‘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.

Tony Sapienza proved quality clothing can be made in America

Updated Jan 13, 2018 at 8:47 PM

Manufacturing in the United States allowed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing to be nimble in an ever-evolving world of fashion — a strength not held by foreign competitors.

Decades ago Tony Sapienza shared some feelings of uncertainty with Matt Morrissey, who at the time was the executive director of New Bedford’s Economic Development Council.

The number of American clothing manufacturing jobs continued to decline as companies exported them to foreign countries.

“There was a sense of when was the last shoe going to fall in New Bedford,” Morrissey said. “That was very much in the thinking of that period.”

Sapienza feared Riverside Manufacturing Co. would be next. The facility, which now houses Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, under Sapienza’s guidance, wouldn’t be silenced.

“Tony was very instrumental in holding that together and realizing the value of the factory,” Joseph Abboud said. “You have 750 families there that maybe wouldn’t be there if Tony hadn’t sort of stuck through it and persevered. We owe him a lot. We really do. That’s a big statement.”

Joseph Abboud celebrated its 30th anniversary in New Bedford last year. Sapienza’s trust in the city, it’s workforce and his innovation preserved the factory.

As he looks toward retirement in 2018, the 70-year-old Sapienza, CEO of Joseph Abboud, is SouthCoast Today’s Businessperson of the Year.

“He is clearly the guy that deserves it,” Abboud said. “Because that factory could have easily been gone, which would have been a disaster.”

Sapienza, regardless of how dire the circumstances appeared, said he never entirely lost faith in New Bedford.

He trusted GFT (Gruppo Finanziaro Tessile), the Italian clothing company which owned Riverside. But even more he knew the workforce, made up of mostly Portuguese women, would prevail.

“Folks who came to this country as teenagers, as young adults, kids sometimes, but who grew up in a family environment where, first of all, there were needle trade skills, so they knew how to thread a needle and run a sewing machine and had a tremendous work ethic,” Sapienza said.

The addition of Abboud completed the ingredients for the resurrection of the manufacturing facility.

“He kind of synthesized the brand and the look and he was an American designer born in America, making clothing in America,” Sapienza said. “It was a great story you could tell about his commitment to being an American and being in the right place.”

But it was Sapienza who made the most out of those ingredients, both Morrissey and Abboud said.

During the 1990s it made business sense for companies to outsource jobs. Sapienza looked at having a facility in New Bedford as a positive, specifically in men’s fashion.

As the country exited the 2002 recession, Sapienza introduced an idea Americans take for granted in 2018.

“That was all about treating the consumer to the kind of (service) we’ve all become accustomed to,” Abboud said. “We go online. We order something and it shows up two days later. With men’s clothing we’re not quite as fast as two days later, but when you can get a product in two weeks or three weeks particularly made to your specifications, that’s a pretty good deal.”

Foreign competitors needed weeks to ship products to the United States. Joseph Abboud Manufacturing worked to provide customers with the quickest transaction possible.

“So we made significant investments in 2004 in efficiency and in getting the product to market that much faster,” Sapienza said. “That was probably the single most important additional thing that we as managers here in New Bedford were able to do.”

New machinery cut six days out of the production process.

Sapienza also brought the New Jersey distribution facility to New Bedford. It created upwards of 30 jobs and saved at least another week in shipping.

Often, shipments out of New Jersey required overnight shipping. Since Sapienza had streamlined production, overnighting packages wasn’t needed as often. Not only did Sapienza provide better customer service, he saved the company money.

Manufacturing in the United States also allowed Joseph Abboud Manufacturing to be nimble in an ever-evolving world of fashion — a strength not held by foreign competitors.

“We make a lot of high quality products offshore but there isn’t anything quite like what we do (in New Bedford),” Abboud said. “He was extremely instrumental in understanding the value of the factory to the brand.”

As early as 2009, Sapienza ushered one of the oldest trades in the world into social media.

“We realized we could do it on social media. It’s pretty cheap to do,” Sapienza said. “You don’t have to buy $20,000 ads in men’s magazines. You can blog and do a whole bunch of other stuff.”

