In GroundWork! exhibit Barbosa captures life through a fantastical filter

Posted May 17, 2018 at 3:01 AM

“Every dream has a name. And names tell a story. This song is your dream.”

— Talking Heads

“Duende” is the perfect name for the current exhibition of artwork by Tracy Barbosa.

The term refers to a moment of unrepeatable excitement that originated in dance and music, but has come to also define a rush of the soul that manifests itself even in static art.

The Spanish poet Francisco Garcia Lorca once described duende as “a sort of corkscrew that can get into the sensibility of the audience.” It is the dance between the muse and the goblin and Barbosa is the chaperone.

Curated by Jessica Bregoli at Groundwork, “Duende” is an intriguing showcase for Barbosa, who has created complex works that are densely layered, both literally (in her deft application of material) and conceptually (seemingly bouncing from one alternate reality to another.)

She glides seamlessly between glasswork, photography printmaking, painting, gold leafing and sculpture. It is often difficult to ascertain where one ends and the next begins, and that speaks to her mastery of her chosen media.

Thematically, she straddles a place between the mystical and the earthbound, the visceral and the cerebral, the private and the public, the familiar and the queer, and the natural and the manmade.

In the large scale acrylic painting (with brass and copper leaf, patina and toner) “Spring Snow,” Barbosa presents a marvelous fantasy landscape that draws from reality but becomes something entirely new and refreshing.

In the background, Northern California’s Bay Bridge spans a bay somehow connecting Texas to the New York City borough of Queens. Nearer to the viewer is a plump antlered deer in the wood, Canadian geese and starlings flit about, and the sky is both ominous and lovely.

But the most remarkable element is the dozen or so oversized doily-like snowflakes that become both a decorative element and a sign that winter has succumbed. It is clearly “unreal” but it resonates as though it were a bolder and better plane of existence.

“Derrick” is an homage to her cousin of the same name who died of an overdose of opiates in December 2017. There is something reverential in it, almost holy.

Bulbous, cartoon-like gold leaf clouds recall the Momoyama (Peach Hill) Period of the late 16th century in Japan, expressing an opulence that dangerously borders on decadence.

Barbosa zealfully embraces symbolism. A large bird carries a photographic device as if trying to record and understand the unfathomable. In the distance, gulls flock but they are in black silhouette and look like crows. Their number constitutes a murder, perhaps an unconscious reference to the opiate dealers. And in the distance, on a dead-still sea, is a derrick.

“16 Octaves Below Middle C” (which according to Barbosa is “the hum of the Earth”) is a ceramic print on glass, illuminated from behind, which gives it the feel of a church’s stained glass windows. But the iconography is not big-C Catholic. It is little-c catholic … it is universal. Heaven is a multi-hued sky, angels are the ever-present birds, the altar is a barren tree, and the shrine is an off-in-the-distance Chrysler Building.

Another work of note is “Ink and Wine” which features entangled octopuses as a metaphor for family, silver grails with all religious understanding locked in place, and a spattering of red. It is ink, it is wine, it is the blood of Christ and family bond.

Barboza’s work exists in a dreamstate that is both lucid and temporal. She knows the muse and the goblin. She lives with both.

“Duende: An Exhibition by Tracy Barbosa” is on display at Groundwork, 1213 Purchase Street, New Bedford through June 9. An opening reception will be held on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Don Wilkinson is a painter and art critic who lives in New Bedford. Contact him at Don.Wilkinson@gmail.com. His columns run each week in Coastin’.

Original article here.

A whale of a heart: Life-size model of a blue whale heart arrives at New Bedford Whaling Museum

A life-size model of a blue whale heart arrived at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on Thursday, all the way from New Zealand.

Visitors are welcome to crawl inside the heart, which has four chambers and is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

“It’s pretty spectacular,” Chief Curator Christina Connett said.

The heart is the first major element in a complete redesign of the Jacobs Family Gallery and other spaces for an exhibit titled Whales Today, which focuses on ecology and conservation. Other elements to come include a model of a whale’s head with baleen, plus life-size silhouettes of whale flukes.

The museum staff had waited for days to hear that the heart had cleared customs. Finally it was ready, and it arrived at 8:05 a.m. in a shipping container trucked from Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Everyone kept their good humor as they unscrewed the two-by-fours holding the heart in place, fetched ramps, and gingerly unloaded the pieces using a pallet jack and dolly.

