George Kirby Jr. Paint Co.: The color that crosses New Bedford centuries

There aren’t many businesses that can say they have been family-owned and operated for over 150 years. George Kirby Jr. Paint Company, at 163 Mount Vernon St. — just steps from Shawmut Avenue — can proudly proclaim that fact, however.

Awnings over the office windows declare, “Since 1846.” It’s central to their business. The company rose to prominence on the strength of its signature product — marine paint — and its reputation still rests on that glorious liquid to this day.

The George Kirby Jr. Paint Co. was one of the first manufacturers of copper bottom paint. Back in the 19th century, it was a revolutionary product designed to eliminate the buildup of barnacles and other sea life that accumulate on the bottoms of boats. Kirby made the paint with premium ingredients in small, handmade batches — and continues to do so in the 21st century right in this West End neighborhood.

“We’re the smallest paint manufacturing company in the United States,” said George A. Kirby IV, the latest member of the Kirby family to own the company. The statement is spoken with pride as he recognizes the unique heritage he now oversees.

George the IV worked with both his grandfather and father before taking a few years off to join the United States Air Force and then returning to the company. It was time well spent; he met his wife, Shari Kirby, while on duty.

Today, George, Shari and cousin Bill Kirby are the three employees of the George Kirby Jr. Paint Co.

George took over the company from his dad in 2013 and knew just what to change, what to leave alone, and what defines Kirby Paint the most.

First and foremost, is the reputation of its products. While they produce all manner of marine paint, it’s their resilient colors applied to wooden hulls upon which their reputation rests.

That is a wonderful tradition to carry on but it can hurt the bottom line.

Frequently at boat shows, where he is always warmly welcomed, Kirby says he hears from previous customers that their purchase has been so effective that most “don’t need paint!”

“I’m putting myself out of business!,” he said with a laugh.

So, this year they’ll move beyond their usual boat shows in Mystic, Connecticut and Portland, Maine, and venture as far afield as Florida to keep making the personal connection the Kirby brand relies upon.

And make no mistake, Kirby is well-branded. In fact, George knew when he took over the company that not only the product, but everything the brand embodied in its nostalgic logo was important to maintain.

That logo is not only a link to the past, but a reminder of the company’s unique position in the marine paint world.

Within it is a representation of the medal awarded to Kirby at the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris for its mixture of Prussian Blue.

Just as it was then, the paint is made in batches, and one batch makes 60 gallons.

In 2013, Shari Kirby put her father, Paul Meyer to work on the building creating some stunning hand-painted signs which adorn the building on Mt. Vernon Street featuring the logo. The result is amazing and lends commercial art vitality to the street. It may be why the street artist Tom Bob decided to add an exclamation point with one of his signature creations — a gas meter turned into a pink flamingo — after Meyer handled the signage.

Though the George Kirby Jr. Paint Co. looks as if it’s been in its red brick building since the Victorian age, that isn’t so. It actually began life by the waterfront — naturally — on Wall Street in New Bedford before falling victim to the construction of Route 18 in the city. It’s been in its current location since 1969.

A move like that may have devastated another business but not Kirby. It actually had already survived a near-death experience at its original location way back in the 1880s.

Among the memorabilia George Kirby IV stores on-site in his office is a printed notice from 1887 entitled “BURNT OUT!” It continues, “Our factory was totally destroyed by fire on the night of April 1st, and all the machinery ruined, engine and boiler twisted into and almost unrecognizable mass, every pound of stock destroyed, in fact a more than total loss.”

Remarkably, the letter goes on to state that despite this calaminity, orders would resume being filled by…April 15!

Thankfully, there have been no fires at its current location. However, a neighboring building did succumb to flames a few years back. While many believed the fire also took the Kirby building, rest assured the business escaped conflagration and the store is open six days a week to the public (closed on Sundays).

In it, you’ll find George, Shari, Bill and recent arrival Daisy, Kirby’s canine mascot, continuing to embellish the success and legend of this storied business in New Bedford.

