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.

Mass. sets specifics for second offshore wind procurement

Posted Mar 28, 2019 at 2:51 PM

BOSTON — The Baker administration and the state’s utilities are ready to go back to market and put another offshore wind contract out to bid.

The state Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and electric distribution companies Eversource, National Grid and Unitil have filed documents with state regulators to initiate a procurement of up to 800 megawatts of offshore wind power, with the goal of executing a final contract by the end of 2019.

A 2016 law authorized up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power. Vineyard Wind secured the first contract and is advancing its 800 megawatt project.

The timeframe for the next procurement, which is subject to Department of Public Utilities approval, calls for bids to be submitted in August, project selection in November and execution of a long-term contract by the end of the year, enabling the venture that secures the contract to secure federal investment tax credits.

Administration officials say they are hoping to build on the new industry’s growing supply chain and aiming to ensure job creation at the local level — the bulk of wind energy development is happening in federally leased areas south of Martha’s Vineyard, with New Bedford angling to serve as a staging center.

The 2016 renewable energy law requires bidders to come in with lower prices in the second procurement, compared to the first, but officials said they are trying to build some “flexibility” into that process because they view Vineyard Wind’s winning bid as reflective of a very competitive price.

The offshore wind industry along the Massachusetts coast has the potential to be a more significant sector than “anybody ever imagined or appreciated,” Gov. Charlie Baker said this month, once energy-storage technology is further developed and deployed in tandem with clean energy from wind turbines.

The strategic opportunities to combine offshore wind and storage to make something greater than the sum of its parts are expected to be realized in the next three to five years, the governor said, in the early days of Massachusetts getting clean power from ocean-based wind.

“Storage has the capacity to turn wind into something that’s dramatically more important and significant than just another available energy source,” Baker said in his March 6 keynote address at a forum hosted by the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) in partnership with the State House News Forum.

The request for proposals (RFP) addresses energy storage, with DOER general counsel Robert Hoagland writing that storage could provide increased benefits and reduce the costs of integrating offshore wind power.

In the planned RFP, the distribution companies seek to procure at least 400 megawatts of power, but will allow proposals from 200 megawatts up to 800 megawatts.

During last year’s campaign, Baker signed an ELM pledge committing to ensure delivery of the full 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind authorized under the 2016 law — including the second 800 megawatt procurement by June — and to complete a study by May 2019 of an additional 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power that the Legislature authorized, but did not mandate, in a 2018 law.

Original story here.

New Bedford High School graduation rate climbs to new high

NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford High School’s 2018 four-year cohort graduation rate has increased to 76 percent, the highest in 12 years, based on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recent reporting on statewide graduation rates.

The 2017 four-year cohort graduation rate was 72 percent; the low was 61.4 percent in 2010, according to a news release.

“The entire staff is focused on preparing every one of our students for graduation, ready for college and other opportunities,” said Headmaster Bernadette Coelho in a statement. “I’m proud of our hardworking students and staff; it is because of their determination and diligence that we continue to see larger and larger graduating classes. It can only happen if every student matters, and as I’ve said before, we know that with a plan, every student can and will succeed.”

The state tracks an “individual cohort,” or group of students from the initial entrance into ninth grade through to graduation. For New Bedford High, the cohort consisted of 217 students, according to DESE.

The 2018 four-year cohort graduation rate for Massachusetts public high schools was 87.8 percent, a slight decrease from 88.3 percent for the 2017 cohort, according to DESE.

NBHS English Language Learners had the highest increase from 30.6 percent in 2017 to 53.5 percent in 2018, according to the release.

“This remarkable progress is a direct correlation to the recent budget investments made in our students’ future,” Superintendent Thomas Anderson said in a statement. “This reflects the dedication to the overall teaching and learning process that is supported long before students enter high school. This progress is something that all staff can and should be proud of, from the Pre-K teachers to every staff member in the high school.”