“How’s your heart today?” one employee quipped to an onlooker.

The first piece was too large to fit through the museum doors. A door had to be removed to create a larger opening.

The living heart of a blue whale — the largest animal ever known to have lived — weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. The fiberglass model weighs 660 pounds and was made by Human Dynamo Workshop, a fabrication company in New Zealand whose website says, “We Make Unusual Things.”

Once both halves were inside, movers arrived to get them into the gallery. By 1:15 p.m., Connett was placing lights in the heart and arranging the signage.

Museum volunteers did a double take as they arrived.

The living heart of a blue whale — the largest animal ever known to have lived — weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. The fiberglass model weighs 660 pounds and was made by Human Dynamo Workshop, a fabrication company in New Zealand whose website says, “We Make Unusual Things.”

Once both halves were inside, movers arrived to get them into the gallery. By 1:15 p.m., Connett was placing lights in the heart and arranging the signage.

Museum volunteers did a double take as they arrived.

“Oh, my!” volunteer Judith Giusti exclaimed. The retired New Bedford teacher said the heart will be a wonderful teaching tool.

“Oh, that’s going to be incredible,” she said. “It was well worth the wait.”

It’s one thing to tell people about whales and another thing to show them, said Robert Rocha, director of education and science programs.

“Every tool we can have to explain to people how magnificent and how amazing these whales are is a good thing,” he said.

Connett has wanted to bring a model heart to the museum since before she worked there. When she was interviewing for the job at the museum a few years ago, she saw a heart like this at a traveling exhibit in New York. She looked into borrowing the heart, but it was so popular, its owners wanted it back, she said.

The Whaling Museum’s blue whale heart is a permanent exhibit — the only one in the United States.

One the goals of Whales Today is to bring attention to the status of living whales, an especially timely topic given scientists’ recent warnings that the North Atlantic right whale could be on the edge of extinction, Connett said.

“They’re really in dire straits,” she said.

Blue whales, too, are endangered. According to the website of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the population stands at less than 10 percent of its historical level.

Follow Jennette Barnes on Twitter @jbarnesnews.

William Street Neighborhood Festival is growing

Posted May 17, 2018 at 3:01 AM

Spring is here and organizers are planning for this year’s 3rd annual William Street Neighborhood Festival.

Set for Sept. 15, the footprint of the festival will expand this year to include Eighth Street from William to Union. Organizers are also expanding festival hours with fun on tap from noon to 6 p.m.

The Festival is a celebration and collaboration between the three historic church buildings in the neighborhood — the First Unitarian Church, the First Baptist Church and The First Universalist Church (Gallery X).

“Although their past as houses of worship has dwindled, they are now active as centers for art, culture, community gathering,” a press release about the festival states. “Our goal is to show how vital these buildings can be and how much they all offer the Community.”

The second goal of the festival is to introduce area residents and visitors to local artists, performers and artisans. To achieve that goal, free booth space is available.

Original story here.

$300K coming to Whaling Museum, Zeiterion, The Strand

Three institutions in the city are getting a $300,000 boost from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, announced state Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral on Friday.

The MassDevelopment’s Board of Directors approved the grants Thursday for three projects planned for the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Zeiterion Performing Arts Center and the Cape Verdean Association of New Bedford.

“We’re delighted to support these exciting New Bedford projects as part of our ongoing investment in the city’s burgeoning cultural economy,” said Anita Walker, Mass Cultural Council executive director, in a statement. “Thanks to Rep. Cabral, who as House Bonding Committee chair has been a steadfast supporter of the CFF alongside Sen. (Mark) Montigny and their colleagues in the New Bedford legislative delegation.”

WHALING MUSEUM

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is set to receive a $170,000 capital grant to construct an urban greenspace on the museum’s campus, which will facilitate an outdoor gallery and public programming, according to a news release.

The greenspace is the soon-to-be-expanded Capt. Paul Cuffe Park. The museum hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in late March, and construction is under way.

The new Capt. Paul Cuffe Park will elevate the current park facing Union Street to the level of the doorstep of the Johnnycake Hill building behind it, the Wattles Jacobs Education Center. The work will connect what are now the high and low sides of the parcel, enlarging the available space and making it easier to access.

