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Cover Story Creative Economy

Taking Center Stage

Angela Park and Dan McKellick stand in the balcony at 52 Sumner.

Angela Park and Dan McKellick stand in the balcony at 52 Sumner.


Angela Park was originally looking for a home for her business, one that specializes in after-school programs for young people.

And she essentially found one in a portion of Faith United Church on Sumner Avenue in Springfield, a 125-year-old landmark that had recently come on the market amid declining church membership.

As she and other partners moved forward with the acquisition, an obvious question arose — what to do with the nave, altar, and even the balcony of the structure?

The eventual answer to the question — and it took some time for it to be answered — has become one of the more intriguing cultural developments in Springfield for quite some time.

Indeed, Park and others have created a nonprofit called Springfield Performing Arts Ventures Inc. (SPAV) and, in the church sanctuary, a new venue for the arts called 52 Sumner — the structure’s street address.

“We are committed to breaking down barriers, ensuring that everyone, regardless of background, can access, participate in, and be inspired by the arts.”

After more than a year’s work to renovate the hall, remove its pews, and install a new sound and lighting system, the venue officially opened earlier this year. There are several events on the schedule, and the obvious goal is to add more, said Park, executive director of SPAV, and attorney Dan McKellick, a member of the agency’s board of directors.

But its broad mission goes much further than merely staging concerts and other forms of entertainment in a unique environment that many potential patrons can walk to.

“Our mission is to spark the artistic spirit within our urban community, providing a haven for creative expression, cultural enrichment, and personal growth through the arts,” said McKellick, quoting the agency’s mission statement but adding emphasis to those stated goals. “We are committed to breaking down barriers, ensuring that everyone, regardless of background, can access, participate in, and be inspired by the arts. Through education, performance, and outreach, we strive to foster a more vibrant, connected, and culturally enriched city, promoting unity and understanding among all our residents.”

Elaborating, McKellick said the agency, with this venue, is focused on bringing many different types of performing arts to Springfield and the region — not just specific acts, but cultural experiences, as we’ll see.

52 Sumner

52 Sumner has already hosted several events and has many more on the calendar.

“This is a unique opportunity to bring all different sorts of arts,” he explained. “It’s not just limited to musical performances; we look forward to being able to host everything from acting clubs — there are many drama clubs around — to different types of music. I like to say that we’re providing an experience.”

As was the case late last month, when the Irish band the Screaming Orphans gave a performance at the venue, along with students from a local Irish step-dance school as an opening act.

And later this month, a Latin Fusion band called DAR & the Rebel Monks, based in Hartford, Conn., will be performing.

“They have a Grammy Award-winning artist in their band, and they have two members of their band who are backup band members for Jose Feliciano,” McKellick said, adding that this performance will follow a salsa instructor, and there will be Latino-themed finger foods.

“When you come out and buy a ticket, you’re not just seeing a band, having a couple of drinks, and going,” he said. “You’ll have the opportunity, in this case, to immerse yourself in the culture and connect a little more with that culture.”

“When you come out and buy a ticket, you’re not just seeing a band, having a couple of drinks, and going. You’ll have the opportunity, in this case, to immerse yourself in the culture and connect a little more with that culture.”

Meanwhile, these acts will provide working capital to the agency, said McKellick, adding that the proceeds will be used to bring community programming to the venue, such as performances for young people, art lessons, drama workshops, pottery lessons, and more.

This is part of the mission and a big part of what makes this venue and what’s happening there unique, said Park, adding that the agency is “trying to let out line slow,” as she put it, while putting together a slate of performances and drawing people from across the 413, and well beyond, to a very different kind of performance venue.

“There are a lot of people who want to get involved and have things here,” she said, adding that there is a high level of anticipation about what this venue can become in the years to come.

For this issue and its focus on the creative economy, we’ll look at how 52 Sumner came to be, how it plans to carry out its unique mission, and why it is a provocative addition to the cultural landscape in the region — for many different reasons.


Sound Decisions

It’s called the Edgar Allan Poe Speakeasy.

And it’s described thusly: “Over a century and a half after Edgar Allan Poe’s death, this cocktail experience brings the most beloved works of Poe to life off the page and onto the stage. Our immersive evening pairs four tales with a dash and history and heavy libations.”

Those presenting the program are among the many varied groups who have reached out to SPAV about performing at 52 Sumner, said Park, noting that the strong interest to date, which comes from several local bands, theater groups, and more, speaks to just how quickly this new venue has captured the imagination of the arts community. And held it.