As Sapienza steps into retirement, he sees the industry stepping into different, uncharted territory.

Malls are struggling. Brick and mortar retail may not have a future.

“Who could have predicted Amazon and Wal-Mart battling the way they are,” Sapienza said. “That you get your groceries from Amazon. It’s a whole new landscape out there.”

At his core, though, Sapienza believes tailoring is a craft done best with the customer present. That aspect will always steady any uncertain waters.

“I think we’ll see the best retailers are going to survive when they provide exemplary customer service and when they’re selling a product that needs a little bit of hand holding,” Sapienza said.

Abboud refers to Sapienza as royalty in the tailored clothing industry. The two met in their 20s. Sapienza worked at his father’s factory in Haverhill

“You can’t necessarily put down on a checklist, he’s a very special guy,” Abboud said. “I think he’s very connected with the community, committed to the community and I think that makes him. And he’s seen the world.”

Retirement or not, the world will see the chair of the Economic Development Council and trustee at the Whaling Museum and Bristol County Community College again.

“This isn’t the last of me,” Sapienza said. “You’ll see me.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

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.

Behind the Counter: Furniture maker combines art and design in function

Posted Dec 30, 2017 at 9:22 PM

For all of woodworker Michael Pietragalla’s careful measuring and precise cutting, it’s what can’t be controlled that intrigues him most about the creative process.

“As you work into the wood, more and more patterns and details come out of it,” he says. “It’s not planned.”

This combination of practiced skill and unpredictable magic happens at Floating Stone Woodworks, Pietragalla’s custom furniture shop located in Loft 406 at 88 Hatch Street in New Bedford.

The name “Floating Stone” is an Italian translation of his last name. He specializes in handcrafted tables, bookcases, and benches, made from hardwoods such as cherry, maple, and walnut. Each piece is built and finished individually, with precision-cut, hand-fitted joints and hand-applied finishes.

Pietragalla moved in to Hatch Street Studios in 2000, the longest continuous tenant in a former mill building that now holds the working spaces of more than 50 creative professionals.

His 2,600-square-foot studio contains the large machinery required to construct his work, including a table saw, planer and drum sander. The long walls are lined with neat rows of hand tools in all sizes. With one wall full of windows facing west, he can wrap up his workday with one of the best sunset views that the city of New Bedford has to offer.

Meticulous craftsmanship is part of Pietragalla’s heritage. His grandfather, a shoemaker, immigrated to New Bedford in his 20s from the village of Pietragalla near Naples, Italy, and ran a shoe shop on North Front Street all of his life. His father was a trained hair stylist who operated his own salon while drumming for a dance band that played such popular local hangouts as Lincoln Park.

Pietragalla grew up in Fairhaven. In school, there were few signs of the exacting technician to come; mathematics was not his best subject. But he was thrilled as a teenager when his father bought him a set of drums, and he began to practice by playing along to jazz records. When the Beatles hit, he was inspired to form a rock ‘n’ roll band of his own. He later attended the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting.

After college, he took on carpentry jobs, where he soon showed a knack for precision. “The bosses saw that I had the attention to detail for finished work, and that’s what they had me do,” he says.

While working for hire, Pietragalla began to investigate furniture design and history. He made friends with an antiques dealer who introduced him to Mission style furniture, a late 19th-century design aesthetic of clean lines emphasizing the unique quality of a wood’s grain. This discovery showed him that furniture making could be a way to combine his carpentry skills with his artistic training. “You can make furniture out of pine, and it’s functional. Or you can make it out of birdseye maple, and now it’s exciting to look at,” he explains.

At first Pietragalla tried working out of a studio in his basement, but space soon became an issue, so he moved into his current location on Hatch Street. The Mission style he favored was popular and, with the then-new internet opening up new connections, his website drew clients from all over the country with requests for custom projects.

He could barely keep up with his orders until the economy sank in 2008. Ever resourceful, Pietragalla started making the small, affordable pieces that remain his signature today. At first he carved chopsticks from bamboo scraps, which sold so well that he expanded into a full range of kitchen utensils. His offerings now include cheese spreaders, spatulas, and salad forks/spoons made of birch and walnut.

