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Executive Curator Misa Chappell and Common Folk Co-founder and creative director Jessica Sweeney stand next to some of the pieces that will be displayed during Thursday's opening.
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Common Folk Ready to Unveil New Home

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Common Folk will unveil its new home Thursday evening during DownStreet Art with a gallery opening and live music.

Common Folk, the local artist collective, has never really known a sense of permanency throughout its existence. The group has moved from location to location throughout the downtown as it grappled with funding challenges or compatibility issues.

However, co-founder and creative director Jessica Sweeney said Common Folk may have found a more lasting location at 33 Main St. that is almost 2.5 times the size of its last home on Holden Street.

"Holden Street was not working. There was the noise and we needed more space ... we moved here and we are already using all of the space," she said of the former North Adams Artists' Co-Op Gallery. "I think this space just allows us to connect with more people ... there was always a need to have a home base and so it is good that we can be here."

She said Common Folk applied for the DownStreet Art Creative Incubator Program, which helps creative businesses and organizations find locations downtown and aims to help them find stability so they can remain beyond the summer season.

For the time being, Common Folk will be paying below market-rate rent giving it the chance to save money and become sustainable.

Sweeny said the group will look at diverse funding sources from grants to art sales to concerts to accomplish this.

"We are hoping that people will come support the artists that we are supporting, especially because they are all local they are people who care about the area," she said. "So many galleries will take 50 or 60 percent of sales and that doesn't sit well with us. We are really just taking a little bit to keep this going so we can keep the walls open for more artists."

Along with this new lifeline of funds, Common Folk now has a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts intern who can help it become more financially stable.

People can also donate to Common Folk through its Patreon account.

Common Folk brought on Misa Chappell as its executive curator to help manage the much larger wall space and provide more artists with exposure.

Sweeny said with a more organized focus, she would like the exhibits to take on themes that will allow artists to respond to different subjects.

"What I am really interested in is really starting to hone art as a catalyst for change," she said. "In our founding moment that was our founding energy: how do we as artists respond to our world and connect with our world?"

Chappell said people can get a taste of this new focus at Thursday's opening of "Brick & Mortar/ Flesh & Blood" starting at 5 p.m.

"It's about building both from within and from without as an individual and as a community," Chappell said. "It's specifically focused on the North Adams community so all of the works in this show use a lot of raw material like wood, stone, brick, boards, hardware, rubble and the concept revolved around the collapse of the St. Francis steeple."

She said a portion of the wall will be covered with decorated slate that fell from the roof of the church. Nearly 25 local artists heeded the call to design a piece.

"It's a show about how we build our creativity not only as individuals but as a whole and how that fits into North Adams coming into its own as a creative superpower," Chappell said.

On the music front, the new venue will actually have a stage and Sweeney hopes to hold more regular shows and bring in different bands from throughout New England.

"We have a pretty solid schedule moving forward, and we have few exciting things that we can't announce just yet," she said.

She added that local bands looking to take their act to the next level can rent out the space for practice. Although the space is already full with signed-on bands, she hopes it acts as a resource for musicians looking to fine tune their sound.  

Common Folk at its core is a resource for local artists and, along with practice space, Sweeney said anyone can come in and ask about displaying art, holding a workshop, bringing in a specific band, or even trying their hand at curating.

Sweeney said it is overwhelming at times to see how much the group has grown.

"This idea didn't just come to me ... we all kind of got together and tried to figure out what to do," Sweeney said. "Now to get here…and to have this many people say we believe in this is overwhelming."

She added that she hopes the new location, which is very visible on the corner of Main Street and Marshall Street, will help bring people downtown.

"We are kind of at this place where we can connect these lands that are often disconnected and bring people downtown," she said. "I love MCLA and Mass MoCA but we need this life happening downtown so we are hoping this will be the place where people can come down see art and show art."

There will be more festivities Thursday and at 8, ticket holders can see a performance from the New England band Cactus Attack. Tickets for Cactus Attack can be purchased here or at the door if available.

In addition, a grassroots folk jam will close out the night. During the jam, Common Folk welcomes and encourages community members to bring instruments so they can participate. The jam is open to all those who make donations to the organization, however, all ticketholders for Cactus Attack may attend it for free.

Sweeny said she encourages everyone to come see what is new at Common Folk

"Come down and see what is new because it's a big new," she said. "It's a very different kind of new."

Tags: art gallery,   common folk,   DownStreet Art,   

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