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'Creative Districts' Suggested to Support Cultural Endeavors

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Gov. Deval Patrick speaks with Kevin Sprague at Thursday's creative economy roundtable.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The region's cultural and creative economy leaders gathered at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Thursday afternoon called for better ways to support not only its well-known venues but its work force, including establishing zones that encourage collaboration between nonprofits and businesses.

"This is the creme de la creme of the people who are making it happen," said Mayor John Barrett III in introducing Gov. Deval Patrick to the 70-odd entrepreneurs, museum and theater directors and other nonprofit boosters of the county. "But I also believe they are going to lead us into the future."

Representatives from some 120 organizations were invited to participate in the roundtable discussion with Gov. Deval Patrick, who toured two galleries and a local dot-com, Waterfront Media, in the morning.

"I'm increasingly struck by the opportunity presented by a strong cultural element," said governor. "How do we build on that even at a time of scarce resources?"

The conversation ranged from how the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism was marketing the region to how filmmakers could be persuaded make the Berkshires a backdrop to how the area itself could provide housing and jobs for the creative individuals needed to ensure a strong cultural base.

"I can look around the table and tell you who's in trouble. Some of these jewels are hanging by a thread right now," said Kevin Sprague of Berkshire Creative. "People have lost hundreds of jobs in the creative sector this year and there hasn't been a whisper."

One obstable he and others saw was the ability for cultural enterpreneurs and developers to get the capital backing for new ventures, such as theaters or housing.

Artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd said projects like his Eclipse Mill are difficult to do because of the limited profitability. The studio/living condominiums in his mill sold out before they were completed, showing there was a market for medium-priced artists' housing. But break-even ventures don't attract a lot of capital.

"That kind of project would be successful today except there would be no profit," he said, and so no developer willing to invest in it. Instead, there's capital backing for high-end housing on one side and low-income housing on the other. "But in the middle of the road, the numbers don't work."


Brian Butterworth, left, of the Red Lion Inn and Williams professor Stephen Sheppard.
His neighbor across the street, Ariel Sutain in the former Hoosac Mill, didn't completely agree, but noted that the types of development he was pursuing didn't fit neatly in the categories outlined by MassDevelopment. "We didn't fit into the development mold."

"Conventional finance won't work," said state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley. Banks have to get involved, he said, but are limited because of regulatory issues.

On top of suitable housing, artists coming into the area required jobs that fit their talents, said Brian Handspicker, president of the Berkshire Artists Colony.

"We really are talking about struggling and starving artists," he said.

Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard suggested greater collaboration between nonprofits, municipalities and businesses through the creation of creative investment or improvement districts, not unlike economic development zones.

Sheppard is the director of the Center for Creative Community Development (C3D) at Mass MoCA, which is currently doing research on 25 cities across the country, including North Adams, to quantify the impact of nonprofits on local economies. The center completed a report on the effects of Mass MoCA several years ago.

"The public funds invested in Mass MoCA for example, generated an increase in local commercial and resident housing values that way exceeds the public investment in it," he said. A creative district "will allow communities and local businesses to work to support nonprofits that are absolutely essential to the Berkshire economy."
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Hundreds Still Without Power in North County, Stamford


A new pole is in place for a transformer on Main Road in Stamford. 

Update: The National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., has issued another severe thunderstorm watch until 8 p.m. for Berkshire County, eastern New York and Southern Vermont. 

STAMFORD, Vt. — Nearly 18 hours after severe thunderstorms pummeled the region, hundreds of customers are without power. 

 
The latest update estimates is that power will be back on at 2 p.m. in North Berkshire. Green Mountain Power's outage map could not provide an estimate on power restoration.  
 
Many residents woke up to the sounds of chainsaws and generators on Wednesday morning as clean up from the storm continued.
 
Stamford was hit hard with trees blocking roads and broken utility poles. Some 499 customers in Stamford and Readsboro were without power.
 
A post from Stamford's emergency management director said conditions in North Berkshire were delaying power re-energizing in the Vermont town because it's sourced from National Grid in Massachusetts. 
 
More than 800 customers were without power in Williamstown, Mass., as noon approached. Tree and lines down along Main Street had taken hours for National Grid crews to address and hampered their ability to aid smaller outages in nearby communities. 
 
Williamstown Police posted on Facebook that because of the extensive damage to the electrical supply lines to town, parts of Williamstown may not see power until later tonight or possibly tomorrow.
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