They’ve done so not only by following in the footsteps of their forebears, but by embracing the internet as a sales tool. Today, most Kirby Paint is shipped from kirbypaint.com to places all over the country and Canada, too. In 2013, Shari even replaced the bound ledgers used for bookkeeping with…Quickbooks!

Despite some nods to modernity, they don’t for a minute fail to respect the legacy of the George Kirby Jr. Paint Company they are carrying on, though.

George joked that maintaining that integrity is crucial because, “My name’s on the can so my can’s on the line!”

Yet he also writes a handwritten note to every customer requesting a color swatch through kirbypaint.com — a human touch in a digital age that reaches across centuries into tomorrow…

And, there’s a George Kirby V waiting in the wings, too.

Original post here.

St. Luke’s Hospital starts construction on new $14M intensive care unit

Posted Jul 17, 2019 at 7:37 PM

The state-of-the-art unit also aligns with Southcoast’s pursuit of establishing a Level II trauma center at St. Luke’s Hospital in 2020, Southcoast Health said in a news release Wednesday night.

“Our investment in advanced intensive care will provide our patients with greater access to clinical excellence, close to home,” said Keith Hovan, president and CEO of Southcoast Health, in a statement. “The residents of southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island deserve the very best healthcare. We are excited to be investing in this new Intensive Care Unit as part of our ongoing commitment to delivering exceptional care and service to our patients and communities.”

Mayor Jon Mitchell, also in a statement, praised Southcoast Health “for continuing to invest in this community and delivering the highest quality care to the people of New Bedford and beyond.”

Mitchell, who toured the site of the new unit Wednesday, said “Needing the services of critical care can be an emotional and trying experience for patients and families. This new unit will have the space, technology and skilled care team that will make all the difference during someone’s time of need.”

The new 16,000-square-foot-unit — the current unit is 7,300 square feet — is being constructed on the fourth floor of St. Luke’s. Equipped with the latest technology, it will feature 16 spacious, 440-square-foot rooms that “will accommodate medical equipment and enable family and staff to be comfortably at the patient’s bedside,” the news release said.

A conference room will be dedicated for physician meetings with families and a lounge area, with refreshments, TV and showers, will be available to families staying long hours, officials said.

“I am excited about the opportunity for our nurses, physicians and staff to work within a new state-of-the-art unit that is designed to provide an optimal experience for patients, families and providers,” said Maria Tassoni, RN, manager of the intensive care unit, in a statement.

Commending staff for their input and suggestions for the new unit, Tassoni, a Southcoast employee for 31 years, went on to say that “When a great care team has a great facility, the patients and community benefit.”

Southcoast Health officials said the new unit will also play an integral role in the hospital’s efforts to achieve designation as a Level II trauma center, meaning that St. Luke’s would be able to treat more serious injuries for people in the community. Currently, patients in need of such care are often sent to Rhode Island or Boston hospitals.

Southcoast Health employs 2,453 people at its New Bedford locations, and employs 1,581 city residents who work at Southcoast, the release said.

“As the region’s only not-for-profit health system, we know the importance of continually investing in our system to ensure all the residents of this region have access to the highest possible quality of care,” said Hovan in the release. “And as the region’s largest employer, we want to provide our staff with the best facilities and equipment to treat and serve our patients, their families, and the larger community.”

Original post here.

After nearly 30 years, a South Coast Rail groundbreaking

Tuesday marked the highly celebrated beginning of the South Coast Rail project’s southern expansion, bringing MBTA Commuter Rail Service from Boston south to the cities of Fall River and New Bedford.

The occasion was not the first groundbreaking for the project, which has been gestating in Massachusetts politics for roughly 30 years.

That point was not lost on MassDOT CEO Stephanie Pollack, who took a moment Tuesday to recall a 2015 conversation she had with Fall River state Sen. Michael Rodrigues.

At the time, Rodrigues warned Pollack of the shovels he had collected over the years from past South Coast Rail groundbreakings and said he didn’t want another one until construction was already underway.

“We’re here today because there is actual construction work underway,” Pollack said to an applauding audience of local and state officials.