An undated picture of Faith United Church.

An undated picture of Faith United Church.

Looking back, those with the original vision said this is what they had in mind — sort of. From the beginning, they thought they had something unique, something special. It took some time to see just how special.

Our story begins in 2019, when Faith United Church closed amid declining membership. The property became one of several houses of worship to come on the market in recent years for essentially that reason.

The church, designed by renowned architect William Van Alen, noted for his design of New York’s Chrysler Building, was on the market for a few years when it came to the attention of Park and her business partner, who were looking for another location for their after-school programs. They eventually acquired it for $525,000.

With those programs and a daycare facility as tenants, the overriding question, as noted earlier, involved what to do the sanctuary portion of the building. Soon, plans for a performance venue started to develop, and over the course of a year they came together, along with the nonprofit Springfield Performing Arts Ventures Inc. and its broad mission.

The needed renovations were fairly extensive, said McKellick, noting that the floors had to be refinished and the hall repainted, a large project requiring specific expertise because of the height of the hall. Acoustic panels were added as well as sound and lighting systems, he went on, noting that the work was completed late last year.

Meanwhile, the necessary permits were obtained. Working with the city, parking was secured at a long-closed Friendly’s (now owned by the city) across the street from the church, with additional parking on the street and in a small lot behind the church.

An open house to showcase the space, which doubled as a fundraiser for Toys for Tots, was staged on Dec. 7, with the first actual performance on Feb. 17, featuring two local groups, Moses Sole and the 413s. Those performances, which drew more than 400 people, served as an opportunity to test all the systems and make sure all was in in order, said McKellick, adding that those tests were passed.

Overall, the goal is to bring live performances to the area, but at an affordable price — $17 for the performance in March involving the Screaming Orphans and the Irish dancers, and $20 for DAR & the Rebel Monks — although there’s an early-bird price of $15.

“You can come in for $15, get a salsa lesson, dance a little bit, enjoy a band that has all these really talented artists, dance some more, enjoy some food … that’s a pretty good value,” he said, adding that, as a nonprofit with a mission of breaking down barriers to the arts, affordability is an important aspect of this venture.


Art and Soul

Equally important is the resolve to create community programming for various audiences, but especially young people, said Park and McKellick, noting that this is why the schedule includes an important fundraiser, set for May 28.

Organizers have received a commitment from Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, a Grammy-winning blues artist, to play at that event, who was secured through “a cold call, lots of follow-up, and lots of horse trading.”

“I noticed that he was passing through,” said McKellick, noting that Kingfish — Ingram’s stage name — was playing an event in Boston and then heading to Vermont for a string of performances.

He will headline the fundraiser, which will hopefully raise $100,000 and thus help defray the cost of several summer programs that SPAV is planning, which speaks to the group’s larger mission: to go well beyond being a performance venue and instead become a vehicle for introducing constituencies, and especially young people, to the arts and immersing people in them.

Indeed, as noted earlier, the stated goal is to use the proceeds from various performances, and fundraising efforts, to fund community programs, from pottery classes to drama workshops, McKellick said.

“If we can find the instructor and we can figure out how to do it, we want to create affordable access to the arts for the kids in our community, because it’s super expensive, just like everything else — a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs … everything has gone up in price, and it’s really hard.

“To try to pull them away from wherever they are and keep them inspired by the arts, whether it’s the music side, the performing-arts side, or the artistic side, the hands-on side … that’s what we want to do,” he added.

To that end, those at SPAV are working to book some “symphony-like concerts” for young people as well other types of performances, including one involving someone called ‘Father Goose.’

This would be Wayne Rhoden, a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and music producer, said McKellick, adding that SPAV is trying to book him for several shows, what he called “field-trip” performances.

Meanwhile, the space is available to rent for corporate outings, nonprofit fundraisers, various types of performing arts (including dramatic productions), and other events, and it has already staged several, said Park, adding that there are several revenue streams that will help the agency carry out its mission.

Overall, SPAV and 52 Sumner are writing the early chapters of an intriguing story that has brought new life to a Springfield landmark and the promise of not just art, but the ability for diverse audiences to enjoy it, take part in it, and, hopefully, become immersed in it.

In short, it’s a work in progress, and a work of art — or the arts, to be more precise.

Cover Story Creative Economy

Music Will Live Again

By Emily Thurlow

Chris Freeman

Chris Freeman, executive director of the Parlor Room Collective
Photo by Emily Thurlow

There’s a lot to love about the Iron Horse Music Hall.

