State Sen. Adam Hinds, left, Donald Sommer, state Rep. John Barrett II and Richard Boulger with the deed to First Baptist Church, below.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Musical Studies campus is growing with the recent purchase of the former First Baptist Church.
Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Musical Studies faculty members thought they were just meeting at the Olga C. Sommer Center for Music & Art to tour the newly renovated building, but church owner and BAAMS partner Donald Sommer had a surprise.
He bought another church.
"It is a beautiful building but it does need a lot of work," Sommer said with the deed in hand.
Sommer said he finalized the purchase that day and invited the group to take the initial tour.
"The BAAMS campus is growing and we are just very excited to help a new generation of kids discover the possibles of themselves with the power of music," music director Richard Boulger said.
In December 2019 Sommer, a local business owner, announced his partnership with Boulger, a North Adams native, and their plans to redevelop the former St. Mark's Episcopal Church into a jazz academy for high school students. Boulger, a New York City-based professional jazz trumpet player, planned to bring in a lineup of world-class jazz musicians to teach.
"These are not five or six guys that had a band," Sommer said. "These are world-class guys that have played all over the world with some of the biggest bands in America. We are so lucky that they are willing to come to little old Adams and help with the music school, and they are committed."
Some of these faculty members were in town Friday wrapping up the third Berkshire Summer Jazz Camp — a program that preceded BAAMS.
The acquisition of First Baptist Church, just a few doors down from St. Mark's on Commercial Street., expands the footprint of the academy and although the building still needs a lot of work and its future use is unclear, Boulger saw the potential.
"We are so excited for this potential for all of our kids throughout the county," he said. "As we move forward with the new music academy it is nice to have hope ... we do feel optimistic that some great things are coming to Adams and the Berkshires."
State Rep. John Barrett III, who was on the tour with state Sen. Adam Hinds, also saw this potential and drew connections to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
"This is rebuilding a community with your past and using this beautiful building," he said. "...This is a further example of how you can use ingenuity coming from your own community. This was born here."
Barrett said this extended to Sommer who continues to invest in Adams and Boulger who went through the Drury High School band program.
"He is a homegrown guy right out of the education system in North Adams, out of the music program, who has come back to the area," he said. "He wants to give something back. It doesn’t get any better than that."
Sommer said he hoped BAAMS could put Adams on the map. He said currently Adams is bookended by great cultural institutions, and he hopes BAAMS could help Adams tap into the tourist economy booming in North Adams and Pittsfield.
"Adams is right between and we missed the boat on everything," he said. "I think this is not going to be just good for the kids but a shot in the arm for the town."
Hinds agreed and said it becomes more and more important to be able to attract new people to the Berkshires.
"There are so many upsides to what is happening here," Hinds said. "It creates another center of gravity for music, arts, and culture in North County, it brings the visitors to Adams, and this investment revitalizes an old building."
BAAMS was slated to open this summer, and although the Olga C. Sommer Center for Music & Art is essentially ready to go, COVID-19 has put a halt to opening.
In the meantime, Boulger said BAAMS does plan to open virtually but donations are being accepted to help really kick the academy into gear once it can physically open.
Hinds noted COVID-19 has put a damper on a lot of exciting things in the Berkshires, but he was happy to say BAAMS still looked very viable.
"It is tangible. They are just finishing up a week of programming, you have another building, and can feel the growth and energy," he said.
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