Cuffe, whose story began in the late 18th century, had roles as sea captain, philanthropist, community leader, civil rights activist and abolitionist.

ZEITERION

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center will receive a $100,000 capital grant to restore its marquee.

In 2015, the theater began renovations, including fixing leaks, repairing the white terracotta decorations and bricks on the building’s exterior. In later phases, doors and windows will be replaced, and the marquee above the entrance will hang once more.

THE STRAND

The Cape Verdean Association of New Bedford was awarded a $30,000 feasibility and technical assistance grant, to plan for the restoration of the Strand Theater in the gateway to the “International Marketplace” in New Bedford to house the Cape Verdean Cultural Center.

In WHALE’s first foray into the city’s North End, it has partnered with the Cape Verdean Association to restore and renovate the group’s home in an old vaudeville theater. The building, built in 1896, has had a lot of patchwork repairs and is used for small-scale music and cultural performances.

The building, with a scorched ceiling from a fire in the early 1990s, was bought by the group in 1992 as a place to promote and maintain Cape Verdean culture.

WHALE and the association plan to replace the Italianate facade of the theater, the blueprints for which have been stored all this time in New Bedford City Hall.

“New Bedford’s creative economy is attracting visitors and talent from across the country— these capital investments will further bolster our reputation as a hub of cultural activity,” said Cabral in a statement. “The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the anchor of our City’s downtown, while the Zeiterion has transformed itself into an entertainment destination. Thanks to the feasibility grant, the Strand Theater’s planned restoration will allow our Cape Verdean community to truly flourish.”

Original story here.

‘Lighting the Way’: Group sheds light on SouthCoast women

Posted Mar 5, 2018 at 2:19 PM

When it comes to SouthCoast history, you likely know the names Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and Paul Cuffe. And while that’s important, a local group hopes you also know the names Marie Equi, Martha Bailey Briggs and Charlotte White.

“I hope when teachers in New Bedford are talking about Frederick Douglass, they’re also talking about Martha Bailey Briggs. That when they’re talking about Rockefeller, they’re also talking about Hetty Green.” — Committee Member Sarah Rose

When it comes to SouthCoast history, you likely know the names Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and Paul Cuffe.

And while that’s important, a local group hopes you also know the names Marie Equi, Martha Bailey Briggs and Charlotte White.

That’s why they’ve started “Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the South Coast.”

The massive interactive history project is aimed at shedding light on women’s roles in history and “unearthing remarkable stories of women’s personal callings that required grit, tenacity and enduring commitment to their families, community and country,” project designer Christina Bascom said.

Spearheaded by the Whaling Museum, the alliance of organizations and individuals on the Lighting the Way Committee is working together in a prodigious years-long plan to educate SouthCoasters about the strong women who helped shape our history.

Aspects of the project will unfold over the next two years, organizers said.

Staring in July, you’ll be able to download an app to your phone, or grab a map, and embark on a historic walking trail throughout downtown New Bedford, stopping at some 34 landmarks highlighting compelling women’s stories.

Also in July, you’ll also be able to click through Lighting the Way’s website, currently under construction, to learn stories of some 90 educators and philanthropists, abolitionists and crusaders for social justice, investors and confectioners, and more.

The committee also plans to create a companion curriculum for local schools.

And, coming in 2020, on the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights, they tentatively plan on unveil public art displays.

This project is not just for women, organizers were clear to point out.

“This is very inclusive and open to everybody,” said Bascom. “It’s a boon for historical societies and people who want to do research. We’re very careful to use words like ‘amplify history’ — this is not about creating a women’s history. This is about bringing balance to existing history. These women add so much color and dimension to the history of SouthCoast. It’s quite lopsided without them.”

Sarah Rose, a committee member and project leader, and Whaling Museum vice president of Education and Programs, had similar sentiments:

“We’re looking to bring life to women’s voices, to inspire generations. That’s why part of our mission is creating student curriculum — so students understand the contribution of women as significantly as they understand the contributions of men,” she said.

“I hope when teachers in New Bedford are talking about Frederick Douglass, they’re also talking about Martha Bailey Briggs. When they’re talking about Rockefeller, they’re also talking about Hetty Green,” Rose said.