Though it’s not as apparent from the outside, with its large storefront windows covered in layers of tape holding up posters advertising myriad performers and upcoming shows, the downtown space holds countless special memories for lovers of live music in Western Mass., as reflected in its venerable slogan, “music alone shall live.”

Over the course of its more than four decades in existence, thousands of musical acts have graced the stage at the historic Northampton venue — one of a handful of hotspots, in fact, that helped define the city as an entertainment destination.

Whether leaning on the balcony railing or sitting at a table, or swaying from side to side at the edge of the stage, audiences of multiple generations have been entertained time and time again by artists like jazz musicians Freddie Hubbard and Bobby McFerrin, singer-songwriters from Brandi Carlile to Robyn Hitchcock, rockers like Graham Parker and the Smashing Pumpkins, and contemporary folk icons like Dar Williams and Dan Bern.

And while concertgoers and performers alike cherished the intimate atmosphere within the historic walls, it’s no secret that the Iron Horse also carries a less-pleasant legacy with regard to uncomfortable room temperatures, underwhelming bathrooms, and a poorly maintained green room — not to mention labor complaints and an extended closure that marred the last few years of the venue’s previous ownership by Eric Suher.

The the new owner, however — a nonprofit called the Parlor Room Collective that operates other small, local performance spaces — has plans to make those less-appealing accounts a thing of the past and reopen the Iron Horse this May.

“This is a living place. You can have people seated around the outside on the balcony or standing, and you could have college kids moshing and dancing in the pit while you have all of their parents eating a nice meal around the outside. Everyone feels safe.”

Nearly halfway to the $750,000 goal of a capital campaign launched in November, the Valley-based nonprofit continues to call on the public to invest in the Iron Horse Music Hall. The Parlor Room Collective will use that investment to expand and renovate the facility’s footprint to enhance the overall experience for patrons and improve the space for artists, which will, in turn, bring people together through music as it did not so long ago, said Chris Freeman, executive director of the Parlor Room Collective.

“Our mission at the Parlor Room Collective is to enhance the health and vitality of our community through the power of music. We have witnessed the magic of our local music scene and its ability to fuel the engine of our economy, enhance the overall well-being of our community, and contribute to our cultural vitality,” Freeman said. “And now we stand at a pivotal moment in our journey as a nonprofit arts organization. We have a unique opportunity to revive a local treasure that has resonated with music lovers for generations: the Iron Horse.”


The Good, the Bad, and the Disgusting

Many who have entered the music industry at a grassroots level have performed at one point or another at the Iron Horse, Freeman said.

Take singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, for example. Prior to taking home numerous Grammy awards for her eponymous 1988 debut, Chapman played at the Northampton venue, long before it was the multi-level experience it is today, Freeman noted.

“From John Mayer and Wynton Marsalis to Allen Ginsberg and Beck … the amount of performers that have played here goes on forever, and in every genre,” he said.

Before earning that reputation, the 20 Center St. mainstay was known as the Iron Horse Coffeehouse. At the time of its opening in 1979, the club’s capacity was limited to 60 people. Co-founded by Jordi Herold and John Riley, the venue was named for a work of sculpture that Herold’s mother had created.

About a decade — and a few expansions — later, the club could accommodate 170 seats and had became known as the Iron Horse Music Hall. Suher, a notable Northampton developer, purchased the venue in 1995 and owned it until its sale to the Parlor Room Collective in 2023.

Though he’s spent considerable time in the space, Freeman still marvels at how the unique venue lends itself to an eclectic, multi-generational experience. “This is a living place. You can have people seated around the outside on the balcony or standing, and you could have college kids moshing and dancing in the pit while you have all of their parents eating a nice meal around the outside. Everyone feels safe.”

At the same time, the venue has presented some unpleasantness for its guests. In recent years, some artists have publicly addressed such issues. Freeman recalled attending a show for Vanessa Carlton, who talked about how cold she was during her 2017 performance at the venue.

Carlton, best known for her 2002 hit single, “A Thousand Miles,” publicly thanked an audience member who loaned her fingerless gloves via a post on Twitter, stating, “it was freezing on stage” and Suher’s Iron Horse Entertainment Group “wouldn’t turn the heat up.”

In response, Suher denied Carlton’s assertions and told the Daily Hampshire Gazette at the time that “the performer was cold on the stage. The venue temp was 70 degrees.”

