Adams, Mass: Arts and Artists
Surveying Arts and Cultural Organizations
By: Astrid Hiemer - Aug 29, 2009
Adams is a town along the 'Cultural Corridor' in the Northern Berkshires. Much has been written in recent months and years about development and commercial and cultural progress in Pittsfield, 20 min. south of Adams, and North Adams, 15 minutes north of Adams on Route 8. The commercial success of both cities, north and south, is also largely attributed to their growing arts and cultural communities.
North Adams opened MASS MoCA ten years ago, and celebrations at Open Studios and DownStreet Arts of the last few years have brought new visitors, arts-enthusiasts, as well as buyers/collectors into town. Approximately one hundred artists live and work in the Beaver and Eclipse Mills and more around town. There are galleries and other cultural venues. Individual artists have moved from many other states to North Adams and Pittsfield.
Pittsfield 's current mayor James R. Ruberto and city government, invested approximately $10 Million from a General Electric fund into cultural institutions and businesses, as well as posted the position of Director of Cultural Development and hired Megan Whilden. She creates busily and creatively opportunities for the arts and culture in Pittsfield. The Berkshire Museum has finished a first phase of renovations, to best museum standards, with more work in the planning stages. The Colonial Theatre, now restored to former golden and exquisite luster, is presenting mostly short term musical acts and theatre. Barrington Stage moved into town three years ago, and so did the prestigious Ferrin Gallery.
More than five years ago, Maggie Mailer and a group of artists, negotiated with the city and landlords short term contracts for empty store fronts. Artists worked and exhibited in those spaces and the bleak North Street business district became lively again. Now, five years later, North Street businesses occupy the store fronts to 95%. Pittsfield also has a nine-months long 3rd Thursday, Open Studios and art venues day, which brings hundreds and sometimes thousands of people to Pittsfield. The August theme was dedicated to the celebration of Woodstock 40 years ago.
Adams, in comparison to Pittsfield and North Adams, both cities, is a town with a considerable smaller population. The 2000 census reported just below 9000 people. Adams is sandwiched between the two cities and must take advantage of this fortunate location along the Cultural Corridor on Route 8, to a greater extent than currently considered by the town government and its people. That includes businesses in two business districts, artists and artisans, arts and cultural organizations.
There are currently two arts organizations in town, and the culture and nature facility, The BerkshireVisitors Center. Also, Bascom Lodge is situated high above Adams, on top of Mount Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts. The newly restored Susan B. Anthony Birthplace & Museum at 67 East Road, and the Quaker Meeting House on the grounds of the Maple Street Cemetery are open for viewing. Town Hall has a gallery and the town library will sponsor exhibitions from time to time. The Adams Historical Society is based at 92 Park Street.
The TOPIA Art Center
Topia Art Center, at 27 Park Street (Rt. 8) was conceive by co-founders Nana Simopoulos and Caryn Heilman in 2004, when, by chance, they were shown the cavernous space of a former movie house in downtown Adams. The last movies were seen there in 1967 and, this summer, Topia resurrected its original purpose by screening a 14 weeks long series of films, which will last until end of September and is free to the public. The series is being sponsored by South Adams Savings Bank. All chosen films have a connection to the Berkshires in some way. On July 12, Douglas Trumbull presented "2001: A Space Odyssey." He is a legendary filmmaker, visual effects pioneer, and academy award winner.
We saw a presentation by Jeffrey Kleizer, owner of Synthespian Studios, which are based in North Adam, Williamstown, Hollywood, and New Mexico. The company has been involved in several big budget films by providing special effects. He screened the film: "The One," for which his company played a major role by developing the computer generated sequences. Truly impressive presenters ! Topia now owns one of only two 32 foot screen High Definition (HD) projectors and sound systems in the Berkshires. The Berkshire Savings Bank gave this generous gift. 100 seats have been installed in the theatre, thanks to renovations and new seating at Images Theatre in Williamstown.
Simopoulos and Heilman and their board members are in the process of identifying major donors for the first of five phases in order to set in motion the beginning of a magnificent arts and entertainment center. Finally, The Topia Arts Center will have two performance platforms on different levels, with a number of the 500 seats designed to be movable. There will be rehearsal studios, dressing rooms, and all other support elements that a theatre needs. The café and lobby will be sized to facilitate the big audience. The rooftop will be green, with a sunspace and a café terrace, which will be visible and accessible from the Ashuwillticook bike trail near by.