“We’re really trying to stay away from criticizing history told to date— this isn’t women’s history, we’re just trying to fill in history,” Rose said. “We’re adding stories from the other fifty percent.”

There are some 90 women in total profiled as part of the project. Some lived in the 1700s; others died two years ago. Many came as submissions to the group.

If you’d like to nominate a woman of historical significance — one catch: they must be dead — contact Rose at the Whaling Museum.

Research into the women’s lives is being led by Whaling Museum research fellow Ann O’Leary, along with a team of some 10 researchers who assist her.

They have completed about 50 profiles, O’Leary said.

“All of the women rose up when they experienced or witnessed a need, and they pushed through obstacles and mobilized themselves and others,” said O’Leary, library media specialist at Bishop Stang High School and the Emily Bourne Fellow at the Whaling Museum.

Bourne is a woman of historical significance: Her gift to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1915 funded construction of the world’s largest ship model, the Lagoda, and the building that houses it at the Whaling Museum, the Bourne Building.

THE ROOTS

Shedding light on women’s role in SouthCoast history was a long-held dream of Bascom’s.

The Standard-Times 2008 Marion Woman of the Year, Bascom has been involved in numerous SouthCoast community projects — from helping to found the Marion Institute, to helping found Our Sisters School in New Bedford, among many other initiatives.

“For a long time, I tried to get someone to write a book about the historic women of SouthCoast,” said Bascom.

She said in late 2016, over lunch with Rose and then Whaling Museum President James Russell, “I said, ‘This is an idea I have kicking around,’ …and this thing started rolling, and we realized we wanted something more interactive.”

The plans for a website, GPS smartphone app, walking trail, and school curriculum grew from there.

Bascom said the interactive walking trail phone app will hopefully leave a lasting impact on young SouthCoasters.

On the app, which will work with a phone’s GPS, you’ll be able to see an interactive map indicating nearby “Lighting the Way” landmarks and points of interest, while providing links to images and biographies of the associated historical figures at each address.

For those who prefer old-school paper, there will be a printed map, as well.

“There’s a quote from an article in TIME I read, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’ And to have young girls, and boys, going around and being able to see the history — that will hopefully leave a lasting impact for future generations,” Bascom said.

Rose added, “A cornerstone of this project is using stories of historic women to inspire generations to come.”

To get involved, contact Rose at srose@whalingmuseum.org, 508-997-0046 x118.

Lauren Daley is a freelance writer. Contact her at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/daley.writer. She tweets@laurendaley1.

Original story here:

‘Cultural Compact’ signifies collaboration between arts, New Bedford

Posted Mar 1, 2018 at 7:17 PM

With each signature scribbled onto the four documents within the Ashley Room at City Hall on Thursday night, the spotlight shining on New Bedford’s cultural scene grew brighter.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, Rick Kidder as the co-chair of the Executive Committee of the Seaport Cultural District, Anita Walker of Mass Cultural Council and Nicole Merusi of the New Bedford Cultural Council all signed a Cultural Compact, which is intended to increase and expand collaboration and partnership within the city’s art community.

“We are headlong into efforts to really activate one of New Bedford’s primary assets and that is the collection of artistic and cultural aspects that makes our city really unique,” Mitchell said.

Only six communities in the state were selected to pilot the program, which will develop a framework to spark creative partnerships between local government and cultural leaders within the community.

Walker said applications weren’t taken for the program, rather the Mass Cultural Council selected cities that offered the best opportunity for success.

The city and the Mass Cultural Council have a history of success, Walker said, from the creation of cultural district program to the cultural facilities fund.

“When we start something new, to be honest with you, we don’t want to make it harder than it has to be. We want to make it as easy as it possibly can be,” Walker said. “And the way you do that is you bring a partner that is a proven partner and that we have worked with successfully.”

With the program, Mass Cultural Council intends to provide technical assistance through webinars, podcasts, meetings, training and workshops.

The Cultural Council and Seaport Cultural District will provide programs aimed at increasing artist sustainability, updating the public art inventory, increasing the promotion of current art, music and culture programs as well as developing online resources.

“The Cultural Compact is really putting down on paper and institutionalizing a lot of the things that have been happening here already,” Walker said.

The city began its Arts Culture and Tourism Fund in 2016. State Sen. Mark Montigny led the required passage through the state legislature.