Carlton further spoke of the disarray in the green room, which was also located in the basement. On Twitter, she posted a photo of furniture with ripped and torn fabric and cushions collapsing and urged owners to toss it, so that she would return to the venue again in the future.

Though the space allowed fans to get close to artists, the space wasn’t especially welcoming, Freeman noted, adding the green room was known in the area for its poor condition, and the basement was the only place on site equipped with bathrooms. “These two disgusting bathrooms are supposed to serve 250 people — including the artists. They’re so, so gross.”

“Understanding its history, I kept thinking about how it’s just such an important place for our whole community, and I thought that somebody has to reopen this place.”

As for the HVAC unit, Freeman said the Iron Horse is in need of a serious upgrade. He explained the challenges of trying to keep a packed house well-regulated, whether the meant warm enough or cool enough. “There are tons of famous artist complaints of playing in here with it being 90 degrees — and 20 degrees outside.”


Music and Memories

Freeman’s knowledge of the Iron Horse goes well beyond his time as a board member for the Parlor Room. Growing up in Farmington, Conn., he would often attend shows at the Iron Horse with his father. The Valley’s music scene was especially attractive to him and made him want to move to the area, he said.

“Northampton was kind of like a grungy, artsy, cool place where people knew about artists. People had an understanding of bands that ran a little bit deeper than whoever’s on the big country radio station or the big pop stuff,” he said. “I remember the first time I came here. I knew I wanted to be a musician, and I thought that if I could just open a show at the Iron Horse, I’ll have made it.”

By his 10th or 11th visit to the Iron Horse, Freeman did just that and performed with the Americana/folk-rock group he helped found, Parsonsfield.

His band, which was signed to the Signature Sounds record label, was among the first artists to perform at the Parlor Room, located at 32 Masonic St. — just a block away from the Iron Horse. The Parlor Room was founded by Signature Sounds Recordings in the fall of 2012 as an “artist-and-audience-friendly” listening room, performance space, and school of music, he explained.

Chris Freeman

Chris Freeman sits on the Iron Horse’s prominent stairs to the second level, where the new restrooms will be located.

Freeman spent roughly a decade touring with Parsonsfield at venues throughout the U.S. In February 2022, he transitioned into the role of executive director of the Parlor Room and played a critical role in helping the organization transition into a nonprofit music venue and school last January.

On a near-daily basis, Freeman, who is now a resident of Northampton, would find himself walking by the Iron Horse, seeing the legendary venue remain dark.

“Understanding its history, I kept thinking about how it’s just such an important place for our whole community, and I thought that somebody has to reopen this place,” he told BusinessWest. “This was a place that is the heart of the whole Western Mass. music scene. The culture and the city around it made me want to move here.”

Freeman’s understanding of the value of the property led him to reach out to Suher. This past September, the Parlor Room announced it had reached an agreement with Suher to purchase the business, which includes the venue’s liquor license.

The Parlor Room signed a 15-year lease to not only operate the business at its current space at 18 and 20 Center St., but also to expand into 22 Center St. Connecting the adjacent storefronts will allow the Iron Horse to have a dedicated bar and community space and will increase the venue’s overall square footage by 40%, he explained.

Once renovations are completed and the Iron Horse has reopened, the Parlor Room will be, as its name suggests, a collective that encompasses three projects: the Iron Horse, the Parlor Room, and the Parlor Room School of Music. The original Parlor Room venue on Masonic Street will live on as the headquarters for the School of Music and an intimate performance venue.

“My main goal is, I wanted this place to come back, and I wanted to live in a city that has music — that’s why I moved here in the first place. My secondary goal is to make the Parlor Room become just as big of a part of this community,” Freeman said. “The ability to merge these together and to make sure that this place comes back — in the right way and with the right mission and in line with the community’s goals — felt like a really important thing to do.”


What’s the Plan?

With the aim of reopening this spring, the Parlor Room has set an ambitious renovation timeline that’s already underway, while the capital campaign continues. To date, the campaign has surpassed $317,500.

Among the biggest costs will be an upgraded sprinkler system and HVAC unit, Freeman said. The first phase of renovations also encompass updates to flooring, a new sound and lighting system, and stage and bar enhancement funded in part by a $73,000 American Rescue Plan Act grant from the city of Northampton.

The nonprofit has also partnered with Dave Schrier, co-owner of Easthampton’s Daily Operation, to redesign the dining and bar experience at the Iron Horse.