Most recently came his jewelry boxes, or as Pietragalla calls them, “treasure boxes.” They are the perfect product for him because they allow him to play with design, color, and texture, while precisely crafting a functional object.

The boxes are sleek and slender, approximately 12 inches long by 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep, made of exotic combinations like zebra wood, yellow heart and cherry.Their lids lift off with ornate handles, they are lined with leather or velvet, and some have hidden compartments.

Like the rest of Pietragalla’s work, the wood grain is the star.

“I like to mix up species of wood, because it becomes a treasure box, not just a jewelry box,” he says. “The box itself is a treasure, as much as what’s in it.”

In addition to those of his own styling, Pietragalla sells custom-designed treasure boxes. He also creates mixed-wood ring boxes to hold an engagement or wedding ring.

Pietragalla sells his work at Hatch Street Open Studios, a popular annual event held the weekend before Thanksgiving. His pieces are available throughout the year at the New Bedford Art Museum’s gift shop, as well as through the Artisans Way Fine Art and Contemporary Craft Gallery in Concord.

Pietragalla also offers furniture restoration and repair services at his studio. He works on pieces as diverse as chairs, tables, and mostly recently a broken sitar. He even replaced a cane chair seat for a customer by teaching himself the process from a YouTube video. “If it’s made of wood, I can probably fix it,” he says.

After decades of intense study and hands-on experience, Pietragalla emphasizes that he is still a student of craft and design, always learning. A poster on his office wall reads, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” That sums up the working philosophy of this son of generations of craftsmen.

To view a portfolio of Michael Pietragalla’s work, visit his website at FloatingStoneWoodworks.com. His studio is open during regular business hours or by appointment on weekends. He can be reached directly at FloatingStone@comcast.net or at 508.997.1079.

Catherine Carter is a New Bedford artist and former Standard-Times journalist. Her profiles of area businesses will appear in this space regularly.

Original story here.

30 years later, Joseph Abboud looks back at his brand in New Bedford

Posted Dec 29, 2017 at 4:57 PM
Updated Dec 29, 2017 at 5:38 PM

Joseph Abboud celebrated his 30th anniversary of clothing manufacturing in the city in 2017.

Abboud told stories of many smiles and some tears during the three decades. The clothing designer shared some of those moments as well as his favorite designs recently with the Standard-Times.

How has the industry evolved in the past 30 years?

The industry has really evolved in that there are fewer and fewer great men’s specialty stores and there are fewer and fewer department stores. So as part of Tailored Brands, our opportunity to be vertical is really, really important. So I see the changing landscape where there are so many holes in terms of where great retail is and we’ve tried to fill that gap with our Men’s Wearhouse stores as well as we’ve got our classic store on Madison Avenue. But we are retailers at heart, so we can go direct to the consumer. I can see that as the big play now. When I started, there were so many more people to sell. Now it’s a much different game.

What are some of your favorite memories in New Bedford?

I’ve got a lot of them. I may have said this to you when we’ve spoken before. When I cross the Massachusetts border and I’m driving on 195, you know, it’s really, I’m coming home. I always feel like I’m coming home. And a lot of magic happens in that factory in New Bedford. In a weird way, it’s where I feel my most comfortable in terms of creating the tailored clothing because I’m working closely with (Senior Vice President of Design & Quality) Salvatore Mellace and my team there. I’ve been doing that for so long there’s a comfort level. And every time I go to the factory, I discover something new that we can do there. It is really kind of a magical place.

Tony Sapienza described a moment where you returned to the industry after a brief hiatus and it was specifically in New Bedford that brought some tears. What was that moment like?

It’s so interesting because, I’m a fairly emotional guy. I always try to keep it in check but I am. The day that I walked back into that factory and they were all there to welcome me back in open arms grabbed me by surprise. I was really touched by it. I really did choke up on that because they were there, the same people that I had left were there to welcome me back. It was really like coming home again. You know, I’ll never forget that. I love the people in New Bedford, and the people in our factory. They’re such hard workers. They’re so dedicated. And they go into our stores, and they throw their chests out, and say, ‘I made that lapel’ or ‘I made that sleeve.’ They take such pride in what they do that it means so much to me. I’m so proud of them.