Pollack and Rodrigues were joined by the likes of Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and many of the region’s state representatives for Tuesday’s ceremony. A total of 45 politicians and government officials plunged gleaming shovels into the symbolic mound of dirt positioned beside a set of Freetown train tracks at the ceremony.

The project has undergone a series of fits and starts since Gov. William Weld first asked the state Legislature approve funding for preliminary studies. A series of obstacles — including loss of funding and environmental impact concerns — have plagued the project since it began, but many of Tuesday’s attendees were confident that the proverbial trains would finally be pulling out of the station.

When asked what made him so confident that the project would be completed by its proposed 2023 end date, Baker said the project has two things going for it that it didn’t previously have: a completed construction plan and a designated funding source.

“Those are really the two big things it didn’t have before. It has a real construction and design plan and the second thing is a real capital plan. And that basically guarantees that it’s going to happen,” said Baker, explaining that $1 billion in funding has already been allocated in the state’s 5-year capital plan.

“We’ve already got contracts on this. People are doing work on it. We’ve already acquired property, we’ve got all the permits,” said Baker. “This is literally a groundbreaking held after the project had begun.”

Work already underway represents Phase I of the South Coast Rail project. Thus far, the project has seen culvert installation along the train’s proposed route being done in East Freetown, as well as track upgrades and bridge renovation.

The next four years of the project will see the commuter rail’s Middleboro Line being extended to New Bedford and Fall River, which will require reconstructing 17.3 miles of the existing New Bedford main line track and 11.7 miles of the Fall River secondary track.

Upgrades will also have to be done to 7.1 miles of the Middleboro secondary track between Pilgrim and Cotley Junctions. Two new layover facilities will also have to be constructed, as well as six new train stations. Representatives of the greater Fall River and New Bedford area were similarly optimistic that Tuesday about the project’s future.

Rodrigues, whose first South Coast Rail groundbreaking was over 20 years ago, praised the state’s most recent efforts and highlighted the potential impact commuter rail service will have on the region. “The communities of the SouthCoast deserve to be economically competitive with the rest of the region, and South Coast Rail is a large piece of that,” he said. “I applaud the Baker-Polito Administration for finally making this long-promised project a reality.”

Original post 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.

New Bedford launches online dashboard, NBCompass

The dashboard measures three major categories: Permits and Licensing, Economic Indicators, and Roadways and Public Spaces, allowing residents to view the number of various licenses pulled, trends in employment and growth, roadways repaired, and more. More metrics will continue to be added that are relevant to residents and visitors, and NBCompass lays the foundation for future data reporting, according to the release.

Annual year-end performance management reports are also available through NBCompass.

The dashboard is available at www.newbedford-ma.gov/nbcompass/.

New Bedford’s finance team has also achieved notable landmarks this year. The City was awarded the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award (2018), for the third consecutive year, for its current budget by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). Only 26 Massachusetts municipalities and districts, and 1,576 entities nationwide, received the award in 2017. Additionally, Standard & Poor’s Rating Service (S&P) reaffirmed New Bedford’s AA- bond rating, and the City has maintained the highest bond rating it has achieved in at least the last forty years. The AA- rating was first awarded to New Bedford in January 2014, and the reaffirmation of the rating puts New Bedford again among the top half of all issuers of municipal debt in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

New Bedford maintains favorable bond rating

15 years of design by mediumstudio has rebranded New Bedford

If you’re thinking it had something to do with cobblestones or lamp lights, whaling or fishing, industry or the arts, you’re wrong. Well, not entirely wrong — but partially wrong.

Fifteen years ago, mediumstudio formed just a few blocks away from their current location at 38 Bethel Street, on historic Centre Street where BeJeweled is found now.

Over the course of the past 15 years, the graphic design firm has taken everything New Bedford has to offer as enumerated above and re-branded, re-packaged, and re-presented it to the world for the 21st century. Simply put, mediumstudio took design to a new professional level in New Bedford, just as the city was ready for that happen.

You can’t help but notice a certain freshness and graphic audacity in all of their work. It’s defined them from the beginning to this day. And, through countless logos, display ads, flyers, posters, website and social media images of all sorts produced on behalf of their clients, helped rebrand the city they call home.

