Tabor Academy puts New Bedford arts, culture and community on the curriculum

Posted at 3:01 AM

Tabor Academy sophomore students started the school year off right with a visit to the region’s arts and culture capital, New Bedford, this past Saturday, Sept. 8.

Roughly 130 students came to the city to kick off the new school year. Tabor Academy is located in Marion, but the New Bedford orientation project is now on its third year.

This year’s theme was “know yourself, know others, build community” — as seen through the prism of arts and culture. Accordingly, a panel of city arts leaders and tour guides was arranged to explore the topic and then downtown New Bedford. (Full disclosure: This writer was one of the tour guides.)

Zoe Hansen-DiBello, strategy advisor and founder of Ethos — a philanthropic education strategy consulting organization; www.ethosstrategy.org — explains how it all got started:

“Mel Bride, [Tabor] dean of community life, Tim Cleary, dean of students and myself came together three years ago and imagined what it would look like if we brought Tabor students to New Bedford for orientation as a way to bridge the two communities.”

Prior to the orientation, Bride and Hansen-DiBello had partnered to connect Tabor students to New Bedford Public School students through the community garden project, Grow Education.

This year’s arts and culture theme was selected because Hansen-DiBello, a city resident, believes, “In New Bedford, I find it intriguing that our public art is often rooted in the historical context of the city, always returning to our past to understand our present and imagine our future.

“In recent years, the city has been increasingly intentional in sharing the stories of those who are often overlooked — and so the panel and tour for Tabor students will recognize and honor New Bedford’s Abolitionists, thriving Cape Verdean culture, youth and hip-hop and the women leaders of New Bedford today but also the past as they are featured in the Lighting the Way Project.”

And, it certainly did.

The orientation tour began at the First Unitarian Church at the corner of Union and Eighth Streets. Two busloads of Tabor Academy students disembarked to enter the historic building and meet New Bedford arts and culture leaders and their tour guides.

The spoken word and hip hop artist Tem Blessed launched the morning with an energetic appeal to students to know themselves and what they’re all about. Blessed later closed the tour at Wings Court under the Cey Adams “Love” mural with another inspired piece of wordplay that concluded with everybody chanting “Tabor — Academy” and “New — Bedford” in unison.

Panelists at the Unitarian Church, Jeremiah Hernandez, Rayana Grace, Gail Fortes and Dena Haden amplified the tour’s theme: arts and culture is very much about finding and building community wherever you are, but especially so at this moment in New Bedford.

Hernandez referenced the magic of creativity as depicted in the Netflix series, “The Get Down” as a real-life entry point for people of diverse backgrounds to experience unique culture. The show chronicles the birth of hip hop, with a generous helping of street art, in the late ’70s Bronx.

His family — from the Bronx — brought both him and those aesthetic values to New Bedford and he says the art and music has essentially given definition to his life. That came to be manifested as UGLY Gallery, which he opened with friend and artist David Gaudalupe on Union Street and operated for several years.

Now, that same aesthetic can increasingly be found throughout the city — and Hernandez is still leading the charge as one of the founders of the public art group, SUPERFLAT, which was on the morning’s agenda.

From the church, the students were arranged in groups of 15 and sent out with their respective guides to experience arts and culture on the streets of downtown New Bedford.

Some saw the city’s nascent Abolition Row Park and neighborhood. Others checked out the 54th Regiment mural on the side of Freestone’s City Grille.

Everyone ended up in and around Wings Court, where the recently wrapped up first SUPERFLAT mural festival occurred. Well, maybe not entirely wrapped up…

In a bit of serendipity, Tabor students got to see artist Brian Tillett at work on his massive Jean-Paul Basquiat mural overlooking Custom House Square Park. Tillett is also a commercial fisherman in addition to being an accomplished artist.

When the day job at sea intervened, he simply put the art on hold to return another day to get back to work. That day was Saturday, and the sophomore class of Tabor Academy got to see the legendary face of Basquiat being applied to a downtown New Bedford wall.

It turned into a bit of a (recent) art history class, as many of the students were unfamiliar with the 1980s era New York City street artist. Which just reinforced the whole point of the orientation: to fuse diverse communities together across time and space.

Zoe Hansen-DiBello sums it up nicely. She says the Tabor Academy 2018 sophomore orientation was about “highlighting the vehicles of art and culture as a means to better know ourselves, to understand others, and to ultimately build community.

“The overall goal is for Tabor students and educators to be inspired by the examples seen here in New Bedford for building community through art and culture, and to return to campus ready to connect and create with one another.”

I would add that it’s also just plain thrilling to see the city’s arts and culture, and the people who practice it, making the grade as an inspiration for the next generation. An A+ gets awarded to this outstanding effort.

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

Original story here.