Phase two of the renovations will focus on accessibility and other upgrades. Instead of the two basement bathrooms, the new space will include 10 bathrooms that will be relocated for increased accessibility. This also includes two bathrooms accessible for those who use wheelchairs, in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. A wheelchair lift will also be installed to make the stage accessible for all.

The Parlor Room Collective will also establish a brand-new green room that includes private bathrooms with a shower. A new floor layout will allow for 300 people for standing-room-only events and variations of more than 200 people seated in new furniture.

“There is no better investment in our community — and what, historically, has seen Northampton as a community thrive, business-wise — than bringing back the Iron Horse and having this place open 250 nights a year with a bar, with the way that it impacts other restaurants and tourism in the area,” Freeman said.

To donate to the “Revive the Iron Horse” capital campaign, visit ironhorse.org.

Creative Economy

This Is a Laughing Matter

Bill Posley makes storytelling a big part of his repertoire.

Bill Posley makes storytelling a big part of his repertoire.


Bill Posley acknowledged that one doesn’t exactly set out to make stand-up comedy a career.

Instead, it just … happens, he said, adding quickly that, for many, it doesn’t happen, because this is a tough business, one that’s difficult to break into, then stay in.

Usually, one starts down this road because someone tells them they’re funny, or at least funnier than most, and they should do something with that talent, said Posley, a Springfield native now living in Los Angeles who is still shaping his career as a stand-up comic, writer, and director. He added (with some regret) that, in his case, that someone wasn’t his father.

“My dad did not think I was funny at all; I’m still not sure if I’ve ever been able to make him laugh,” he told BusinessWest on a Zoom call from LA, while laughing at himself and adding that the one who provided him with the needed inspiration, and confidence, was a sergeant with whom he served in the Army in Iraq.

With that, Posley, who makes storytelling a big part of his repertoire, told one of his favorites.

“While I was over there, I would make people laugh — I would make my sergeants laugh, the troops laugh … I’d impersonate people,” he recalled. “We had a comic come and entertain the troops, and it didn’t go great; afterward, Sgt. Romero came up to me and said, ‘I think you’re funnier than that guy; I don’t know what you’re going to do when you get out of the Army, but I think you should do that.’”

And he has. In fact, Posley has been doing standup for 15 years now, while also adding the requisite hyphens that one needs to be a real success in the entertainment business these days: he’s a comedian-writer-director.

He has gone on to write for Emmy-nominated shows like Cobra Kai, Shrinking, and Kenan, and is currently writing a spinoff of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (more on that assignment later). He competed on season 24 of Survivor, and viewers have also been able to catch him on Fox’s 9-1-1, Netflix’s GLOW, and MacGyver on CBS.

Meanwhile, his last standup show won the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for best solo show, and he’s played in clubs and theaters across the country.

“We had a comic come and entertain the troops, and it didn’t go great; afterward, Sgt. Romero came up to me and said, ‘I think you’re funnier than that guy; I don’t know what you’re going to do when you get out of the Army, but I think you should do that.’”

One place he hasn’t played is Springfield, and that’s another story — the first chapters of which Posley related to BusinessWest; the chapters to come will be the subject of a documentary.

The story starts at Minnechaug High School in the late ’90s, when, four years in a row, Posley failed to muster the confidence and whatever else one needs to tell jokes at the school’s annual talent show.

“I wanted to do stand-up at the talent show so bad,” he said. “But I was just so scared.”

He still regrets that he never took the stage at Minnechaug, and he will make up for lost time, sort of, at what he’s calling a ‘second chance talent show,’ to take place in the Armory at MGM Springfield on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1-2. Officially titled “Bill Does the Talent Show,” the performance will feature some stand-up comedy from Posley, but also the talents of several local residents who will sing, perform magic, provide comedy sketches, and more.

“These are people who don’t necessarily do this full-time, but love to do it, have a passion for it, and are really, really good at it,” he went on. “And I want to make sure they have an opportunity to be seen.

“With me coming home and inviting all these people — people from my high school, my past, my family who have never seen me perform — and then inviting these people from Western Mass. to do it too … it just felt like too good and too big of a story not to be documented,” he went on. “So we’re going to capture something that I think is going to be fantastic and phenomenal.”

For this issue and its focus on the creative economy, BusinessWest talked with Posley about his upcoming project, his career, stand-up comedy, and how one finds the confidence needed to stand up in front of a room full of people and tell jokes.


Nothing Routine About This

As we do all that, we start with another story.