It’s unquestionable that they burst upon the scene as the hip new kids on the block within the graphic design world in New Bedford and on SouthCoast — in their own unique way. From the beginning, the lowercase ‘m’ and ‘s’, all-one-word agency was much more than just a graphic design studio.

Founding member Keri Cox explains that out back of their first location on Centre Street was a rather famous space she simply refers to as “The Garage.”

As mediumstudio formed by day, on nights and weekends The Garage was a spot to hang out at to socialize, listen to bands, hold an art show — all manner of creative pursuits.

“Generations remember that place,” said Cox.

In those halcyon days and nights, mediumstudio was born in and of the community it would come to rebrand in the future. From Day One, community wasn’t just a place where they had set up shop — it was part of their natural business plan, and remains so to this day.

Cox has long been an important part of the 3rd EyE Unlimited leadership team. She’s also one of only two paid AHA! New Bedford staff persons, assistant to director Lee Heald.

Today at 38 Bethel Street, in a voluminous open space above the Fishing Heritage Center, 3rd EyE members still meet each and every week. The artist Nicole Winning conducts Saturday morning Colorful Yoga classes for children in the space. It’s not uncommon to attend a meeting or event at mediumstudio that has nothing to do with the work being done — but everything to do with the bigger picture that is New Bedford now.

Keri is one of four partners at mediumstudio. She mostly functions as project manager, or as she terms it, “I’m just bossy!”

The other partners are her husband, John Cox; Hannah Haines; and Frank Goncalves.

Each works on their own individual wavelength and reacts to the needs of their clients in their own way. There never has really been a business plan at mediumstudio; it’s evolved over the years and become successful in an organic way.

But it is a successful — and very busy — creative Business, with a capital ‘B’. Back in The Garage days, Kerri says a lot of work was done just for the fun of it, or to fulfill a community need. Over time the dictates of “adulting” caused them all to focus on the bottom line — just not at the expense of creative freedom.

Each of the partners has a distinct identity and client roster, yet collectively become mediumstudio. That brand is distinctive and rests on fundamental design principles that are allowed to breathe and most often built from the ground up via typography. (See a full portfolio of their work at mediumstudio.com.)

Keri Cox is the public face of the firm. As this column once wrote of her, “Very often, when you look behind an event, you find Keri Cox there. She is the glue that holds the various elements of some important happenings together. She almost effortlessly brings diverse people in the city together.”

Hannah Haines is voluble and expansive in an interview. She says that the most memorable praise she recalls a client saying was that “you could always tell mediumstudio designed something because it looked ‘thoughtful’.”

Hannah is responsible for the graphic “look” of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, designing its upcoming season offerings each year, for example. She says, “I’m proud to have worked closely with The Z to conceptualize their seasons for the last 14 years.”

John Cox is reticent to downright shy. He likes the work to speak for itself. It does; his graphic design is widely acknowledged as setting a new standard in the city. The dude is viewed as innately talented by anyone you speak to about him.

On the day an interview for this profile was conducted, Frank Goncalves was unavailable. It’s obvious he is a valued member of the team, however. All the others boasted that he had been with mediumstudio since he was 19, soon after he finished high school. He’s now been at the firm for about nine years.

“Where was he?” that day, Hannah, John and Keri asked one another. It didn’t matter; he and all of them have the space to create on their own time.

Maybe that’s another way mediumstudio launched as and has stayed a design firm for the times. A time in New Bedford’s history that’s also seen it gain national recognition for the creative artistic impulse that is in its DNA.

The graphic design of mediumstudio reflects that even as it is helping to brand it for the wider world.

Their client roster is a mix of non-profits and commercial clients. From AHA! and the New Bedford Folk Festival to Brick Pizzeria, Travessia Winery and Rose Alley Ale House. Plus, developers — some far beyond the city limits — and large organizations like Brigham and Woman’s Hospital.

They “bring a curiosity” to each project, Hannah says, and the reward is “we get to do what we like to do,” she concludes.

Finally, it comes down to quality of life for all the partners. Here, too, they may have helped set the tone 15 years ago for the New Bedford we have now.

