North Adams Arts Commission Endorses Eagle Street Makeover
The Public Arts Commission on Monday endorsed elements of the Namazing Eagle Street Initiative set to launch this June, on condition the organizers submit final details before installation.
"The ones on private property don't need approval but we would like to have the commission's endorsement," said Benjamin Lamb, a city councilor and one of the driving forces behind the five-year-old Namazing initiative.
He gave the commission a brief overview of the informal association that's been behind the #namazing hashtag and the "Ask I'm from North Adams" pins. It had been formed to do more of a citywide plan but the closure of the hospital had it looking at smaller activities and projects.
The Eagle Street proposal is much more ambitious and included raising funds through Patronicity last year to match $25,000 from MassDevelopment. In fact, the Patronicity campaign raised $10,000 over its goal, giving the group $60,000 to spend by Nov. 4.
"We started asking ourselves what projects we could really get deep in and one that came up was Eagle Street," he said. "It has that sense of space that you don't necessarily get a lot anymore so we wanted to capitalize on it and see how we could use our collective energy and talents to try to raise the street up a little bit more."
The group has been meeting twice a month with business and building owners and community members to develop different projects that can be used to attract more foot traffic and highlight its historical nature.
The commission's jurisdiction is limited to the installation of public art on public buildings or spaces but Lamb gave members an overview of all the plans to show how everything will fit together.
All the storefronts will get new overhanging signs on 12-inch metal brackets sporting eagles. Empty storefronts will get the eagle logo created through a competition. The round design, by Anna Farrington, has a white eagle on blue with "Historic Eagle Street" around it. The colors and fonts are the same as the city's new branding design that can be seen on the three welcome to North Adams signs.
"This is a huge part of this project because people looking down the street now, the only pedestrian facing signage is Adams Community Bank and it's back from the street so it doesn't stick out," Lamb said. "If you look down Eagle Street, you might think there's nothing there. In reality, there's 20 businesses that currently operate on Eagle Street."
Two decorative light poles being removed from another street will be refurbished for use as entrance signs at the south end of Eagle and will have hooks on them to allow banners to be strung across the street.
Trash and recycling cans and benches got a tryout last fall and will be returned this spring. Lamb said one bench was sited at the tree by First Baptist Church and it seemed to work out well there.
A major installation will be the addition of a manufactured pocket park across from the existing pocket park. Similar to the seating area created during the Eagle Street Rising project a few years ago, the parklet with seating will have a pressure-treated or aluminum deck set level with the sidewalk.
It would be 8 feet wide and 30 feet long, enclosed on three sides and have solar lighting and possibly wi-fi. It will be used seasonally, being removed in the winter to accommodate plowing.
"The idea was to create enough space so it was programmable," Lamb said, such as music or open mic nights. "We're working with the Roots Teen Center and Common Folk to do things during the summer ... maybe brunch since we have four restaurants on the street."
Looking more longer term, the initiative is also focusing on better pedestrian access to the one-way street from the Center Street parking lot. This is in line with the city's exploration of making Eagle a woonerf, or shared pedestrian and motor vehicle space.
The brickway between Desparados and Eagle Street Artisans (the former Molly's Bakery) will be spruced up as more of a social space and have one of the elements requiring approval by the commission. An installation of solar lights, in various tones and intensities, will be on private property but hang out over the public brickway.
The second pedestrian way will eventually be carved out of the awkard pocket park where Tropical Gardens used to be. The building burned down 10 years ago the land donated to the city.
Lamb said the plan is to remove some of the arborvitae in the back and put up a decorative fence that could be removed at a later time. Native plantings will be put in and cobblestones laid for a path to the back of the park with the idea that it will eventually become a pathway to the Center Street parking lot. Lamb said it has to be kept open as a fire lane.
"One of the concepts we're looking at down the road is making it a pedestrian way with plantings," he said.
A mural of a rainbow-hued eagle will be painted on the Persnickety Toy Store on the south side and seating will be installed. On the other side is the long vacant former Moderne Studio building. The 1920 brick structure has historic advertisements painted on its south side that many want preserved but its condition has been deteriorating.
"In talking to the administration, this is a concern," Lamb said. "There are buildings that are not habitable but none of them have the presence — either positive or negative — that this one does."
The park will also host the second public installation approved by the commission: a zoetrope.
The device is a spinning metal barrel with slots; images inside the barrel appear to move as the barrel spins. The concept is "North Adams in Motion" and was developed between the artist and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students.
Lamb said he did not know what images had been selected and the commissioners asked that the images, along with final designs for the lights and the mural, since it was looking out on a public space, be brought to them prior to be installed.
He said there is an effort to have fabrication of the items done locally as much as possible, such as Neathawk Design doing the storefront signs or B&B Micro-Manufacturing the removable park. Cost estimates are being done now.
Students at MCLA are also working on an app that should launch in late spring and have all of the historical data on the Eagle Street building. "The hope is that we will have enough funding to put placards up on some of the buildings," he said.
The initiative is also supporting a project with local students painting old fire boxes that are being removed and considering how those might relate to creating and attractive linkage between Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Eagle Street.
Lamb said work will begin in May for a ribbon cutting on June 9.
The commissioners postponed a vote on turning the trees in the middle of Main Street into "Magic Trees." The proposal by Annamarie Sebastino, who was not in attendance, submitted the proposal and provided information on the first projects done at MCLA and the Louison House.
The trees would be wrapped in colorful materials that can painted or written on. The idea is that they would help people with seasonal affective disorder by brightening up the downtown.
However, the commissioners felt they needed more information — specifically how they would look on the Main Street trees and if they were suitable for summer.
"I feel uncomfortable making a decision what the middle of Main Street looks like during our summer season," Vice Chairman Eric Kerns.
The commission also wanted to ensure that the project would not interfere with any city activities or traffic. A meeting was set for March 12 at 5:30 to hear Sebastino.
In other business, Commissioner Erica Manville reported she and Chairwoman Julia Dixon, who was not present, had met with Mayor Thomas Bernard to update him on the board's mission and responsibilities. She informed him that he would need to appoint two new commissioners as she and Nancy Ziter would no longer be serving.
Tags: arts commission, Eagle Street,
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