This one involves a show at the old Paramount Theatre on Main Street in Springfield. Posley, who grew up in Indian Orchard, said his grandmother was one of many involved with efforts to restore the landmark and bring it back to its former glory.

“They’d have Jesus Christ Superstar, and they’d have comics show up … all that stuff,” he recalled, adding that he was recruited by his grandmother to work with her in the concession stand for a show, circa 1994, featuring Cedric the Entertainer.

Bill Posley regrets not taking the stage for his high-school talent show

Bill Posley regrets not taking the stage for his high-school talent show; he’ll get a second chance in December.

“He starts doing this stand-up, and there’s cursing, there’s scandalous material — my grandmother is a church woman, so this is getting awkward — but my brother and I could not get enough of it,” he went on. “We kept sneaking into the theater to hear him perform, and I would keep trying to watch and hear him tell jokes.”

He tells that story for two reasons — first, to explain his lifelong love of comedy, and second, to show how small the entertainment world can often be. Indeed, in 2017, he was recruited to write for the CBS Show The Neighborhood, starring … Cedric the Entertainer.

“I went up to him once and said, ‘do you know that, when I was 10 years old, I saw you perform in Springfield, Massachusetts, and you’re one of the reasons why I wanted to be a stand-up comedian?’” he said. “I thought that was really, really cool.”

While he enjoyed watching stand-up while growing up — he liked, and was influenced by, comedians ranging from Sinbad to Chris Rock to George Carlin — he also liked making people laugh himself. Well, everyone but his father, apparently.

“In middle school, I was the class clown,” he said, adding that, unlike now, he was quite heavy as a teenager and found material in his weight.

“At one point, I was maybe 230, 250 pounds, so I learned how to make fun of myself before I’d let someone else made fun of me,” he recalled. “And I think that’s where my fondness for making people laugh started.”

And while he was getting very good at doing just that, when it came to the high-school talent show, he got cold, as in cold, feet.

He managed to shed that fear with encouragement from others, and especially that Army sergeant. He started off writing jokes and was then persuaded to try telling them in comedy clubs. He vividly remember his first real foray into stand-up, at the Ha Ha Comedy Club in Burbank, Calif., in 2007.

“I invite a whole lot of my friends out … and I am so nervous, I drink like three martinis because I’m so scared,” he recalled. “I go dressed in a full Spider-Man costume except for the head, because I figure if everyone is laughing at what I’m wearing, they might also laugh at what I’m saying.”

And with roughly half the jokes — a good percentage, especially for a first-timer — they did.

“I wanted to do stand-up at the talent show so bad. But I was just so scared.”

“And I was hooked,” he said, adding that, while he had packed the hall with friends, he left the club with the requisite confidence to take the next steps. Now, he actually prefers performing in front of strangers. “I hate it when I know people in the audience — it’s harder.”

He will undoubtedly know some of those who will gather at the Armory in MGM in early December, because this will be a homecoming, and a second chance for Posley to be in a local talent show.

Indeed, he will also be bringing to the stage several young performers, including another stand-up comedian who will essentially be getting a first shot.

“The reason I wanted to do this is because I felt like I never took my shot while I was in high school,” he explained. “This is my chance to come back and have redemption. But I just didn’t want to come back for me; I wanted to provide other people with their shot to perform in a space that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to perform at.”


Waiting for the Punchline

As for that Ferris Bueller spinoff mentioned earlier, Posley invoked the cone of silence when it came to real details about the project and whether any of the original cast members of the popular 1986 movie would be making appearances. He just shook his head and said “can’t.”

He did tease (and this is rather old news) that the story, to be called Sam and Victor’s Day Off, centers around those two parking-garage valets who take the 1961 Ferrari GT (actually, a replica) that Cameron handed them for a little spin — and what happens during the six hours they have the car.

“Relax … you fellas have nothing to worry about; I’m a professional,” said one of the valets as he took the car in the movie.

Posley can essentially say the same to those who will join him for the talent show and documentary in Springfield later this fall. He’s a professional entertainer, writer, and director who has come a long way from the streets of Indian Orchard and the balcony at the Paramount, where he strained to hear the jokes of Cedric the Entertainer.

As he brings his act to Springfield — literally and figuratively — he will also bring the confidence he didn’t have 25 years ago to those who will join him for those shows.

And he’ll create more stories to tell — for everyone.


Creative Economy Special Coverage

Merry, Scary, and Coming Soon

Producer and director Joany Kane.