A place that supports a creative quality of life and that as a community recognizes the value of artistic fulfillment and achievement.

That’s a place that looks so much better has seen through the eyes of mediumstudio.

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

Original story here.

50 photographs, three windows, one Obama

 

NEW BEDFORD — The first thing to say about “Obama: An Intimate Portrait. A South Coast Look into the White House — Photographs by Pete Souza” is that it’s the clear front-runner for longest exhibition title of 2019. With 50 images on display, that works out to just over two photographs per syllable.

The show runs through June 16 at the New Bedford Art Museum. The “South Coast” part of the title comes from the fact that Souza, who served as chief White House photographer throughout the Obama administration, is a South Dartmouth native.

The second thing to say about the show is that it might be thought of most usefully as three windows.

Window number one is narrowly photographic. Metaphorically, all photographs are windows, showing us what lay before the lens when the photographer clicked the shutter. So these photographs are a window on a particular person: his character, his family, his job, his travels.

Even in the extremely unlikely event that a viewer didn’t know that this slender, intense-looking middle-aged man was once the president of the United States, he’d still be visually compelling. The camera recognizes neither name, rank, nor serial number in the favorites it plays; and the camera clearly favors Obama (even with his prominent ears and that odd upper lip).

It doesn’t hurt that Souza is an expert craftsman with an excellent eye. Before becoming chief White House photographer under Obama, he’d worked on the photography staff of the Reagan White House and as a photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune.

In the extensive and usefully informative wall text accompanying the show, Souza notes that he worked days of 10-12 hours, often six or seven a week. He accompanied Obama to all 50 states, more than 60 countries, and took nearly 2 million photographs. It sounds like both the best job in the world and the worst. It sounds not unlike the presidency that way.

There are only a few missteps in the show. A view of Obama at Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue is a window, yes, only this one has stained glass. A 2011 photograph of him standing in silhouetted profile in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., is more than a mite stagy. Conversely, one of him sitting in the bus Rosa Parks momentously rode in feels, and looks, just right.

The reason Obama was at the King Memorial and sitting on that bus — why his doing those things mattered in ways it would not have with any other president — was, of course, his race. Obama’s being the first African-American president meant that he could have done nothing for eight years and still been a historically consequential figure.

This is the second window: on history. Hung chronologically, the show gives a sense of the evolution of a presidency and offers moments of high historical drama. To see Obama letting himself be zapped by a trick-or-treating Spider-Man or making snow angels with his daughters on the South Lawn is great fun (also a real window — that word again — on character). But we also get a view out over the crowd at Obama’s first inaugural, of the crowded conference room where the president and his senior aides watched in real time the 2011 mission against Osama bin Laden, and Obama placing a note for the president-elect in the Oval Office desk on Inauguration Day 2017.

This is the third window: on today. It’s difficult not to sound partisan here, but try to set aside ideology. The human differences between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, or between Obama and Bush, while considerable, are matters of degree not kind. Here they seem almost taxonomic. The sense of discrepancy between the man in the White House from 2009 to 2017 and the incumbent is so vast as — well, simply consider the hair photo. You know the one. Obvious comb-over jokes aside, try — come on, try — to imagine Obama’s successor letting a 5-year-old touch his hair. And that’s leaving out the whole aspect of using hair as a statement on race and possibility and aspiration.

People would often comment on Obama’s formality, how professorial he could seem. They tended to do so as an implicit criticism. There was truth to such comments, but what they missed is how Obama’s sense of correctness in personal conduct, something so notably lacking in Clinton, for example, also served to liberate him. Dignity, when innate, isn’t aloofness. It’s a version of grace, one that can be spiritual as well as physical. What one consistently sees in these photographs is someone with an overriding sense of duty: to his family, to his office, to his nation. It’s a kind of vocational decency, that vocation being moral even more than it is political.

Knowing who he was, Obama could allow himself to display a human dimension as someone whose insecurities restrict him to playing a role never can. That human dimension is evident in every single one of these photographs: the formal, eye-of-history ones no less than when he’s getting swamped by a big kahuna of a wave, in Hawaii, or dancing with his wife to Earth, Wind & Fire. True, he’s wearing a tuxedo. The look on his face sure isn’t.