Last year, the relationship between the city and its cultural scene continued with the addition of Margo Saulnier, the city’s cultural coordinator.

Saulnier quoted English playwright Bernard Shaw as he compared his life to a torch that can burn bright for everyone to see.

“The individuals in the creative community and creative economy has already been carrying this splendid torch,” Saulnier said. “So the cultural compact that we’ll be signing and the arts and culture plan that we’re in the early stages of developing will make it bright as possible for the city’s future generations.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.

Original story here.

Coastin’ to talk New Bedford arts during AHA! night

Posted Mar 1, 2018 at 3:01 AM

Coastin’ brings the stories of arts and culture in New Bedford and throughout the SouthCoast to homes around the region each week.

Next Thursday, as part of AHA! New Bedford, the show is going on the road to the Penler Space at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.

Coastin’ and The Standard-Times/SouthCoastToday.com will host a roundtable conversation as part of AHA!’s March programming centering around the theme “I Am New Bedford: History, Herstory, Ourstory.”

The conversation will feature Coastin’ arts writers Don Wilkinson and Steven Froias, along with guests Joselyn Feliciano and Nicole St. Pierre. It will be facilitated by Coastin’ editor Jerry Boggs.

AHA!, which stands for Arts, History and Architecture!, is a free family-friendly event held rain or shine on the second Thursday of each month from 5 to 9 p.m. in historic downtown New Bedford.

The Coastin’ conversation is set to begin at 7 p.m. and cover the history and future of the arts in New Bedford from the perspective of those who are creating in the community.

The audience is encouraged to take part in the conversation.

“New Bedford’s art history is rich and storied and I look forward to hearing local artists share more about that story,” said Boggs. “And this is an exciting time to be looking at the future of New Bedford arts. We’ll look back and we’ll look ahead and we’ll have fun talking about a subject we all love.”

The Coastin’ conversation will be just one of many programs available throughout downtown next Thursday. Check back next week for more on the evening’s programming.

Artists who can’t attend the event, but want to have their stories told can contact Coastin’ via email at coastin@s-t.com or by calling 508-979-4464.

For more information about AHA! New Bedford, visit ahanewbedford.org.

Original story here.

New Bedford’s State of the Arts

Many readers have no doubt read, heard or discovered for themselves that New Bedford is regarded as one of the nation’s most creative small cities and is a destination for the arts and artists.

This isn’t exactly something new; the city has long been rich with culture. But when Atlantic magazine included New Bedford in a “Top Ten” list of creative communities over a decade ago, it brought new opportunity and urgency to the perception.

So what exactly does a “destination for the arts and artists” mean in 2018? How does that designation impact the city? Who does it include and who does it benefit? In short, what exactly does being — and being recognized as — one of the nation’s most creative small cities mean for New Bedford?

Have no fear. State of the Arts is here to help sort it all out.

This new, ongoing column and feature story series will cover the arts in a new way here. As a regular beat, right alongside the City Desk, General News, Politics, Business, or Sports. That means a mix of reporting, feature stories, profiles and opinion. All branded under the banner State of the Arts.

Every week, yours truly will attempt to illustrate exactly how the arts are being practiced in New Bedford — and why the cultural well-being of the city is a critical element of municipal life here.

It will deliver to readers artistic personalities across the creative spectrum; examine the role of arts and culture in the economy; and report on arts administration as a function of civic engagement and government.

It’s an opportune time to launch State of the Arts. As I write this, the City of New Bedford, through the New Bedford Economic Development Council, is in the nascent stages of preparing an arts plan for New Bedford that will help guide its fortunes into the future.

As part of that effort, a comprehensive city-wide Creative Directory is being compiled. It will highlight the full scope of New Bedford’s professionals in all manner of cultural disciplines.

A new generation of New Bedford artists has opened galleries, living, and work spaces

Posted Jan 6, 2018 at 9:31 PM

Almost 20 years ago, the UMass Dartmouth School of Visual and Performing Arts came to downtown New Bedford and with it the Whaling City’s quiet rebirth as a magnet for working artists.

That seeding has now borne larger fruit over the past few years as the city has experienced a flowering of new galleries, open studios and art spaces.