Producer and director Joany Kane.

Will Barratt, cinematographer

Will Barratt, cinematographer for A Merry Scary Christmas Tale.

If you enjoy all those Christmas movies the Hallmark Channel cranks out every holiday season, you can thank Joany Kane for her part in that.

That’s because she wrote the first one, The Christmas Card, which broke cable-TV ratings records when it aired in 2006 and garnered an Emmy nomination for its star, Ed Asner — to date, Hallmark’s only Emmy nod.

It also helped kick-start a holiday-movie craze on Hallmark that Kane, a Western Mass. native, appreciates — not only because she’s written and produced about a dozen of them, but because she loves them.

“There was no Hallmark Channel, no Christmas movies on TV” before she started writing The Christmas Card, Kane noted. “You had to go to a theater to see a Christmas movie, and even those were scarce. I wanted to see more Christmas content.”

So she did something about that, and she still is — in fact, her next effort, A Merry Scary Christmas Tale, will shoot in Western Mass. next spring, with plans for a fall 2024 release. Not only is it Kane’s directorial debut, it’s her first foray into a hybrid holiday flick, with one foot planted in the Christmas tradition, and the other in Halloween.

“On Christmas Eve at a remote Massachusetts B&B, a disenchanted candlemaker must survive an evening of sinister merriment in order to find her missing artist aunt,” the film’s pitch reads. Kane said it will be “atmospheric, mischievous, and eerie,” a gothic fable that melds the spirits of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro.

“In the fall of 2024, we’d like to do a limited-release run, especially in Massachusetts; we can target local theaters and use the screenings for fundraisers for local nonprofits, so we can help the community as well.”

“It’s got Hallmark moments and Conjuring moments,” she said, the latter a reference to the popular horror-film franchise. She stressed, though, that her movie won’t be too scary. “We’ll have jump scares, but also Christmas carols. It’s great fun.”

But amid the fun comes a lot of work, planning, and raising funds.

“Our goal is to raise some local financing and have some investors come in,” Kane said, explaining that the firm has a high-end budget of $811,000 (which does not reflect 25% tax incentives from the Commonwealth), but could be made for half that if necessary. “If we raise at least $300,000 to $400,000 locally, we can bring in a distribution company from Hollywood who will finance the rest for us. They’ll only do movies over $700,000 on the lower end.”

Joany Kane says her directorial debut

Joany Kane says her directorial debut will have “jump scares, but also Christmas carols.”

Anyone who invests gets an executive-producer credit, and is also promised their money back plus a 20% return on investment, and also potential profit sharing, not only from the initial run, but in future years.

“It’s a quick turnaround to return their initial investment; then, after that, it’s like getting residuals every time the movie plays somewhere or plays on a streamer or DVD or downloads, depending on how much they’ve invested,” she explained.

Once the movie is filmed in the spring, it will be edited through the summer, with plans to hit the fall convention circuit — Comic Cons and other conventions that cater to genre content, she added.

“We’ll start building a buzz, and then, in the fall of 2024, we’d like to do a limited-release run, especially in Massachusetts; we can target local theaters and use the screenings for fundraisers for local nonprofits, so we can help the community as well.”

That would be followed by a short video-on-demand period in early November and then a premiere on a channel or streamer Thanksgiving weekend, then screening events during December.

All the while, she said, the team would maintain an active social-media presence, airing shorts on TikTok about some of the legends touched on in the script, from Krampus to Pukwudgie, a Native American legend Kane believes will become a popular character due to her movie.

In addition, she’s planning for ‘online happy hours’ building up to the premiere, where she’ll host interviews with cast and crew as well as featuring guests speaking from the holiday or paranormal perspective — or both. She’s also looking to film a ghost-hunting documentary at one or more of the film’s allegedly haunted locations, as well as selling merchandise.

The ongoing actors’ strike could alter some actors’ schedules, but as an independent production, Kane has applied for a waiver that would at least allow the production to proceed — once she gets 50% of the financing in place.

Right now, the confirmed cast included Amanda Wyss and Julie McNiven, along with tentatively planned appearances from Boston-based actor Paul Solet, as well as David Dean Bottrell, Michael Hargrove, Lance Henriksen, Cooper Andrews, and Dee Wallace.

In addition, Jeff Belanger is on board to play himself in the movie, sharing creepy and legends with guests at the film’s Harkness Manor. Belanger is the lead writer on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and a celebrity in the paranormal world, Kane noted, and his song “My Christmas Tree Is Haunted” will be included on the soundtrack.