When was that?

I would say, oh, probably in 2013.

How long had you been away?

I would say, it was about, about eight years or so. So it was a while. But the factory continued to uphold the standards and the DNA of the Joseph Abboud brand and what I had created. I feel forever grateful. Because the real strength of our brand and the real anchor of our company is that factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts, of the Joseph Abboud business. We have over 750 people there.

Why do you think that is?

Well, we started the business as an American designer with an American factory. And my partners who were Italian back then, they were also involved with Giorgio Armani and Valentino and they always believed that the designer should be making in the country he was from. So with Giorgio Armani making in Italy was important, and as we started and formed our business they really believed and I was 100 percent in agreement that we should make in America. As an American designer, we are the largest tailored clothing company in North America. We are the largest importing manufacturer of the finest Italian goods from Italy. Our custom business has really grown dramatically. We’re so proud of the quality of the fabrics we use but the quality of what we make with our New Bedford folks. To be the largest in North America under a designer name is pretty special.

I have to go back for one second. The 8-year hiatus, why did you step away?

There were some issues that I had with the prior management where I thought the brand was going in the wrong direction. I felt that it was time for me to walk away from it because I couldn’t support it or endorse it. But as Tailored Brands came in and we partnered on the idea of making Joseph Abboud the premier American designer brand and the idea that the factory was at the core of it, was so appealing. It was a wonderful homecoming.

That leads right into my next question, 30 years ago what did you envision from the brand and how does that compare to the reality of today?

The DNA is still very much the same, which is a modern American collection for all Americans. An inclusionary brand that was not a preppy traditional ivy league brand but a more modern worldly brand but still wasn’t some pseudo-European thing. It was truly an American brand. And that’s what it is today and I’m so proud of it. And so proud of the people, everyone who is involved. A lot of it is, obviously the strength of that is through our customers, it’s at the factory and the dedicated workforce that we have in New Bedford.

Something that popped out about your favorite lines was not only the designs but some of the textures. How do you go about picking some of those textures?

I always say that the texture of your clothes is like the texture of your life. That has been for me, to add dimension and personality to every piece I design. I always have believed that we want to give the customer more. We don’t want to give them less. So fabric is very important. The color of fabric is important. The linings that we use. The layering. There’s a richness to it that’s very masculine and very American but very approachable.

When you think about the American man, who are your designing for? Is the business class? Is it the working class? Is the guy going on the airplane? When you envision a suit, who is it for?

I think I believe in, it’s an overused word, but lifestyle. You know, I don’t think of one particular guy. I think of how a guy lives his life. How does the American man live his life? He has needs for tuxedos. He has a need for a dark business suit. He has a need for a softly constructed jacket. So I design for his lifestyle. I always used to say, if I think I need it, I think a lot of other guys need it. So I kind of use my needs and requirements as a guideline to what I think guys might want to have from a color point of view, from a silhouette point of view, from dressy to casual, from tuxedos to T-shirts. I’ve always looked at, my job is to make American men look and feel better about themselves. And that’s what designers are supposed to do. It’s not an ode to me by any means. My job is to really kind of honor my customer and really give him stuff that works in his life. That’s why I think we’ve had such a long run is because we’ve been very dedicated to our customer and their needs. That’s why I don’t use a lot logos on my clothes because I think labels belong on the inside of clothing not on the outside.

One thing we learned about the favorite designs is the women’s line. How did that come about?

Oh, that was really a special moment. My partners were Italian back then. They had wonderful factories in Italy. Unfortunately when they went through their financial crisis, they closed those factories down. We had that women’s business for about 10 years. It was a really beautiful collection but the quality was impeccable. And to this day, I’ve never been able to find the level of quality and craftsmanship in our women’s wear. So I haven’t done it. It doesn’t mean we won’t.