The total budget for the entire project should not exceed six million dollars, significantly lower than the Colonial Theatre restoration, for example ($ 20 millions). Nana and Caryn hope to raise the first one million dollars -- soon. The shining theatre will eventually be a state of the art green building, and will be available for many purposes: For arts and education, culture, and general events.
In 2005 Topia started the café at 27 Park Street , later that year, the Art Center had its gala inauguration with "The Love Show." The following year, Topia Inn opened. It is an award-winning, green B & B, which is situated just behind the Art Center. Stone Soup, as the café is called now, is run by Jeanne Mathew, who is also a board member. The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed, and Jeanne is an infectious optimist. Many music performances have happened at the café over the years. We saw earlier this year a fantastic aerielist from Spain, Maite Sanjuan. She managed to convey a story, while hanging and performing acrobatics on a thick rope. The singer/songwriter Razia Said, from Madagascar, came with her band in July. The people of Adams and visitors are indeed receiving an exquisite palette of cultural events to choose from. Many cost little or no money!
Topia Art is also dedicated to education. There have been many workshops for students and adults over the years. This year's workshops included jewelry and instrument making, 3 Bears Puppetry and Rap, clowning, tie-dye and drumming, the Missing Piece, and Giving Tree Movements and yoga for kids. They were taught by several artists, artisans, and dancers.
Simopoulos, the Executive Director of Topia, is a musician and composer of world music. She sings in English, Greek, Hindi, and Yoruba and plays the Indian sitar, Byzantine bouzouki, and the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo. Truly exotic instruments! Here a quote from the world music of Nana web page: "World Music of Nana is a unique ensemble that blends musical elements from across the world. Nana has established herself as one of the foremost composers of new world music today. Since the mid 1980s Nana has been touring and presenting her original music to audiences world wide in such prestigious venues as Symphony Space, the Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan in New York City, as well as the Kennedy Center and the Montreux Jazz Festival."
Simopoulos will present two concerts, "Resonant Foundation," on September 12 at 6 pm, and September 13 at 2 pm, end of Thiel Road on the Greylock Glen, free admission.
It is a commissioned, site specific composition. She will use the rebar as an additional instrument, which were left on site from a former development at the Glen. Eric Leckrone will accompany Nana on percussion, while she will also play the sitar and other instruments. Caryn will also perform a site specific dance among the rebar's resonant sounds during the concert.
Heilman, spent the last two years in California, where she received a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Dance, from the University of California, at Irvine. She is also the director of the dance group: "Liquid Body," who are continuum movement or modern dancers. Members of the group live in New York City, Adams, on the West Coast, and London. She previously danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company for ten years. This year, Caryn has taught community dance classes at Jacob's Pillow all summer long.
Both women are also based in New York City. They are focused on the tasks at hand, have made long term commitments to Adams and the TOPIA Art Center without neglecting their other passions as artists and performers.
Greylock Arts Gallery
Greylock Arts, at 93 Summer Street, only a couple of minutes away from Park and Hoosac Streets in the older business district, is owned by Marianne Petit and Mathew Belanger. They have mounted 14 exhibitions in the last two years, among them: Sustainable Energy Art; LEDs Are Pretty; Being There: A Geocoded Landscape; Lumens; The Art of Todd Houlbek and Algorithmic Art. Most exhibitions are to be appreciated at different levels. The exhibitions are always visually interesting and challenging. As in the Geocoded Landscape show, they have included local artists and local themes, interwoven with technology.
The current exhibition, "Dan Rose; Secret Century," is an exhibition in three locations on Summer Street, namely at the gallery and in two empty store fronts. The exhibition was curated by the artist, Richard Harrington, a native of Adams, who now resides in Williamstown. It is open until the end of August and can be appreciated as visually direct, witty, and as referenced in an accompanying publication.
Petit and Belanger have collaborated on youth projects with Mass MoCA's Kidspace, where they developed and taught an art & technology curriculum at three public schools in North Adams, and more. Student groups from the nearby grammar school at St. Nicholas Church have been regular visitors to the gallery. And, so are many women in the neighborhood a loyal following. Visitors at the gallery are inquisitive to the attending artists. The visiting artists from New York City, South Africa, Japan, or other places, nationally and internationally have often appreciated the exchanges with the audience, which they may not get in city galleries.
