Earlier this summer, I attended the Creative Communities Exchange in North Adams, MA, home to Mass MoCA. North Adams has become something of a poster child for the creative economy, as the museum is housed in a former textile mill and the arts community has been a bright spot in the relatively dim economic outlook of the town and the region as a whole.
A bit of context: North Adams is located in the Berkshires, home to countless nationally recognized arts organizations, such as Tanglewood and the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival, the Clark Museum and Shakespeare & Co. There are already lots of arts supporters in the area. There are already lots of artists in the area. Essential to this story is the fact that the MoCA’s success is not replicable everywhere, and instead represents a well thought out, place-based strategy for post-industrial redevelopment. The Berkshires now boasts an incredible creative economy advocacy organization, Berkshire Creative, one of the hosts of the conference. They recognize that cultural production in their region can be a major economic engine, but a multi-faceted one, and have harnessed events, social media, networking and marketing in a way that feels sensitive and authentic in order to promote the field to tourists and residents alike.
Now, that’s an important point: the creative economy innovations going on in the Berkshires today aren’t just focused on tourists; they’re committed to improving lives and opportunities for residents as well. Take Pittsfield. Pittsfield is another post-industrial town, nestled between the summer arts destinations. A few years ago, the mayor made a bold decision: put the city’s director for Cultural Development in charge of economic development, too. The result? Third Thursdays, for one, an amazing city-wide festival that runs throughout the summer, with music, activities, restaurant specials, and more. Really though, Third Thursdays is more of an Italian style passegiatta than a street festival or an arts fair…the folks are just out for the sake of being out, to greet each other and socialize. Inspired by the Thursday night strolls that industrial workers used to take on paydays, Pittsfield has created a new institution that, though sponsored by the Cultural Development department, is more about community than arts, distinct from the tourist-oriented cultural products in the area, and an incredible engine for downtown revitalization. Since Third Thursdays began, Pittsfield has seen a resurgence in local businesses, reinvestment in its main street, and even restoration of its historic theatre. And it’s just plain fun.
So, that’s pretty much all I have to say. I was really inspired by the mix of community-mindedness, thoughtful economic development, and creative adaptive reuse that I saw in the Berkshires. To conclude, feast your eyes on the long-term installation of Sol LeWitt drawings and paintings that the MoCA has been fortunate enough to commission. The blessing of the setting of the MoCA is its massive scale, and the LeWitts are the perfect way to show that off. I love when museums take advantage of their built resources, just as these initiatives take advantage of their community’s cultural resources. It’s an incredible installation, and I suggest that you get yourself there as soon as possible, and experience the renaissance in the Berkshires for yourself!