And also when you’re designing women’s wear, it also keeps you sharper for men’s wear. It’s a different mindset when you’re designing for women. It does. It keeps you on a much more heightened plane when you’re being creative. I sort of miss that part of it.

How does the inspiration alter from designing something for a man and designing something for a woman?

The thing that drives my brand has always been the textures and the fabrics. So when we did our women’s wear, it was basically with rich sumptuous fabrics but of course (in) the appropriate women shapes. So it differs more in shape. And women are much more experimental and will try things quickly. They’re newer to products. So it really was an exciting time for me. Yeah, that part of it, I miss. And so many women come up to us and say, ‘When are you going to do your women’s line?’ Because they love our fabrics. Never say never.

When was the decade of women’s clothing?

That was probably from 1992 to about 2003, 2004 in that area. Like I said, it does keep you very sharp. It really does.

In keeping in the designs you sent us, one that really stuck out with us was in 2016, the model with the black suit, the black American flag over his shoulder and the finger-less gloves. Where did the inspiration from that come from?

That was all about being proud to make in America. That was a runway look. So when you have a chance to do theatrics — and that’s what shows are about. Shows do have to have some theater. They have to have some drama. But that was one of my favorite looks because that flag was made in New Bedford, Massachusetts. That flag was sewn from all of my tailored sewing fabrics, and we now currently sell those as limited edition in my Joseph Abboud store here in (New York City).

Why did you want to tell that story at that particular show?

That was one of the first shows that we had done in a long time. And I wanted everybody to know that New Bedford could be as creative as Milan. And that what we do out of the tailoring and the custom details, I mean that was a beautiful show in terms of the energy of what we created and just showing a range of what we do in our factory in New Bedford and the Joseph Abboud Factory.

In the future, what do you see from the brand moving forward?

We talk about this corporately and Doug (Ewert), our CEO who has been an enormous supporter of the brand, has said our goal is to make it a billion dollar brand. So that’s our goal and move forward every day and we continue to see growth. Listen, there’s no straight lines to success. There’s always challenges. It’s climbing Mount Everest really. It’s kind of the quest is always (difficult). I love the journey. To get there is great but the journey is also very exciting. What’s at the next horizon? That’s what it is for me. I’m still challenged by it. I feel at the top of my game because my experience really does help me in terms of the confidence in the creativity. And that’s a very important thing. Having the confidence to know that you’ve done this, you’ve been through cycles. So it allows you to have more confidence in what you believe in.

Area native Margo Saulnier to oversee New Bedford’s Cultural Plan

By Jonathan Carvalho, APR
Office of the Mayor

jcarvalho@newbedford-ma.gov

New Bedford has selected area native Margo Saulnier to serve as the Cultural Coordinator for the city’s arts and culture community, overseeing the development and implementation of New Bedford’s Cultural Plan.

In recent years, New Bedford’s reputation has grown as the center for arts in the region and as a creative and inviting place for all types of artists to live and work.  New Bedford was named the “Seventh Most Artistic City” by Atlantic Monthly, ranked Ninth on Matador Network’s list of Most Creative Towns, and sixth on Bustle’s Best Cities for Young Artists. 

The Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund was proposed by Mayor Jon Mitchell in the spring of 2016 and approved by the City Council last year, and consists of half the revenue 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. The petition’s passage in 2017 was led by state Sen. Mark Montigny.

Using monies from the Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund, the City selected the New Bedford Economic Development Council (NBEDC) to manage the search for the Cultural Coordinator. Over the summer, the NBEDC conducted a search for a Cultural Coordinator, and after receiving and reviewing applications and conducting interviews, area native Margo Saulnier was selected.