From the Hatch Street Studios in the North End to the studios at the former Kilburn Mills in the South End, the galleries up and down William Street in the downtown and over to Groundwork’s exhibit space on Purchase Street, the painters, sculptors, mixed-media artists are here. They’re literally creating a new chapter of the New Beford experience.

“The city is undergoing an arts transformation citywide,” said Dagny Ashley, New Bedford’s director of tourism.

The latest wave will reach a milestone next week with the opening of the new 10,000-square foot Co-Creative Center on Union Street.

It’s been a fairly steady build-up for about a decade. Among the landmarks: 123 Sawtooth, an artists’ lofts located in the former Ropeworks Building where Market Basket would soon be built at the former Fairhaven Mills site. Colo-Colo Gallery, a popular space in the upscale Historic District moved to a spacious former factory space in the South End. Two artists even opened a gallery, The Vault, in a former bank building just over the Dartmouth line.

A WHALE AND A NIVED

It was the Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) that went out and obtained the grants and purchased the historic downtown office buildings that became the Co-Creative Center.

“This is a major investment for downtown New Bedford,” says WHALE executive director Teri Bernert, “not only in bringing beautiful historic buildings back to life but also creating a dynamic footprint for the area’s creative minds to collaborate.”

In addition to 2,000 square feet of gear-filled, open maker space that will be open to community members, the center (which WHALE has been developing for nearly three years) will also offer education, gallery, and retail space, a locally-sourced juice bar, and apartments for artists. It will also house many area not-for-profit organizations, including the Women’s Fund of Southeast MA (www.womensfundsema.org).

“This has been a collaboration with a lot of different individuals in the creative economy and in the non-profit world,” Bernert explained. “It is an idea born out of the community.”

One of the city’s interesting new artists is Devin “Nived” McLaughlin, of Nived Art (http://nivedart.com).

“I’ve watched the New Bedford Art scene ebb and flow,” said McLaughlin, who received a fine art degree from Bristol Community College in 2012.

McLaughlin began his professional career showing his work at many of the city galleries he visited as a younger art lover and he now hosts and shares his wit and wisdom at popular Paint Nite events in the area. “I’ve seen galleries in the area hold their first grand opening exhibition and I’ve watched those places close their doors for the last time, but never without leaving a mark on the culture here,” he said.

Just as the waves on the coast do, McLaughlin suggested the waves of New Bedford culture “ebb and flow” though he sees the current wave building towards a “high tide.”

“Every time a new project starts,” he said, “it greets this city with a grander, more powerful influence, inspiring others to create, discuss and enjoy art more.”

And while New Bedford’s historic buildings and breathtaking water views may inspire many, McLaughlin said it is the people who make the city arts scene shine.

“We have a huge community of driven artists from all skill sets and backgrounds,” he said. “It’s these folks that are breathing life into this city.”

THE STAR STORE

The cultural center where much of the region’s initial creative energy percolated is the College of Visual and Performing Arts, which in 2011 moved into a $19 million reincarnation of what was once the dry goods mecca known as the Star Store.

“UMass…has been the catalyst with the downtown campus,” Ashley said.

“The UMass art department moving to the Star Store building had a big impact of the arts in downtown New Bedford,” agreed artist Judith Klein (www.judithkleinart.com), who opened her first gallery downtown nine years ago but has since moved to the South End complex.

“Art students from our program…end up staying in the area and establish a studio in the several mill buildings that have wonderful spaces for our work,” said long-time UMass fine arts professor Marc St. Pierre.

And local artists are not the only ones taking notice. In fact, 2011 was also the year that New Bedford was cited by urban studies scholar and “creative class” creator Richard Florida as the “seventh most artistic city in America,” based upon the population density of its artists.

“The critical mass of artists, performers, galleries, and cultural institutions that flourish in New Bedford have created the ambience of a vibrant coastal cultural center,” Ashley said.

Just six years later, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) named New Bedford the “most creative community” in the commonwealth. The city has also been cited by Bustle as sixth on the list “Best Cities for Young Artists” (it was the only Massachusetts city listed and one of only two in New England. ) Matadornetwork’s called the “the ninth most artistic town in America” and Complex cited it as one of its “10 Cities That Creatives Should Move to That Aren’t NYC or LA.”

“New Bedford is the place to be, whether you are an artist or a patron,” McLaughlin said.

