community gatherings to ensure lawmakers are aware of the importance of arts at the local level.
A list of "top 10" reasons to support the arts, compiled by BerkshireonStage.com's Larry Murray, included prosperity and unity, improved academics, economic development and business growth, job skills, cornerstone of tourism, export industry, health care programming and strengthening communities.
The meeting was also an opportunity to discuss how the community could support itself in an era of declining government funding.
Kolis, an Adams native who spent years working in community development and in law in Cleveland, has great hope for the Topia Arts Center in reinvigorating Park Street. But it can't be done by one person, or even two, he said, it has to be a community endeavor.
Others pointed to the success of the Anthony Museum, the saving of St. Stanislaus Church, the recent expansion of the Berkshire Dance Theatre, the potential in the town's history and the planned Berkshire Scenic Railway route between the Mother Town and North Adams.
Jack Savage, a performance artist and recent New York City transplant to North Adams, said the region has an industrial tradition that it should exploit. "This isn't Stockbridge, this isn't Norman Rockwell," he said.
Most importantly, the arts and cultural communities needed to tune into what each other was doing.
"I feel really strongly about this being the first step," said Gail Sellers, of the Eclipse Mill in North Adams. "We have to show up and support each other."
Kolis, her brother, envisioned more meetings of the new "Adams-Anthony Center for Political, Economic and Social Discourse" as ways to reconnect and hear different perspectives.
"We have to be citizens, we have to be a community again," he said. "We've got to support one another."
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