Women rule — the downtown New Bedford business scene

Posted Nov 9, 2019 at 4:00 PM

NEW BEDFORD — Women rule. Obviously.

And while you’re thinking of all the ways they do, here’s one more: They’re rocking the business scene in downtown New Bedford.

From cafés and clothing shops to fitness studios and salons, the compact center of the City that Lit the World has them all — many run by women.

“I always just wanted to be downtown,” said Lori Gomes, easing into an upholstered chair at Beauty Union, her salon next to Custom House Square.

A West End native, Gomes had a flair for hair as far back as high school, when she did hairstyling for friends in the bathrooms at New Bedford High. She got her first salon position in the city’s Times Square Building in 1989, and later went out on her own, opening L’Atelier Boutique Salone in a second-floor space above what is now dNB Burgers.

Still, she craved a location even closer to the city center, and a year ago, she moved to a first-floor spot on Acushnet Avenue, in the Co-Creative Center, under the name Beauty Union.

One of the things that surprised her about going into business was how much working capital she needed. A plumbing problem — a big deal at a salon — delayed her opening by two months, and she had already been paying rent on the space for three months before the delay.

Her stylists are young. Gomes likes the idea of giving them a chance to succeed in New Bedford, without moving away.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

With help from Elissa Paquette, who owns the women’s clothing shop Calico and is president of Downtown New Bedford Inc., The Standard-Times recently connected with more than 30 women making waves downtown. Most of them own businesses. A few lead cultural institutions, such as the New Bedford Art Museum.

Paquette first came to New Bedford one summer when she was a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, in Boston. She sublet an art studio from a friend. They ate Mexican food at No Problemo and checked out the Solstice skate shop.

She felt awed to see local business owners in their 20s.

“I had never seen that outside Williamsburg (Brooklyn),” she said.

Paquette had dabbled in selling vintage clothing on eBay, and she decided to make a go of it with a brick-and-mortar store in the Whaling City. She opened Calico as a vintage clothing shop in 2005, in a second-floor location over a nail salon.

After three years, she moved to a first-floor shop. But filling the larger store with curated vintage merchandise wasn’t easy. So she spent $1,000 to stock new clothing in a handful of styles. People bought them right away.

“That’s when I knew I was on to something,” she said.

One of the best things about being the boss, she said, is creating a culture and being in charge. But it means you’re in charge of everything.

“It’s the best thing, and the worst thing,” she said.

She jokes with employees that if the store needs a new vacuum, they’ll have to ask corporate — which, of course, is her.

Although she loves her job, she said leaving behind a 9-to-5 schedule may not be as freeing as some people envision.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said.

Paquette and Standard-Times photographer Peter Pereira, intrigued by the number of women who own businesses downtown, organized a photo shoot. More than 30 people showed up. Twenty-five subsequently answered a Standard-Times survey designed to give a broader view of women’s experiences doing business in the city center.

UPS AND DOWNS

Jenny Liscombe-Newman Arruda, co-owner of the art and craft gallery TL6 the Gallery, opened the shop with a friend, Arianna Swink. They studied metalsmithing together at UMass Dartmouth. At first, they made jewelry in a basement studio and sold it at other shops. But when the former White Knight Gallery became available, they decided to go for it.

“We were like, ‘This is our chance,’” she said.

It’s a labor of love. Both of them have other jobs, Swink as a tax accountant and Liscombe-Newman Arruda as a waitress at a downtown restaurant.

She said she feels some disappointment that city government hasn’t done more to help small downtown businesses. She also wasn’t satisfied with last year’s holiday parking program, which only allowed free parking for two hours. Anyone who got ticketed for parking longer had to present a same-day store receipt to get the ticket forgiven.

“That’s not welcoming,” she said.

She does approve of the newly extending parking times downtown, and she said the transition from the old Holiday Shops event at the Whaling Museum to the broader Holiday Stroll has been a success.

“I am a positive person,” she said. “But if we don’t speak up about problems, they won’t improve.”

WOMEN IN THE LEAD

Leaders working together to do better is one of New Bedford’s biggest strengths, and women are in the vanguard of that effort, according to Margo Saulnier, creative strategist for the city. From the founding of AHA! Night 21 years ago to the consortium of 27 people implementing New Bedford’s arts and culture plan, “it is the female leadership who are generating that collaboration,” she said.

