Letter: Local History Destroyed
To the Editor:
Driving to work on Tuesday, I went a different route than usual. As I approached downtown north Adams I thought I was seeing things, The Arnold Printworks Dolls and Mill Children columns in front of Mass MoCA under the Route 2 overpass were gone.
They were a depiction of the essence of this city 120 years ago. When I arrived at Greylock Elementary School, I rushed to my computer to contact fellow artist and co-facilitator on the column project, William Oberst to inquire if he knew anything about their destruction. He answered immediately that he was as surprised as I. As the two artists that planned, led and completed these columns, we remain absolutely stunned.
So many questions ran through my head, Who would do this? Why would they do this? Why weren't we notified? What was the purpose of their removal? I then turned to the larger issue which became, would this have been done if we had been compensated for our work and not simply volunteered our time for 16 months and two summers to design, instruct and complete this project?
DownStreet Art muralists are compensated a small fee for their work. Bill and I and a former MCLA grad, Stephanie VanBramer, taught Greylock School after-school students the history of their city, the process of choosing appropriate images, enlarging of the images and proper painting techniques and care to complete these columns in a professional manner.
We began on the east side with the Arnold Printworks dolls, where we were approached by a Community Service Learning course from MCLA to offer training to Berkshire County educators and an opportunity to learn about our process. The east side columns were dedicated in 2012. The following spring, we began the creation of the west side, the same elementary students signed up and new students joined to participate in this once in a life time learning activity.
Our materials were funded by Community Service Learning grants that have since been absorbed and written in the NAPS district budget with the support of service learning by the district. Parents were educated by their children about the city's history after generations of residing in North Adams. Students learned about Child Labor and how Lewis Hine helped illuminate the country's understanding of using young children as laborers, and finally that Massachusetts was the first state to outlaw child labor due to these convictions.
This is now where the flavor of this destruction sits with me, as an educator I offered my knowledge, my time and energy to get as many citizens involved in what I thought was an incredible opportunity. I shared my enthusiasm for art and technique and the hope that someone would be touched by our work. We were constantly cheered and beeped as cars drove past at each stage of completion.
The students beamed, it confirmed my role as an artist and educator and my love of both. We brought groups of people together that never would have met, students became teachers to the adults that lead them everyday, simply because they had invested their time throughout the school year. Everyone involved in this project did it for the love of it not the notoriety, but because it spread the word and understanding of a huge piece of history of this region and city.
I vacillate between angry and sad now every day, but my heart goes out to the residents of the city. It is their history that has been erased again. Our paintings were beautiful and I will forever be proud of my involvement, but I am wounded by lack of integrity related to the decision to destroy a community project such as this. This level of callousness and disrespect is what permeates our world currently and I will continue to try to share the importance of taking the high road with my students regarding this and other issues that will undoubtedly arise in their lives in the future.
Ms. King is an art teacher in the North Adams Public Schools.
Tags: art installation, public art,