An Acushnet native and New Bedford High School graduate, Margo Saulnier is an experienced creative professional and educator with more than two decades of performing arts and entertainment industry experience. She has consulted on a number of projects in Boston with Celebrity Series of Boston, including three large-scale public outdoor projects: Street Pianos Boston “Play Me I’m Yours” (2013 and 2016), “Le Grand Continental” dance performance in Copley Square (2014), and “Let’s Dance/Bailemos Boston!” (2015) on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. She has managed production and programming for more than 4,000 live shows at the Boston Pops and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Ms. Saulnier is currently a lecturer in the Music Department at Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media, and Design, focusing primarily on management of music organizations, performing arts administration, and a course she created, Artistic Planning for Venues and Festivals. In 2016, she moderated the panel on women in music management, booking, negotiations and technology for Northeastern’s “Changing the Conversation: Women’s Equality in the Music Industry” Symposium. In 2014, she moderated the arts economics panel for Northeastern’s CREATE Initiative’s Value of Presenting Symposium. She has also participated on panels at the Future of Music Summit, Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), and Boston University.

For more than a decade, Ms. Saulnier was involved in artistic planning for the Boston Pops, where she produced the orchestral debuts of Steve Martin, Oleta Adams, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Cowboy Junkies, Melinda Doolittle, Guster, Aimee Mann, Natalie Merchant, My Morning Jacket, Amanda Palmer, Ozomatli, and many others.

She holds a degree in music from Boston University and a master of fine arts degree from Brooklyn College.

“The arts have been an important part of New Bedford’s story, dating back to its whaling days. The Cultural Plan will add to our cultural scene, attracting creativity and investment to the City and improving marketing, programming, and public art,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell. “I’m pleased that a highly qualified, driven professional, Margo Saulnier, will oversee the plan with both vision and passion to see the best results for New Bedford’s respected arts and culture community.”

“Margo is committed to innovative and interdisciplinary programming, new audience development, community engagement, and making arts accessible to all,” said Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.

City’s art museum hires UMD grad as new executive director

Nov 6, 2017 at 9:12 PM

Ashley Occhino, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth graduate, has been named as the new executive director of the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!, officials announced Monday.

“I’ve always found myself coming back to New Bedford again and again. There’s such a rich art community there,” said Occhino, who is in her mid 30s. She’s from Attleboro and lives in Taunton.

Occhino has served as the manager of studio class programs at the Worcester Art Museum since 2014.

Occhino is set to take the helm Nov. 27. Her leadership follows retirement of Noelle Foye who shepherded the merger between the New Bedford Art Museum and ArtWorks! which occurred in 2014 and directed the combined organization. Under Foye’s guidance, exhibitions and educational programs grew while collaborations with other institutions expanded, according to a news release from the museum.

“Noelle Foye’s leadership positioned the art museum to be central to the community and that strength has allowed us to attract such a new talented leader,” said Lee Heald, director of AHA! and a member of the museum’s board and search committee for a new executive director. “We expect that Ashley will continue our strong support of community expression in the arts as well as support for excellence and achievement in the local arts community.”

Heald also said Occhino has a lot of enthusiasm and will bring a fresh perspective to the city.

“New Bedford holds a very special place in my heart and it’s through my times at UMass Dartmouth that I really learned about the city,” Occhino said.

She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts and has an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. She was one of the first classes to experience the Star Store in New Bedford, part of her thesis involved displaying work at ArtWorks! and she’s also taught art classes there, she said.

At the Worcester Art Museum, Occhino said she was in charge of developing programming, managing staff and working with community partners. Also, an education wing with dedicated exhibition space fell under her purview. The museum has an intensive education program with more than 100 classes each season, Occhino said.

She’s previously held leadership positions at Danforth Art in Framingham and the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, each time serving in education departments.

“I really just want to embrace the idea of a community museum,” Occhino said. She praised Foye for being successful with the merger, adding “I’m really honored to be following in her footsteps.”

“We are excited the New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks! has hired Ashley Occhino as the museum’s new Executive Director. The NB Art Museum/Artworks! is ideal for arts travelers and invigorates the community. Ashley is familiar with the arts & culture landscape in New Bedford as well as her years of experience and passion for the arts, we look forward to working with her,” said Dagny Ashley, the city’s director of tourism and marketing, in a statement.

Jamie Uretsky, curator at NBAM/ArtWorks! said she looks forward to removing her hat as acting director.

“I’ve only heard good things about Ashley,” Uretsky said. “It’s going to be nice to have her energy in the space.”

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT

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