What follows is a small sample of survey responses from 25 of the women who make downtown click. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

WHY NEW BEDFORD?

Abrah Zion, Miss Z Photography: I was born and raised in New Bedford. Downtown is a thriving hub. I wanted to be located in a central area and among other amazing business owners.

Cheryl Moniz, Arthur Moniz Gallery: Arthur (her husband, who died last year) and I were both born in New Bedford. We both loved the waterfront and New Bedford’s historical buildings and the rich history of downtown.

Cecelia Brito, Celia’s Boutique: I knew when I walked up and down Purchase Street, Union Street, etc., that I had to put “location” at the top of my to-do list. Location, location, location.

CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED?

Lara Harrington, Boutique Fitness: Other people’s livelihoods are now dependent on our dedication to the growth of our business. This can be a challenge but also a motivator (and a wonderful thing to celebrate).

Jessica Coelho Arruda, Tia Maria’s European Cafe: Finding work-life balance, and figuring out how to finagle it all, has been a challenge. The first couple of years were the hardest, but as the business has grown, it has become easier to manage. I make it a priority to plan ahead, work efficiently and schedule time off.

Alison Wells, Alison Wells Fine Art Studio & Gallery: The biggest challenge for me is that in my career, I used to wear one hat: the artist’s hat. When I became a business owner, I suddenly had two hats to juggle, and it has been a challenge to balance them and not let one area suffer.

Elona Koka, Cafe Arpeggio: The amount of time the business requires, especially as a new owner, takes away from spending time with my family. I don’t really get to spend too much time with my daughter.

ON BEING A WOMAN IN BUSINESS

Caite Howland, The Beehive: I’m a mom, and making my own schedule is a great blessing. I get the chance to take some extra time while my kids are still young.

Val Kollars, New Bedford Tattoo Company: The tattoo industry is very male-dominated and very difficult for female tattoo artists. It’s what pushed me to have my own business.

Alison Wells, Alison Wells Fine Art Studio & Gallery: We often have to work harder to prove ourselves in gaining recognition and resources in the male-dominated art establishment. Having my own art business has helped me to carve out a role and niche for myself as a female artist of color. I have learned that being a business owner is about relationships and offering something more than the product itself, and this, in fact, is a unique strength women have.

Original story here.

Zeiterion one step closer to getting 99-year lease

‘Our link is just the creative community’: 3rd EyE Open Hip Hop Festival takes over Downtown New Bedford

If you were walking through Downtown New Bedford on Saturday, you might have been confused by what you saw. 3rd EyE Open Hip Hop Festival not only had break dancers, but also everything from graffiti artists giving demonstrations to farmers selling sunflowers to families playing miniature golf.

“Just the sight of alpacas walking around the hip hop stage is so cool to see,” Allison Faunce said.

Faunce is one of the founders of Southcoast Open Air Market (SOAM) and she teamed up with the organizers of 3rd EyE Open to host the market in Custom House Square during the festival.

While the combination of a hip hop festival and a market with alpacas; farmers; and vendors selling pottery, soaps, and other artisan craft goods may seem odd to some, to Faunce it makes perfect sense.

“I think our chain or link is just the creative community,” Faunce explained, “Creativity comes out in so many different forms.”

Downtown business women boosting confidence and commerce at Shimmer and La Vie est Belle Apothecary

In the heart of downtown, two women are revolutionizing the way we think about beauty.

With the growing fad to use natural and ethical beauty products, two new store fronts have found a home in New Bedford, and thanks to the passion from their owners, they’re aiming to outlast any trend.

Wellness and happiness with one’s self is closely tied to beauty at each store, and the women who operate them each take their own original spin on the idea. The result? Two one-of-a-kind experiences where the customer is put at the front of mind.

Take Shimmer, located on 187 Union Street, owned and operated by New Bedford native Katherine Lowe. The store itself is fresh and minimalistic in nature, clean white walls and natural wooden shelving. Inside, Lowe has tactfully arranged her curated collection so that a customer new to the “clean beauty” trend does not feel overwhelmed, but rather captivated and excited to try something new.