AHA! AT THE BEGINNING

While many individuals and efforts deserve thanks, the arts engine that was there even before the Star Store was the monthly art party known as AHA! (www.ahanewbedford.org). AHA!, short for Art, History, Architecture, is a city-wide cultural event during which artists and entertainers come out into the streets and public spaces on the second Thursday of the month.

“AHA! is a platform for community participation and collaboration,” explained director Lee Heald, “Our monthly celebration of the arts and culture scene, the diverse city population, fabulous food, performing arts, and feasts and festivals have attracted new development and business growth, populated the city center with residents and students, increased tourism and generated new enthusiasm in this vibrant community,”

When AHA! was created in 1999, New Bedford did not have what Heald refers to as “a gallery scene.” In fact, she admitted, the city then had what could only be described as “a deserted downtown” with perhaps more criminal than creative activity.

“New Bedford had become a place few would visit,” Heald said. ”[It] was a Gateway City…[but] a gateway to what, was the question.”

AHA!’s mission was to make New Bedford “a vibrant city again, to attract new creative potential and expand cultural activities.” At the first AHA!, a little over 250 people came to interact with just 14 artistic partners. Today, Heald said AHA! engages over 65 partners and enjoys a regular audience in the thousands.

“We have learned that partners and partnerships create the program,” she said, echoing Bernert’s comments that fostering collaboration and mutual trust have been the “core mission” of the downtown revival.

A HISTORY OF ARTISTS

While the latest developments are noteworthy, New Bedford’s cultural tide has been coming in for some time.

“New Bedford has always maintained a vibrant creative life,” Ashley said, even before the big revival of the last 15 years.

In the 19th century, artists like William Bradford, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Clifford Ashley, and Albert Bierstadt grew up in the city or started their careers here. The Swain School of Design (which merged with UMass Dartmouth in 1988) attracted other artists from further afield.

The New Bedford Free Public Library housed one of the region’s first serious art collections. More recently, restorations and expansion of the New Bedford Whaling Museum (www.whalingmuseum.org) and the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center (https://zeiterion.org) brought a higher focus on culture to town.

“At one point, New Bedford was the richest city in the world, and home to over 20 theaters,” explained Rosemary Gil, the Zeiterion’s executive director of programming. “Today, The Zeiterion is the only remaining operating theater.”

In the 1980s, community activism helped keep “the Z” from becoming the last word in New Bedford theater.

These days, the theater hosts scores of performances each year (including shows by such legends as Alan Cumming, Jay Leno, the late Joan Rivers, and locally-raised star Samantha Johnson). It provides more than15,000 students with curriculum-based school-time events. In addition to hosting performing arts organizations like the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra (www.nbsymphony.org) and New Bedford Festival Theater (www.nbfestivaltheatre.com), the Zeiterion (which Gill calls a “cultural beacon” in New Bedford) also helps host festivals that attract thousands to the area.

THE ART MUSEUM AND GALLERY X

According to former Mayor Frederick Kalisz Jr., the “critical mass ” of the arts resurgence in New Bedford came with the city’s acquisition of the Art Museum Building and the creation of a gallery on the first floor. The museum effort began under former Mayor Rosemary Tierney. Kalisz credits then City Councilor Ken Ferreira, who came to vote despite being ill at the time.

Another important development was the opening in 1990 of Gallery X, a collaborative artist space that drew on many graduates of the Swain School. It was a time, when co-founder Chuck Hauck said “there were no other contemporary galleries in New Bedford.”

Described on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pg/GalleryXNewBedford) as “a place, a collective, an art gallery, a performance space, a funhouse, a basement club, a party palace, a church, a meeting house, [and] a cornerstone to NB’s Creative/Art scene,” Gallery X has since been a place where “artists of all disciplines and persuasions can display or perform the fruits of their creative labors.”

As New Bedford is still a “cheap city to live in, with loft and studio space available cheap,” Hauck said attracting more artists has not been difficult, even in the early days. Even so, he admitted even he has been surprised by the rapid expansion in recent years.

Spotting the trend in the city, New Bedford native Margo Saulnier came home after years of work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other cultural organizations to serve as the city’s arts and culture strategist.