Funding for exhibitions and collaborations has come out of their own pockets as well as from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts, via New Radio and Performing Arts. With those funds they developed: "Networked Realities: (re)connecting the Adamses ," in collaboration with MCLA's Gallery 51, and Turbulence.org. The Massachusetts Cultural Council, Creative Schools Program provided grants for the educational projects, and the Berkshire Taconic Fund, provided for a project with CATA.
Greylock Arts has hosted events, panel discussions, and performances, most recently in collaboration with the Storefront Artists Salon in Pittsfield. Future exhibitions will include a group show of Victorian sensibility, a video based show including video games, and a nature based exhibition.
We saw Marianne wearing a yellow staff t-shirt at a recent Summer Street fair. The street was full of visitors for hours and the fair was a great success. Greylock Art supports a current drive for food for dogs and cats. They own two dogs themselves and may have had originally an easy way into community acceptance, because of their animals. Also Marianne and Matt are charming and gracious people.
They still divide their time between Adams and New York City, where Petit holds an appointment as Associate Professor at New York University 's Interactive Telecommunications Program. And, Belanger works independently as a website developer and all around technology wizard.
Marianne Petit and Mathew Belanger are miracle workers, with more than a dozen projects behind them and many more to come in the future.
The Berkshire Visitors Center
The Berkshire Visitors Center on Hoosac Street, is also a new green building. There are permanent historical and cultural exhibition installed and videos of the Berkshires can be seen. Friendly volunteers advise visitors and answer questions. A large section offers brochures on every conceivable activity and business of members of the Berkshire Visitor's Bureau. The bureau's offices are upstairs in the building. The Visitor's Center and its parking lot also mark the beginning of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which ends beyond Cheshire Lake in Lanesborough. The large parking lot marks the beginning trail for bicyclists, walkers, and hikers.
Bascom Lodge, atop Mount Greylock is definitely a hiker's destination along the Appalachian trail and the Mohawk trail nearby. The drive up to Mt. Greylock had been closed for two years for repair and can now again be accessed from the North Adams side. The lodge's new management was awarded in an open competition. Partners with the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) are Peter Dudek, his brother John Dudek, and Brad Parsons.
Peter Dudek is a sculptor and adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts at Hunter College in Manhattan. He is also the director of the Storefront Artist Project in Pittsfield, which continues the initial idea of store front art spaces at 124 Fenn Street, in Pittsfield. It has become a vital non profit organization.
John Dudek has 25 years of experience as a self employed chef and caterer in New York City. The Dudek brothers grew up in Adams and live in the Berkshires. Brad Parsons, a textile designer, manages the computer/CAD department of home furnishing fabrics at Kravet, Inc. The trio, and Parsons in particular, a gardener, nature enthusiast, and member of the American Horticultural Society, is committed to maintaining and restoring a natural and green environment at the lodge.
The lodge is in the process of restoration. There will be, as before, reasonably priced bunk bed rooms for hikers, as well as single rooms. Since opening the road to Bascom Lodge on July 4th, 2009, there have been Wednesday cultural presentations, followed by a dinner at the new restaurant. Two of this summer's titles are: Catch the Buzz about Bees and Beekeeping, and Copyright Law for Artists. On September 2nd the Beeline Ramblers will perform live Americana folk music. All presentations are free and open to the public. Please make reservations for the dinner that follows. Bascom Lodge also hosts an artist in residence.
The following questions were posed to all during the interviews: "What else should the town of Adams do, to increase viability and visibility of arts and culture in the community, than what is currently initiated ? What can the arts and cultural community do?
TOPIA Art Center states in publications, that part of their mission is to bring economic stimulus to downtown Adams. Caryn Heilman suggested artist housing and tax incentives, to bring more artists and organizations into town.
Marianne Petit and Matt Belanger spoke about the loop that people in Adams walk daily. It connects both business districts of Park and Summer Streets. There are unoccupied buildings and store fronts, which could be converted to short term or permanent cultural spaces, which would offer interesting sites to visitors and towns people alike.
The arts and culture in the Berkshires are often cited a major economic engine in the region. The town of Adams can do more to participate and prosper in return.