“I wanted the room to reflect the products, clean and understated,” explained Lowe, who with a background in business came up with the idea for Shimmer after her sister developed severe allergies, and she began researching “clean” product options. Clean products are ethically sourced, never tested on animals, and made with our wellness and the environment in mind.

“I did so much research on what is actually clean, non-toxic, and ethical, and wanted to create a place where people could find these products and know that what they are using is safe,” said Lowe.

According to Lowe, as the concept of clean beauty has grown popular, the trend has not been particularly regulated, and just because something says “organic” does not necessarily mean it is ethical. “It’s really important to me that all the products I’m selling are things I would recommend to my sister,” she said.

In addition to beauty products, home goods such as laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaners are available at Shimmer as well. Lowe recommends and reminds her customers not to feel pressured to switch to all-natural products all at once, but rather try a few products at time to find what works best for you.

Just a couple of blocks down away on 30 North Water Street is La Vie est Belle Apothecary, owned and operated by Dr. Tammy Gleeson, a thoracic surgeon with SouthCoast Health.

The store is a romantic dream with a French eclectic flair. The dark wood, mirrors, and accent pieces like the fabulous pink sofa by the register transports customers back in time to the days of the original apothecary.

“My focus is to make people happy, and feel good about themselves,” said Gleeson, who has lived downtown herself for the past three years, after running her own private practice in Michigan for a bulk of her career. “I realized I’m not getting any younger, and it was time to do something different. You can’t take life too seriously,” she said.

La Vie est Belle, or “Life is Beautiful,” is the perfect name, and the tiny details made by Gleeson add to the store’s artistry.

The apothecary, which is described as a “fortress of relaxation and peace” on its website, features all-natural beauty products including perfumes, essential oils, and a table full of soap selections. Furthermore, Dr. Gleeson offers aesthetic medicine such as facials and botox, and will soon offer cool sculpting.

Expanding the treatment and wellness component to the store is a goal for Gleeson, who specifically researched skin-care products that could help with acne, scarring, and wrinkles. Everything available at the store has been researched and tested by Gleeson, including the all-natural dog shampoo, thanks to the help of her English bull-dog, Salvadaor.

Both Lowe and Gleeson explained that the support they’ve received from the downtown community has been wonderful.

“The small business community has been so supportive. There’s such a sense of community downtown,” said Lowe, who has deep ties with the community as her father is a long-time teacher at New Bedford High School, and her mother served as an admissions clerk at the Whaling Museum for 30 years. “I always knew I’d open a boutique downtown someday.”

“I love downtown New Bedford,” said Gleeson, who although is newer to the area, explained how much change and growth she’s seen just in the few years she’s lived there. “The neighbors have been extremely supportive. It’s been a fun adventure, and will continue to be as we grow,” she said.

“It goes hand and hand with the wellness industry,” said Lowe, sharing that a goal of hers is to one day offer make-up application and product consultation at Shimmer. “Younger generations are paying close attention to what is in their products, and how safe it is for their bodies and the environment.”

“When people leave the apothecary, I want them to feel comfortable, happy, and confident,” said Gleeson, who further explained that looking and feeling our best can boost our confidence and overall happiness. “They deserve to feel a step closer to who they want to be,” she said.

Original story here.

WGBH Open Studio with Jared Bowen: DATMA Puts Wind On Display In New Bedford

This week wind, science, technology art and culture are on full view as Design Art Technology Massachusetts, (DATMA) and their Summer Winds 2019 event begins.

Watch the 5 minute video below!

https://www.wgbh.org/arts/2019/07/17/open-studio-with-jared-bowen-datma-puts-wind-on-display-in-new-bedford

 

 

Wicked Cool Grant Applications available for Creative Placemaking

City of New Bedford Official Website

Beginning this week, anyone with an idea to make a public place in New Bedford ‘wicked cool’ can apply to the city’s Wicked Cool Places (WCP) grant to help turn their vision into reality.

Application here.

WCP is the City of New Bedford’s grant program for creative placemaking. It is funded by the city of New Bedford’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund, with additional funding by Bristol County Savings Bank, Mass Cultural Council, and MassDevelopment.

WCP seeks to enhance community development, arts entrepreneurship, and ongoing investment in the rich arts and culture of the city. New Bedford artists, cultural organizations and talented citizens are encouraged to apply for a WCP grant through August 16.