Anderson also expressed his appreciation to the willingness of all staff to work with students to provide opportunities for them to be successful.

Grants available for projects celebrating diverse communities in New Bedford, Fall River

Proposals should be reflective of the needs and interests of the populations the applicants wish to serve, according to a news release. A minimum of $100,000 will be available for projects that emphasize and celebrate the cultural expression of ethnically diverse communities in Fall River and New Bedford. Projects are to be completed or significantly underway by December and applicants must be a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, municipality, or educational institution. Grant requests can be a maximum of $20,000.

“This is an especially exciting grant round for the Community Foundation, as through it, we seek to elevate and celebrate the richness of having so many cultures in Fall River and New Bedford. Inherent in our local and our American experience is the robust diversity that makes our communities vibrant and great places to live; and we are excited to support that through these grants,” said John Vasconcellos, President of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, in a statement.

Concerts, exhibits, festivals, performances, speakers/presentations, and visual arts are just some of the examples of projects they will accept for this Cultural Expression grant. The Creative Commonwealth welcomes artistic risk-taking and diversity of creative experiences and audiences.

Interested applicants can access the Letter of Interest at https://goo.gl/1UTHHP. Completed Letters of Interest are due by midnight April 5, and potential applicants should direct questions to Rayana Grace, Arts & Culture Program Manager, at 508-996-8253, ext. 203, or rgrace@cfsema.org. For a detailed timeline of this grants process and for more information regarding eligibility, visit https://www.cfsema.org/about-us/creative-commonwealth#G5.

Voc-Tech investments pair needs of students, industry

Posted Mar 18, 2019 at 7:57 PM

BOSTON — Lawmakers, a former top Baker administration and city manager, and a one-time lieutenant governor joined advocates Monday to call for an increase in funding for vocational-technical education and passage of a bill to expand access to those programs.

The Alliance for Vocational Technical Education said that 20 percent of Massachusetts high school students are enrolled in a career and technical education (CTE) program, but that 3,200 students across the state are on waiting lists to get into such programs, which focus on career training.

Massachusetts Competitive Partnership CEO Jay Ash said the business leaders he talks to “all have the same thing to say” when he asks them about the future of their business and the state’s economy.

“It’s not about taxes, it’s not about regulations. It’s about workforce,” said Ash, the former state economic development secretary. “We are in a great period of time here in the commonwealth where we have more people working than ever before … and yet employers large and small throughout the commonwealth are saying the same thing: ‘We need more employees, we need more trained employees, we need more of the natural resource that is Massachusetts to fuel our business and support the economy as it continues to expand.’”

The alliance — which is made up of business groups, educational organizations, and civic groups — is pressing for increased Chapter 70 and Chapter 74 local aid for schools with CTE programs, and for the passage of HD 3279, a bill which the alliance said would support the expansion of CTE programs and direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to appoint a deputy commissioner for CTE.

“The goals align,” Ash said. “Businesses, desperate for employees, and students and parents who see vocational education as a way of moving themselves into higher-earning, better quality jobs that are as exciting as any around the commonwealth.”

Tim Murray, the former lieutenant governor and current CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the lobby day is “an opportunity to make the case to key decision makers about the urgent need to eliminate the waiting list across the state of students looking to attend our vocational-technical and agricultural schools.”

Murray also got to be the bearer of good news as he kicked off Monday morning’s advocacy day.

“Word has come from the administration that one of the items that the Alliance for Voc Tech Education has been advocating for, which is $1 million for funding to continue our planning and implementation grants for dual collaborations … that there’s a million dollars in funding planned for that in the upcoming year,” he told the assembled school administrators and advocates.

The $1 million in funding is expected to come via the federal Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, and DESE said the grants are intended to “support regional and local partnerships to expand existing and/or develop new CTE programs and initiatives that increase student access to CTE opportunities, primarily through more effective use and integration of existing capacity and resources.”