Just as every bully is a coward trying to mask his cowardice, so any person uncertain of his own humanity won’t — or can’t — display humanity toward others. The man seen consoling a grievously wounded soldier and his family at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the family of one of the children murdered at Sandy Hook is the president of the United States. He’s also a man.

There are many criticisms to be made of Obama’s politics. Some of the harshest (and dumbest) come from the left. What Souza’s photographs remind us is how little that criticism can in any justifiable way extend beyond the political to the personal. Let exhibitions by other White House photographers show how well that might be said of other presidents.

A nearby alcove has a smaller exhibit with a title nearly as long that of the Souza show, “Artifacts of Recent History: Local Objects from a Historical Presidency Collected by the New Bedford Historical Society.” There are posters, books, flags, invitations, photographs. Many come courtesy of a man named Carl J. Cruz. The standout item is a truly nifty commemorative jacket. Quilted with fabric flags and stars and photos and even a few sequins, it’s the size and cut of a varsity jacket. Instead of being from your high school, though, it’s from your country — our country. How much you want to bet it would look great on Obama, even better than that tux does?

OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT. A South Coast Look into the White House – Photographs by Pete Souza

At New Bedford Art Museum, 508 Pleasant St., New Bedford, through June 16.

508-961-3072, www.newbedfordart.org

Original story here.

SUPERFLAT NB and MassDevelopment team up to bolster community

The public mural art group SUPERFLAT NB launched last year to excitement and enthusiasm — and with grand ambitions.

As spring 2019 begins, and its first anniversary approaches in May, the group is beginning its game plan for Year Two. Far from hibernating over the winter, SUPERFLAT has been recruiting new members, enlisting more artists and laying the organizational groundwork to ensure it is a permanent feature of the New Bedford landscape.

Last weekend, the group held an open artist call for a special series of photos which will form the basis of a new project and kick off their new year.

This week, they are launching a Patronicity fundraising campaign. It’s impressive goal is $50,000 — and its impressive partner is no less than MassDevelopment.

That’s the state’s economic development and finance agency, which works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth.

They will match that sum of $50,000 if SUPERFLAT can reach it within 60 days.

“In recent years, we’ve seen cities and towns across Massachusetts use public art as a tool to draw people in, activate neighborhoods, and enrich local arts and cultural communities,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Lauren Liss stated in a press release launching the campaign. “MassDevelopment looks forward to helping Superflat New Bedford achieve these goals through Commonwealth Places.”

Commonwealth Places is a collaborative initiative from MassDevelopment and Patronicity that leverages public support for placemaking projects through crowdfunding and a matching grant from MassDevelopment, the agency writes.

The program engages residents in the development of strategic projects in their towns and cities.

The Patronicity campaign can be found at Patronicity.com/superflat.

To amp up the energy over the next two months of the campaign, SUPERFLAT artists will be holding special events on the April and May AHA! nights.

During the second Thursday of the month, downtown cultural celebrations, artists will first be wheat-pasting on walls and then ‘writing’ — the street art term for creating designs — over the photos shot last weekend.

This will happen on the public art fence across from Custom House Square Park.

As they have since forming in late 2017, the SUPERFLAT team continues to meet weekly to organize, plot, promote, nurture and create the infrastructure for a robust arts organization that will stand the test of time.

Their mission statement is worth repeating:

“SUPERFLAT NB aims to eliminate barriers to the arts through public art that tells and shares personal stories; that draws upon, preserves, and reimagines our shared heritage and histories in New Bedford; and, through the renewal of the environment and our connections to each other, create new pathways for our future social and economic growth.”

SUPERFLAT went about doing that in 2018 in a strategic way. They launched on May 4, 2018 with five artists creating work outside the Co-Creative Center that was later auctioned off.

Proceeds and local funding from the New Bedford Economic Development Council allowed them to bring Cey Adams and Janette Beckman, artists with an international reputation, to the city during its first mural festival in August.