Applications can be found at NewBedfordCreative.org, the just-launched website for all things #NBcreative. For more information, email Margo Saulnier, New Bedford’s Creative Strategist, at artsnewbedford@gmail.com.

“The goal of Wicked Cool Places is to unite property and business owners with artistic and cultural groups, using arts as a tool to help transform New Bedford’s overlooked or undervalued places,” said Saulnier.
Wicked Cool Places began as a pilot program in April 2018 when it distributed $5,000 in grants as a test run to 3rd EyE Unlimited, SUPERFLAT NB, the New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks!, and Seaport Art Walk. This leveraged over $12,000.

In December 2018, the pilot program scaled up to distribute $50,000 in placemaking grants to 12 different artists or groups, investing in projects throughout the City of New Bedford, which leveraged an additional $180,000. A few of those projects include Tracy Barbosa’s Guatemalan Kite Festival Workshops, Brook Baptiste’s Reggae on West Beach, New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center’s Big Boat, Little Boat celebration of fishing culture, Southcoast Lessons’ Open Season Series, and Community Economic Development Center’s Vacant Storefront Gallery.

The official first round of Wicked Cool Places will invest up to $80,000 in funds for city-wide placemaking projects beginning this Fall.
The deadline to submit an application is August 16, 2019. Grants will be announced in mid-October 2019. Once a project is approved, the applicant will receive a commitment letter from the New Bedford Economic Development Council. Grants will be distributed as a reimbursement in full once final approval from that office is granted.

Any project or program within the City of New Bedford is eligible. Individuals and organizations are both eligible. However, Wicked Cool Places cannot accept applications for work that has already been completed, and work for grant-funded tasks cannot begin until successful applicants are provided with written approval.

All applications will be evaluated by the selection committee of the New Bedford Creative Consortium and scored on the impact of the project based on these criteria: quality, originality and creativity, community benefit and partnership, planning and budget.
So, for those who have a wicked cool idea ready to unleash on the world in New Bedford, visit Wicked Cool Places at NewBedfordCreative.org and begin the journey.

About: Wicked Cool Places (WCP) is the city of New Bedford’s grant program for creative placemaking, uniting willing property/business owners, artistic/cultural groups, design/preservation specialists, and business/development experts to help transform New Bedford’s overlooked or undervalued places. Wicked Cool Places enhance community development, arts entrepreneurship, and ongoing investment in the rich arts and culture of the city, and is funded by the city of New Bedford’s Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund, with additional funding by Bristol County Savings Bank, Mass Cultural Council, and MassDevelopment.

New Bedford Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund was proposed by Mayor Jon Mitchell in the spring of 2016 and approved by the City Council in June 2016, and consists of revenue generated from the city’s lodging tax, capped at a total of $100,000. Creation of the fund also required the passage of a home rule petition by the state legislature and the petition’s passage, led by state Senator Mark Montigny and signed into law by Governor Baker in January 2017. The purpose of the fund is to create a dedicated revenue stream to provide for additional planning, programmatic, and administrative capacity to allow the City of New Bedford to take full advantage of its cultural and tourism assets, and to catalyze and manage the growth of the cultural and tourism sectors in the years ahead. The New Bedford Economic Development

Council (NBEDC) has a three-year agreement to manage the fund for the City. This work is lead by the NBEDC’s Creative Strategist. Additional funding is provided by Bristol County Savings Bank, Mass Cultural Council, and MassDevelopment.

New Bedford Creative Consortium New Bedford Creative Consortium is the leadership group whose purpose is overseeing the execution of the citywide strategic Arts and Culture Plan entitled New Bedford Creative: our art, our culture, our future. The Arts and Culture Plan is a huge step forward in building a thriving creative ecosystem in our city, and these are the people dedicated to implementing it. This volunteer group is facilitated by the Creative Strategist, meets quarterly, holds 1-3 year terms, and is divided into three task forces: Public Art and Facilities; Placemaking and Community; and Fundraising and Distribution.

Original post here.

Gone to the dogs: Pet store owner branches out in New Bedford with Union Street location

By Catherine Carter / Contributing Writer

Does your dog dream? If so, you can guess what fills his slumber — tasty snacks, fun toys, a snazzy bandana and a comfortable harness.

Now there’s a downtown location that fulfills all of these desires.