The grant funding will be used, advocates said, to expand partnerships between traditional high schools and vocational schools in an attempt to serve some of the kids currently waiting to get into a CTE program.

Sen. Eric Lesser, the Senate chair of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, said vocational education gives students a pathway to middle-class jobs in fields like precision manufacturing and carpentry.

He told the story of his grandfather, a tool and die maker who learned his trade in the U.S. Merchant Marine and was able to raise a family on the wage he earned. Lesser said there are thousands of jobs available right now in the fields of precision and high-tech manufacturing, and said funding vocational education is “one of the most cost-effective ways for us to create jobs right now, locally.”

“In Western Mass. in particular, we have seen an absolute renaissance in advanced manufacturing and precision machining … They’re all fueled by our CTE schools, by our vocational and our technical education,” he said.

Lesser ticked off a half-dozen companies in and around his district that have been making strides in advanced manufacturing — and that will need scores of highly-skilled and trained workers.

“The reason those companies have been based here, the reason why they are growing here is because we have a CTE and (vocational education) system that is the envy of the entire country,” he said. “We also know that when you have a good thing you often need more of it, and there is now a massive waitlist of thousands and thousands of students across Massachusetts … who are desperate to get into these programs.”

Jennifer Smith named leader of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

PHILADELPHIA — Jennifer Smith is returning to her roots: She’s been named the superintendent of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

“Jennifer’s long history with the park and her personal connection to the New Bedford community make her a great fit for this position,” said National Park Service Northeast Region Director Gay Vietzke in a statement. “A New Bedford native, Jennifer was also one of the first park employees. During her 21 years at the park, Jennifer has demonstrated a deep passion for the park’s story and a wide range of critical skills that will serve her well in her new role.”

Smith’s first day with the National Park Service was the day of the park’s dedication on May 17, 1998, said Smith.

“I have watched the park grow into an important and vibrant part of the community. I am eager to continue to collaborate with park and community partners, including the City of New Bedford, to provide increased opportunities to access and explore the park and surrounding historic district.

“The buildings in the park are vital links to the fascinating history of New Bedford. One of my priorities will the ongoing maintenance and preservation of these structures which provide tangible and meaningful connections to the city’s multilayered past.”

Smith, who has been acting superintendent of New Bedford Whaling NHP since April 2018, started with the National Park Service in January 1998 and later became the park’s first seasonal park ranger. She has also served as the park’s chief of Visitor Services, Interpretation and Education, the site manager at Roger Williams National Memorial, and the deputy superintendent of a three-park group that included Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, and Roger Williams National Memorial, according to a news release.

Smith has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a master’s degree in community planning with a concentration in urban design and historic preservation from the University of Rhode Island.

Smith is an avid birder and lives in New Bedford with her husband, Christian, and their four dogs. They have three grown children and a grandchild who also live in New Bedford.

State awards New Bedford Port Authority, UMass Dartmouth combined $390K

BOSTON — The state awarded $6.4 million in grants Wednesday, including $390,000 for projects in SouthCoast for revitalization and business development.

Seaport Economic Council grants awarded include $150,000 for the creation of a regional marine science and technology collaborative to encourage growth in relevant industries at UMass Dartmouth and the SouthCoast Development Partnership and $240,000 for planning of the redevelopment of a waterfront property in New Bedford.

“This region’s historic connection to the ocean is a powerful unifying asset,” said Hugh Dunn, Executive Director of Economic Development at UMD, in a statement. “This project is designed to identify and marshal our marine economy assets to expand economic opportunity. To date, nothing of this scale has been executed on the Atlantic Coast.”

The funding will create an environment where relevant regional institutions, businesses, and universities can collaboratively develop the Southeastern Massachusetts Marine Science and Technology Corridor, according to a news release.

“I want to thank the Baker-Polito Administration for supporting UMass Dartmouth and our region as we develop our blue economy corridor from Rhode Island to Cape Cod,” said UMD Chancellor Robert E. Johnson in a statement. “In awarding this grant, the Seaport Economic Council is demonstrating the Commonwealth’s commitment to an industry sector that can transform our economy.”

