PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Cheryl Mirer remembers driving from Otis to the city to go on art walks, volunteer with Berkshire Creative, or sell crafts at the Handmade Holiday Festival.
And those memories seemed to come back a lot in the last year or so, when she was searching for a way to get back here from Potsdam, N.Y. Mirer had moved there in 2013 and was working in the development office at Clarkson University while her husband managed a co-operative food market.
"For over a year, we've been like 'this isn't really where we belong. What are we going to do?' I had to go home. I wanted to go back to the Berkshires. My husband loves the Berkshires so we were like 'OK, let's make that happen,'" Mirer said.
In July, she was browsing BerkshireJobs.com when she noticed a new posting for the executive director of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Kristine Hurley had left the non-profit's top position in June for one with the Berkshire Family YMCA.
Mirer read through the job description matched exactly what she wanted. She submitted a resume and kept her fingers crossed hoping the job.
"I tend to be a very adaptable, flexible person and I am creative. I like to work with groups of people on teams and committees ... . I was always gregarious and outgoing. This is a perfect position for me because I'm passionate about community and I love working with people, I like to problem solve and be creative," Mirer said.
In October, after two interviews, she got the offer. Last week, she took the drive from Potsdam, checked in at a local AirBNB and started working out of the Dunham Mall office.
Her husband remains in New York, packing up the couple's home and completing its sale. By December, she'll be fully established back in the Berkshires, with her husband and dog comfortable in a city apartment.
"I tried to get up here as much as I could because I knew there were cool things going on. But now I can fully participate and actually be a part of making things happen," Mirer said.
Mirer is originally from Burlington, Conn., and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, working her way through college in customer service jobs. She graduated with a degree in fine arts and print making and joined the Peace Corps to work in Ghana as an art teacher.
She returned to Western Massachusetts again in 1999 and became a kitchen designer for an Amherst-based building supply company. After two years, she got a job in Chesterfield, N.Y., as the director of its library.
Mirer continued with her artwork and eventually won a grant for a print-works art project. She did 15 portraits of women in the Adirondacks. That work took her back to Western Massachusetts yet again as she completed out the grant and did art shows.
She was then accepted into Boston University, where she earned her master's in arts administration. She moved to Brighton with her sister and adopted a puppy. She split time between school and working at Whole Foods. It was at Whole Foods where she met her husband, Eric.
In 2005, she graduated.
"I wanted to leave Boston because I am not a city person. I said let's go back to Western Mass. So we moved back to the Pioneer Valley and eventually I got a job at Simon's Rock and we bought a house in Otis," Mirer said.
At Bard College at Simon's Rock, she worked in the development office on fundraising efforts and alumni affairs. She was there for five years until a job that really intrigued her opened in South Carolina.
"We took a big leap and I accepted this job. That organization was called Hub-Bub. It still exists but it is totally different," Mirer said.
"It was like a downtown revitalization group, similar to this but it was specifically for the arts. I was director of the artists in residency program and special events. The arts are very important to me. I always wanted to work with artists in residence. That was an amazing experience."
But nearly as soon as the job opened, the funding for the organization was cut. The job she had just taken on 10 months prior was eliminated. Meanwhile, her husband continued to work in the co-operative food field. He had been working at the Berkshire Co-op when the couple lived in Otis and he wanted to try his hand at managing one.
He was offered the general manager post at the Potsdam Food Co-op. She worked briefly again in the local library there before she got a job at Clarkson University as a coordinator of corporate and foundation relations — fundraising and grant writing for the college.
"I have this varied background. But either my job has been in the community or whatever I do outside of my job is community oriented," Mirer said.
She has worked on community committees such as one in Potsdam that was successful in building a dog park.
She believes that varied background is what makes her such a good fit for the job. Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s mission is to provide vision, leadership, and advocacy toward helping grow the vitality of the city's downtown.
Things have changed since she was here last. North Street has been completely renovated, new organizations such as Artscape and Pittsfield Beautiful have popped up, the Visitors Bureau and chamber completed their merger into 1Berkshire, and the faces have changed.
"There is a lot here. I have a lot to absorb and a lot of people to meet," Mirer said.
And as she makes the move into the city herself, she's getting a first-hand understanding of the housing market and needs in the city.
Mirer said with only a week on the job, she can't say she has specific plans or focuses when it comes to heading Downtown Pittsfield Inc. But art has always been a piece of her life and it has been a backbone for revitalization efforts in downtown Pittsfield.
She praised the "pillars" such as Barrington Stage, the Berkshire Museum, as well as small groups. She added that events such as paint and sips and public art makes it more accessible.
"The arts, historically, bring people together," she said, saying that communities with strong arts organizations are successful in revitalization efforts.
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