Woof Woof Pet Boutique and Biscuit Bar, located on Union Street in New Bedford, has just opened its doors to welcome you and your canine friends (leashed, please) with rack upon rack of carefully chosen treats, foods and playthings.

“We hand-pick all of our products and test them on our own dogs,” says owner and dog-lover Sherri DeChaine, who also operates a store at Woof Woof’s original location in Bristol, Rhode Island. “If a product doesn’t meet our standards, out the door it goes.”

While Woof Woof stocks a full range of stylish collars and leashes in fun fabrics like paw prints and skunks, they pride themselves on their selection of hardy, comfortable, adjustable harnesses, many with a lifetime guarantee. Customers are invited to bring their dogs in for a custom fitting.

Shimmer opens in downtown New Bedford

By The Standard-Times

A new addition to the downtown boutique shopping scene is open at 187 Union St. Shimmer focuses on “clean and ethical beauty brands, carrying a variety of cosmetic, personal and home care products,” according to a news release.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Katherine Lowe, proprietor, has roots in the downtown community. Her first job was working in the admissions department of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which was run by her mother for almost 20-years. “Working at the admissions desk taught me everything I know about customer service, and as the epicenter of downtown, it gave me the opportunity to learn about the downtown community,” she said in a statement.

“I’ve always known I wanted to open my own boutique downtown and the time was finally right to venture out on my own,” says Lowe.

The curated collection ranges from organic bath salts to non-toxic mascara, and from non-toxic detergent to safe and reef-friendly sunblock. Shoppers can find brands that are health-conscious and environmentally-friendly, such as Clove + Hallow, Ginger June Candle Company, Lola Jane Naturals, and The Laundress, to name a few, according to a release.

“When my family was making the switch to clean products, we found it very difficult to distinguish between what was actually safe for use and what was simply being marketed as safe. I wanted to create a place where you knew all of the brands were clean and offered a variety of products. Switching to a clean laundry detergent is just as important as switching to clean makeup or skincare.”

For more information, visit www.shopshimmerbeauty.com.

Original story here.

Destination: NBAM – A plan to expand the New Bedford Art Museum is taking it step by step – to the second floor

Buried in a huge list of funding awards released two weeks ago as part of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund program is a relatively small entry of $30,000 to the New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks.

Compared to the $120,000 awarded the Whaling Museum, and the $180,000 for the creation of Abolitionist Row Park, also in New Bedford, the amount may seem small. But it represents a grand vision for the museum and the beginning of something big for New Bedford.

The vision quest for NBAM/Artworks is nothing less than turning the little museum that could into a bona-fide destination in the state and region.

Not that the art museum isn’t already in one sense. Indeed, for a facility its size, NBAM punches far above its weight. Signature special shows like the Audubon exhibit a few years back and the hugely popular Peter Souza exhibit of Obama-era photographs, still on display, have brought distinction — and thousands of patrons — to NBAM and the city.

Those marquee shows are the icing on the cake. Year after year, NBAM curates exhibits of local artists that are thematically interesting, visually arresting and sometimes socially provocative. To say nothing of the myriad other special events held at the museum – and the significant role ArtWorks plays in youth arts development.

But to truly fulfill its original mission and decisively enter the top tier of regional art museums, NBAM needs to grow. Specifically, it needs room to grow – and the $30,000 matching grant, as well as monies also recently awarded in city CPA funds, is a down payment toward making that a reality.

The vision, then, is this: to substantially renovate the museum and enlarge its footprint by annexing the second floor of its home at 608 Pleasant Street. Currently it houses offices not associated with NBAM.

That plan has been the focus of a sub-committee of the museum’s Board of Directors for some time – and is now gaining real traction and coming tantalizing into focus.

45 minutes to an hour…

AHA! Director Lee Heald is a member of the museum sub-committee, which is chaired by John Howland. She explains that in order to bring any cultural institution up to destination status, patrons should expect to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour at the location. Given the size of NBAM now, it falls short of that benchmark right now.

Of course, we know that whatever space limitations NBAM copes with, it certainly makes up for in quality, ingenuity and spirit. But still, to enable it to become what it needs to be for the city and region, it needs to grow. In fact, it’s actually part NBAM’s founding mission statement.