Lawmakers pitch 5-point bill to lift struggling Gateway cities

BOSTON — You’ve likely heard about the housing crisis in eastern Massachusetts, with too few units available and prices always on the rise.

But a second housing crisis, one with effectively opposite circumstances, lurks across much of the rest of the state. In former industrial cities hit by economic challenges such as New Bedford and Worcester, vacant and blighted properties remain, home prices are depressed and federal development grant dollars are shrinking.

New legislation filed by members of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, based on research by MassINC and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, aims to address those problems. The bill proposes a combination of state funding and initiatives that supporters say will help towns and cities stabilize distressed areas.

“Everyone here who’s been to a gateway city or lives in a gateway city knows that there’s much more to us than just our downtowns or our Main Streets,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, who sponsored the legislation last week alongside Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford. “There’s really an opportunity to change these neighborhoods.”

The bill has five key components designed to reverse damaging economic trends.

The proposal would double the annual cap of the Housing Development Incentive Program to $20 million and create a “spot blight rehabilitation program” to help cities address residential properties that have been left vacant by landlords or developers. It also suggests establishing a housing commission specifically to study weak markets, ensuring the Massachusetts School Building Authority considers neighborhood vitality when weighing proposals, and requiring the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to create a capacity building initiative.

“These neighborhoods are key to our success,” Cabral said. “We think by targeting these five levels, we can accomplishment a lot in our cities and towns.”

Speakers also suggested that vacant, blighted properties could in some cases be taken by eminent domain and converted to housing units or businesses. They pointed to Baker administration efforts to find modern functions for underutilized properties as a positive first step, but said further effort is needed.

The proposal is built on a report by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, and the MACDC completed earlier this year. Representatives from the groups joined lawmakers Wednesday to promote the bill, where copies of the 24-page report were handed out.

“It really comes back to neighborhood policy that we’ve been lacking in some way since the federal government walked off the job,” said Ben Forman, executive director of MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. “These neighborhoods are the greatest assets to our cities.”

Authors of the report found several indicators that lower-income neighborhoods across the state face key structural challenges. Since 2000, for example, the number of residents in areas with 40 percent or higher poverty rates has doubled. So-called “gateway cities” have seen a decrease in federal and state funding for public works and community development in recent decades as well.

Another key area affected is real estate. In Boston, home values have increased 46 percent since 2006, the report found, while values in Fall River, Fitchburg and Worcester all decreased 15 percent over the same timespan.

″(The report) brings out in stark detail a phenomenon all of us are feeling: an economy that is increasingly vacuuming our outlying regions, our outlying cities, of opportunity and job growth and is concentrating job creation in the Boston corridor alone,” said Sen. Eric Lesser, who spoke at Wednesday’s event. “Ultimately, that’s not sustainable.”

Gov. Baker offers 7-year, $1 billion education plan

Posted Jan 23, 2019 at 3:11 PM

BOSTON — A seven-year education funding reform plan Gov. Charlie Baker is filing Wednesday would increase K-12 school funding by more than $1 billion, phasing in new money to address special education, employee health care, and the costs of educating low-income students and English language learners.

The bulk of Baker’s proposal, which he is filing with his fiscal 2020 budget, addresses what’s known as the foundation budget, the minimum amount of state and municipal money a community must spend on its schools. The foundation budget is determined by a formula and varies based on district demographics.

The plan comes more than three years after a state Foundation Budget Review Commission, in September 2015, reported that the current formula underestimates the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion a year by inadequately accounting for four major cost drivers.

Baker is proposing increases in spending for each of those four areas — health care, special education, low-income students and English language learners.

His fiscal 2020 budget will include more than $200 million in new Chapter 70 state education aid. Education Secretary James Peyser said money will be targeted to communities that need it most, with 85 percent of the increase next year going to high-need districts.