When asked about the key moments in the revival, Saulnier first mentioned 1996, the year that the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park was recognized as a United States National Historical Park and also the founding that same year of the New Bedford Historical Society (www.nbhistoricalsociety.org), which has focused its efforts on documenting and celebrating the history and contemporary contributions of African Americans, Cape Verdeans, Native Americans, West Indians and other people of color in New Bedford.

“The diversity of views allows New Bedford to have a rich tapestry of stories to tell and attract new audiences,” Heald said, noting many residents can trace their heritage back to the Underground Railroad that once brought fugitive slaves to the city.

Saulnier also credited the creation of the Creative Economy Task Force in 2008 with encouraging cultural and other development.

“There is a need for new business due to the student influx,” Saulnier said, “and the large population of creative young people influence the revitalization.”

The MCC, has brought over $1 million a year to the city, she said. Its local arm – the New Bedford Local Cultural Council (www.mass-culture.org/New-Bedford) has distributed about $70,000 in grants to local artists and also helped bring local schoolchildren to many cultural centers and events in the region. “The Seaport Cultural District has branded downtown cultural assets within a walkable geographic area,” Ashley points out. “Understanding the future potential of this sector is vital to our strategy for economic development as well as to the quality of life of everyone living in and visiting our city.”

“The power of cultural enterprise, creativity and collaboration are essential keys to New Bedford’s unique and distinctive identity,” Heald said. “Around this core, New Bedford has built a sense of place, engaged residents, forged a new economy and demonstrated how a Gateway City can show the pathway to the future.”

“New Bedford’s renaissance, cultural and otherwise, is the sum of many, many parts,” Gill said. “From a mayor who gets the connection between a healthy arts community and the economy to dozens of hard-working non-profit organizations, to artists of many disciplines who have chosen to make this their home, and the hope and promise of a young generation of entrepreneurs creating an interesting retail landscape – New Bedford [continues to be] on the rise.”

“We are already seeing bigger and bigger waves,” McLaughlin said. “Who knows what well see in the future?”

Original story here.

New Union Street building introduces hub for creative minds

Tracy Silva Barbosa never tires of the feeling after she introduces friends to her home.

They visit, look at her glass art, perhaps dine at a restaurant downtown and always leave with the same reaction.

“I never knew it was so beautiful and all of this wonderful stuff,” Barbosa said of the recurring reactions.

Barbosa lived in New York City for a decade before returning to the state where she grew up. Like many of her visitors, New Bedford impressed Barbosa and her husband. The culture and ever-growing art scene attracted them to make it their new home.

In January it will also be the home of her new business. Duende Glass will occupy a space in a new 10,000 square foot unit on Union Street dubbed a Co-Creative space by WHALE.

Barbosa, like multiple others whether it be artists or “creatives”, will use the space to create art and also sell it.

“I think the Co-Creative Center is just another spore from that flower,” Barbosa said. “It’s coming out of people who genuinely care and want to bring out the wonderful character this city has and bring it out in a tasteful way.”

There’s three levels to the building sitting beside The Garden and running along Acushnet Avenue.

The second floor of the building will consist of non-profit office space, apartments, and artist studios, which are already leased. The third floor consists of a two-bedroom market rate apartment.

The first floor, where Duende Glass and People’s Pressed, a juice and coffee shop, will be located, will house a public creative space.

The plan is to utilize the area closest to Union Street as a marketplace. Behind it will be a learning area where classes can be taught by anyone in the community. At the back of the building, bordering a park, the area will be used as a creative space filled with up-to-date technology like fabrication equipment and computer stations as well as work benches.

“We’re hoping we can build a community of Creatives,” WHALE Development Coordinator Amanda DeGrace said.

The first floor learning space will act as a chameleon of storts, blending into whatever the community envisions its best use.

DeGrace said there are 15 classes currently being discussed that would be available for public participation. They range from graphic design, creative writing, visual artists, sewing and even jam making. The class list continues to grow as community members continue to pitch ideas.

“We need to open the doors and see what this community wants this place to be,” DeGrace said.

Below the “Co-Make” area is a basement geared toward more industrial and textile creating as well as storage for artists.

Much like Gallery X on William Street or the studios in the former mill building on West Rodney French Boulevard brought Barbosa to the city, the Co-Creative Center hopes to attract even more imaginative minds.

“Through the Co-Creative more diverse artists come,” Barbosa said. “You want to have some cross pollination and that’s what innovation is.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

Original story here.