The City of New Bedford owns an extraordinary collection of art from the city’s gilded age onward. Much of it dates back to the mid-1800s. The original vision for the art museum saw it as a venue to bring this collection to the public.

An expanded NBAM would fulfill that vision and, according to Heald, realize the promise of public art as defined all those years ago. Gaining a second floor would allow room for the creation of a “City Gallery” in the space.

“Public art back in the 1870s meant exposing the public to art,” she says. “It was deemed as something important for the citizenry to experience.”

In the 19th annual report of the Trustees of the Free Public Library, which by default became a repository of art, it was written in 1871, “We have long cherished the hope, that in some future time, and that one not very far distant, a gallery of pictures, gathered through the enlightened munificence of the friends of art in our city, would be connected with our Public Library.

“The teachings of true art purify the taste, chasten and elevate the imagination, and give wealth and power of expression to the understanding, and afford to those who can have access to the works of genius, a pleasure that can never be exhausted and that never leaves a sting behind.”

One hundred and fifty years after the collection first began to be acquired by the city, it’s a goal of the committee working to expand NBAM to finally make that happen.

Upstairs/Downstairs at 608

Much progress has already been made on plans to expand NBAM. Much work – and fund-raising – remains left to do.

The $30,000 award from MCC, administered in conjunction with MassDevelopment, is a matching grant. No other state monies can count towards matching the $30,000, so the committee is seeking private and local public donations.

Heald says the City of New Bedford has been enormously supportive of the museum, and private donors have contributed, too. A campaign to reach or exceed their goal is underway.

Already, the architecture firm 3SIX0 in Providence has drawn up concept plans for an expanded museum. It sees the upstairs as gallery space devoted to New Bedford’s treasures. It builds upon the building’s unique character by opening up the two story high space in the center of the building, connecting it to the downstairs.

It also takes advantage of the beautiful windows on the second floor, which overlook Pleasant and William Streets. Naturally, infrastructure upgrades such as a new stairway and an improved elevator service are part of the plan.

Together with City Hall and the New Bedford Free Public Library, the buildings will form a graceful public square. Each historic building will enhance the other.

Besides fundraising, next on the agenda is using the grant money to hire key personnel to create an operational plan for an expanded art museum that’s financially sustainable into the future.

New Bedford’s larger role in MA arts

The effort to create a destination New Bedford Art Museum isn’t an accident of chance. It’s a reflection of the city’s reputation as a leader in arts and culture. Heald notes that the Massachusetts Cultural Council reached out to the museum about its expansion plans to learn more ahead of the Cultural Facilities funding decision.

The MCC is targeting the city in other ways, too. On Thursday, June 13, the council will hold a pop-up event in conjunction with AHA! New Bedford day and night. It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at the New Bedford Port Society Mariner’s Home and Seamen’s Bethel on Johnny Cake Hill.

Carmen Plazas of MCC writes that they hold, “community pop-ups to reach new partners and grantees with its range of grant programs, services, and initiatives.” Individual artists as well as groups and organizations are welcome to come and learn how the council can assist them.

The trend-line is clear: Massachusetts is investing in New Bedford arts and culture as never before. And part of that investment is turning the city’s art museum into a true destination.

The New Bedford Art Museum, and ArtWorks, which merged in 2014, have brought distinction to the city. The museum is vibrant, innovative and of-the-moment. It’s been driven – and still is – by remarkable staff and dedicated volunteers.

It’s also made a big impact in the city’s rise to creative prominence. With a large vision that embraces the city’s unique history, it promises to leave an even larger footprint on its future.

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.

It’s time for ‘Summer Winds,’ the new art exhibition soaring into New Bedford

“The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea

It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me

All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand

Two sweethearts and the summer wind”

– as sung by Frank Sinatra

Okay — “Summer Wind” by Ol’ Blue Eyes has little to do thematically with “Summer Winds” the kinetic outdoor public art installation coming to Custom House Square Park this July 1.

But there was simply no way State of the Arts was going to miss an opportunity to tip a fedora to the original Chairman of the Board.

The Chairman of the new Board, of DATMA — the Massachusetts Design Art and Technology Institute — is Roger Mandle. And it’s hard to imagine that he lacks any of the romance Sinatra brought to the game of life since he and his associates are introducing the wild concept of DATMA and “Summer Winds” to New Bedford and SouthCoast.