Taking place during the 3rd EyE Open, New Bedford artists were paired with over-sized prints of Beckman’s work from the dawn of hip hop and let loose to offer their own colorful spin atop her black and white memories of musical icons.

Meanwhile, Adams was charged with creating a permanent mural in Wings Court. Today, the “Love” mural has joined his other destination work in cities like New York and Philadelphia. Like that other work, “Love” is the backdrop for countless selfies — but from the Whaling City — featuring residents and visitors alike.

Other artists, like Brian Tillett, created their own new community focal points during the festival. In all, 18 local artists were enlisted to take part in the first SUPERFLAT mural contest last year. And — importantly — were paid for their efforts.

That last part isn’t only a point of pride for the team, but necessary in order for the creative impulse to economically mature in New Bedford. As Mayor Jon Mitchell said when introducing the city’s Arts & Culture Plan, “Great stuff doesn’t come free.”

One of SUPERFLAT’s goals this year is to create an artist referral network under the group’s banner. This will pair local artists with businesses or organizations seeking murals or other sorts of artwork.

“Some businesses may want to support artists by buying their work or employing their talent, but don’t know how to reach them,” says team member Kim Goddard, who handles publicity for SUPERFLAT NB. “This will give interested parties a way to connect with local artists and learn about their work,” she says.

The group is also seeking to enlarge its footprint throughout the city. In fact, with exception of the photo project and the mural festival during 3rd EyE Open, almost all other SUPERFLAT mural projects will happen on walls in places other than the downtown during 2019.

While a list of highly-visible spots were discussed at a recent meeting, it was requested that they remain under wraps until final approvals have been received. Suffice to say, they all live up to the SUPERFLAT ideal and will indeed renew the environment of neighborhoods throughout New Bedford.

Proceeds from the Patronicity.com/superflat campaign, matched by MassDevelopment if it reaches its $50,000 target by midnight on May 30, will directly fund the following:

An Artist-In-Residency Program. This will embed a recognized or emerging artist within the community to create a series of original and responsive public artworks in three distinct areas of the city — the North End, Downtown and the South End.

Ten New Murals reflecting the culture and community of New Bedford painted by local, national, and international artists in key locations throughout the North End, Downtown and South End.

And, the Artist Referral Platform connecting local artists, designers, and sign painters to gigs and employment opportunities throughout the region.

Underlying much of this is also a desire to engage youth in the city whenever possible — such as during the mural festival while 3rd EyE Open is happening.

SUPERFLAT writes on Patronicity.com/superflat, “The youth of this community is an important participant and recipient of our efforts. We endeavor to inspire them and expand their cultural point of view by connecting them to resources and opportunities.

“In 2019 we want to expand programming throughout the city, directly engaging youth and residents in the inspiration, ideation, and creation of transformative public art.”

Sounds super. Make that SUPERFLAT NB.

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

Southcoast Hospitals Group named to Newsweek top hospitals list

FALL RIVER – Southcoast Hospitals Group Inc., a subsidiary of Southcoast Health System, was named No. 162 among United States hospitals in Newsweek’s World’s Best Hospitals 2019 rankings.

The report included 2,743 hospitals in the nation and honored 226.

The rankings were based on professional recommendations (55 percent), patent experience scores (15 percent) and publicly sourced quality scores (30 percent). 1,000 hospitals made the list worldwide.

The study only included individual hospitals, not groups, according to its methodology, but the Southcoast Hospitals Group hospitals, including Charlton Memorial, St. Luke’s and Tobey hospitals, share a license, making the group eligible for the list, according to Statista, which collaborated with Newsweek to create the rankings.

The Southcoast group was the only inclusion on the list in Rhode Island and Bristol County, Mass.

“Our care is world class and this national and international recognition is a testament to the incredible work our physicians, providers, nurses and staff do every day,” stated Keith Hovan, president and CEO of Southcoast Health. “I am tremendously proud. This is a recognition they have earned many times over.”

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranked No. 1 in the world in 2019, followed by the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The highest-ranked hospital in Massachusetts was Mass General Hospital at No. 6 in the world.

Hospitals were ranked by country but were not ranked worldwide beyond an alphabetized top 100 list.

Original story here.