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North Adams Arts Commission Reviews Examples for Master Plan

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Arts Commission is looking at examples from other communities as it develops a master plan for art in North Adams. 

The commissioners took on five public arts commissions to review, providing summaries on what they discovered in their research to the full commission on Monday.
 
The commission was charged earlier this summer with developing a public arts master plan for the city. At the end of Monday's meeting, its members gleaned some important elements from the plans, especially having a solid goal of what it wanted the plan to capture. 
 
"I'm just big on not creating solutions that don't have clearly identified problems," said Commissioner Eric Kerns. 
 
Chairwoman Anna Farrington also noted, "we're going to have trouble getting a budget until we can identify exactly what it is that we want."
 
The communities looked at are Worcester and Salem; Emeryville, Md.; Lake Oswego, Ore.; and Richardson, Texas. They range in size from Worcester at a population of about 185,000 to Lake Oswego at 39,000, and differ somewhat in funding sources and priorities. 
 
Worcester's cultural plan was instituted this year as a collaboration of the city and two other entities as a foundation for future cultural planning. The massive plan is part of the city's master plan and involves 90 different strategies over the next decade. 
 
Commissioners Bryan Sapienza and William Blackmer both researched the document with Sapienza saying what he got out of it was the elements of history (Worcester will be celebrating its 300th anniversary), including diverse peoples and ideas, and the outreach to community. 
 
"We have a lot of rich history in the city. And that's something that maybe should be brought into play when we consider upcoming art projects, public space, design and activation," he said. "They're talking about making places accessible and connected. We're facing a situation kind of similar where we have an overpass between a wonderful art institution and the rest of the city and we'd like to break that barrier in some way."
 
Blackmer said he found Worcester's plans and resources a little overwhelming — and probably beyond North Adams' capabilities — but noted that its commission is charged with promoting Worcester's cultural areas. Plus, it has a public arts working group, in which the commission participates. 
 
What he particularly liked was a programmable map and that seemed like it could be scalable. 
 
"It was nice to see a map with dots and colors and then the artist's name, the project's name, and you hit on it and it takes you there," he said. "It didn't look like a huge software develop but it's beyond what we're doing now."
 
Salem and Richardson had similar elements in their art master plans as they were developed by the same consultant, Via Partnership of St. Louis.  
 
Commissioner Sarah Sutro said she had focused more on funding sources in looking at Salem "since that's our biggest problem."
 
"They had a whole part that says you should work with developers to contribute to the public art fund or incorporate art in their development project. That's usually called the 'percent for art,'" she said. "In Boston, it's a very big deal. It's like 1 percent for art at every project has to be put aside. And that means there's a lot of public art."
 
Salem's plan also talks about soliciting funds and grants to support public art. It also speaks to partnering with cultural institutions to provide master classes and lectures by artists of public art projects "sharing expertise with a broader audience and building anticipation as and also so the work would become part of the fabric of the city," she said.
 
Richardson's public arts is funded through a rooms tax, said Commissioner Laini Sporbert, and its cultural commission has very broad yet defined roles in the city's government.  
 
"What I found interesting about Richardson, Texas, population 116,000, was kind of how they are integrated with the City Council," she said. "They mentioned the importance of administrative guidelines to make sure that public art is representative of the community and continues to be considered."
 
The Richardson Cultural Arts Commission assists in the development of the arts, provides a biennial state of the art assessment to the council, makes recommendations on expenditures for the arts and historic preservation, is the review board for program funding, and review and makes recommendations on the annual public arts plan. 
 
Commissioner Derek Parker took the town in Maryland but was unable to attend on Monday. Farrington read his notes that it focused on the integration of arts opportunities in infrastructure projects and made a point of keeping prioritized projects in the forefront. 
 
"What struck me is that despite some tepid responses to building a master plan for North Adams, in reviewing this document, that made me realize that it's a vitally needed document if the city wants to play a role on how the arts are being represented in the coming years," Farrington read. 
 
Kerns reviewed Lake Oswego, describing its plan as psychedelic in some way but clear-sighted in goals. The Portland suburb styles itself as the "Art City" and heavily promotes it. But it doesn't have any sort of arts anchor, such as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Rather, said Kerns, the city is doing all the heavy lifting and spending between $110,000 and $150,000 a year on art. 
 
"The money comes directly from a tourism fund in the city budget, but they definitely are linking this being the way that they fill hotel rooms around the lake, and that it's about creating this kind of resort town feel," he said. "The specificity of the way that they've kind of taken as a strategy about it, they're definitely going for quantity over quality."
 
If there's a welcome sign, there's a piece of art next to it, Kerns said. 
 
Some of the takeaways in looking over the plans was the use of dedicated revenues toward not only funding art but maintaining and promoting it; the integration of cultural commissions into municipal governance; clarity in prioritizing and implementing plans; the consideration of infrastructure projects in developing public art; the partnering between cultural and educational institutions to enhance and promote public art projects; the consideration of historical attributes and connectivity between public spaces; and plans that can be implemented. 
 
Kerns said he appreciated that Lake Oswego drew a direct line to the result it wanted: developing art to fill hotel rooms and restaurants. 
 
"It was for a purpose that the community could get behind. It wasn't just like, yeah, let's have more art kind of thing," he said. "It was like economic, that all of those quality of life things were secondary benefits."
 
That clarity needs to be considered in North Adams, he said, where "it's still a hearts and minds thing of this community trying to say to people, this is valuable."
 
Farrington said North Adams is already positioned as an arts destination, so to her, the idea was to build the master plan on that base. Sapienza referred back to the idea of connectivity and that the city needed to solve the conundrum of getting Mass MoCA visitors downtown.
 
"OK, so maybe maybe our homework for next time is to think a little bit about what those targets are and maybe if everyone could come back with one to three targets — what are goals for this plan?" said Farrington. 

Tags: master plan,   public arts commission,   

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Berkshire Food Project Recognizes Hours Put in by Volunteers

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Three generations of volunteers with Linda Palumbo, left, Cindy Bolte, Alicia Rondeau and Cassandra Shoestack.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Five days a week a troop volunteers helps the small staff of the Berkshire Food Project feed hundreds of people. 
 
On Monday night, the tables were turned. 
 
More than 30 volunteers and attending family members were served up a choice of beef wellington and potato, salmon and rice, or a vegetarian meal, along with appetizers, dessert and beverages.
 
"Just from 2018 to 2019, [we served] 10,000 more meals, right, a 28 percent increase in 2019. So the numbers on the stove, same amount of counterspace. The only thing that changed is the capacity of our volunteers. So thank you, guys," said Executive Director Kim McMann. 
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