DATMA is defined as a non-collecting “museum” dedicated to large-scale, site-specific art installations. It was founded in 2016 with a diverse, 16-member board of trustees led by Mandle.

His bio states that he has 40 years of experience in building museums around the world and is a major contributor to the STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education initiative championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he served as president.

If you need some context regarding what, exactly, a non-collecting “museum” dedicated to large-scale, site specific art installations actually is, you’ve come to the right place. Actually, let’s travel back to another time and place to explore the subject…

The Gates & “Summer Winds”

Back in 2005, New York City was still a little shell-shocked from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. It was a city that was still licking its wounds.

In the middle of winter, from Feb. 12 through Feb. 27 of that year, public art helped facilitate some desperately needed healing in a way that most initially thought improbable or even downright ludicrous.

Just over 7,000 deep saffron-colored nylon fabric panels were hung from ‘gates’ across 23 miles of pathway in Central Park. That’s it. Just colored fabric floating gently in the breeze

The world-renowned artists Christo Yavacheff and Jeanne-Claude, known jointly as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, were behind The Gates, as the exhibit was officially called. Indeed, they had worked for decades to bring the project to Manhattan.

Kudos must be given to Michael Bloomberg, mayor at the time, for facilitating the project on behalf of the city (with the vigorous support of Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris). All billionaires aren’t created equally; some missteps aside, he was generally enlightened regarding the arts – and the value of the arts to New York City. Millions came to visit The Gates.

For everyone who experienced the grace and sense of tranquility this public art project brought to a city that really needed it — this writer included, who was living in New York at the time — The Gates will always represent a special moment in time.

The Gates alludes to the tradition of Japanese torii gates, traditionally constructed at the entrance to Shinto shrines. In 2005, people reclaimed a measure of faith … through a shared public art experience.

So, that’s the context of site-specific public art exhibition. Thankfully, many years away from 9/11, and in New Bedford, it’s a future written on the wind we’re embracing and making a shared creative space for in 2019. But like The Gates, it promises to be no less meaningful.

Silver Current Over Custom House Square Park

“Summer Winds” is a visionary project for the city, signifying a new vision of the city. Like The Gates, it will be a visual representation of a moment in time at precisely the right moment in a city’s history.

In this case, that moment is when New Bedford prepares to host the nation’s first attempt to launch a viable offshore wind energy industry. And for this moment, DATMA has recruited another world-renowned artist, Patrick Shearn.

Patrick Shearn and his outfit, Poetic Kinetics, are based out of Los Angeles. But they’ll be heading east to install “Silver Current” over Custom House Square Park this summer. In fact, Patrick has already been in New Bedford to prepare for this large-scale, outdoor public art exhibition that will bring distinction to the city.

“Silver Current” will be an 8,000-square foot kinetic net sculpture floating in the sky above the park from July 1 to Sept. 30 this year.

Press material explains that, “made out of ultra-lightweight metalized film, ‘Silver Current’ is the latest of the artist’s series of ‘Skynets’ that move and shimmer with the wind, from 15 feet off the ground to 115 feet in the air.

“The customized piece is comprised of approximately 5,200 linear feet of rope, 200 hand-tied technical knots, and approximately 50,000 streamers of holographic silver film on a monofilament net, forming an iridescent wind wave form. Harnessing available wind, the artwork rises high into the sky and gently cascades down again, undulating in a display that is striking from a distance and intimately immersive up close.”

“Silver Current” is a statement piece that will visualize the State of the Arts in New Bedford Now — and the state of the city itself. A city that’s embracing the future and unafraid to think large.

The larger “Summer Winds” collaborative effort will entwine many aspects of the city’s indigenous arts and culture. From kite flying — with a nod to New Bedford’s growing Guatemalan community, in which Festival Tipico de Guatemala is part of its heritage — to the annual Seaport Cultural District Artwalk outdoor sculpture exhibit, which this year has adopted the theme of “wind.”

And here’s the bottom line — even though it’s one that’s going to be floating above the horizon: thousands will experience this city because of all this effort. That’s the power of arts and culture; to bring a community and region together for a unique shared experience.

It happened in 2005 in Central Park. It will happen this summer in New Bedford.

And it will be a moment to seize and hold on to … before it’s gone with the wind.

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.