Local Promise

That’s a lot — cast, crew, financing, filming, and marketing — to juggle, especially for someone sitting in the director’s chair for the first time.

Which is an important milestone for Kane, a 1983 graduate of Northampton High School who got her start in filmmaking during the 1990s, working for the documentary production company Florentine Films (co-founded by Ken Burns) and serving as associate producer on several Emmy-winning PBS documentaries.

“I want to make sure we use as many Massachusetts locations, and place as many Massachusetts products, as we can. It’s sort of a love letter to my history and my home neighborhoods.”

Her first completed screenplay was an office comedy, not unlike Horrible Bosses more than two decades later, that drew interest from some Hollywood players, including Bette Midler, who offered Kane “sage advice,” she recalled. To pay her bills around this time, during the late ’90s, she was also working for Lashway Law in Williamsburg.

Kane’s breakthrough success in Hollywood soon followed, as she finished the script for The Christmas Card in 1999 and optioned it to a producer in 2003, who brought it to Hallmark, where it “launched the current Christmas-movie craze we now have,” she told BusinessWest.

Since her success with The Christmas Card, she has optioned or sold more than two dozen screenplays and has had more than a dozen movies made. In 2013, she came up with a streaming service dedicated to turning romance novels into movies and series; she coined the name Passionflix, purchased the domain, and in 2016 formed a partnership to launch the streamer. Passionflix debuted in September 2017.

She’s excited to shoot A Merry Scary Christmas Tale in Western Mass., hoping to get started in early spring, when the exteriors can still be made to look Christmas-y, but the night shoots won’t make the cast and crew freeze.

Movie and TV veteran Amanda Wyss

Movie and TV veteran Amanda Wyss will play one of the leads in A Merry Scary Christmas Tale.

“We’re doing it independently so we have complete control over quality and creation, and I want to make sure we use as many Massachusetts locations, and place as many Massachusetts products, as we can. It’s sort of a love letter to my history and my home neighborhoods.”

Will Barratt, the film’s cinematographer, is best-known for shooting and producing the Hatchet films, including Frozen, Spiral, Chillerama, and Digging Up The Marrow. He won two Emmy awards in 2002 and was nominated for the 2014 BloodGuts UK Horror Award for Digging Up the Marrow.

Co-producer and co-director Mary Fry specializes in producing feature films and series for an international market, Kane said. Fry has worked on more than 60 feature films and 12 series with award-winning actors such as Kate Hudson, Michael Shannon, Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Snoop Dogg, and Danny Glover; collaborated with Russell Carpenter, who won a Best Cinematography Oscar for Titanic; and produced romantic comedies for Passionflix, Nasser Entertainment, and Caliwood Pictures.

She shares Kane’s vision for a scary Christmas movie — an idea that used to be more common than it is now.

“Telling scary stories by the fireside was at one time a cherished Christmas tradition. That’s how the world got A Christmas Carol. Scary stories at Christmas were as treasured as Hallmark Christmas movies are today,” Kane said, noting that Charles Dickens wrote his classic tale for a Victorian audience that liked to be scared at Christmas. “The cinematic holiday content we enjoy today started with a ghost story.”

With A Merry Scary Christmas Tale, Kane is hoping to revive the once-beloved tradition of telling scary stories at Christmastime — and hopes that, like A Christmas Carol, her film becomes a classic that’s rewatched each holiday season, generating profits to pour into more movies.

“Hopefully this will become like Paranormal Activity or the Conjuring series — a little movie that does insanely well. Then we can have a base in Western Mass., a production company to crank out a lot of fun content that honors the area and its communities.”


Looking Ahead

Kane’s affection for Halloween fare is reflected in other ways; she recently launched Coven Cons with the goal of hosting conventions that celebrate the witch in pop culture.

And her love for her home state is even more deeply ingrained.

“Massachusetts is such a magical state — so much beauty, history, and a lot of cool legends. The people are fun to hang out with, and there’s a lot of great ingenuity in Massachusetts.

“So it’s great to bring all that together and make really cool movies,” she went on, adding that she’s interested in drawing on Massachusetts-based writers who have penned scary stories, including greats like Edith Wharton. “We’d love to turn those into movies. My goal is to focus on stories that would be great to premiere any time from September to December.”

Viewers will have that experience as soon as next fall — that is, if the coming year’s efforts prove more merry than scary to Kane and her team. Anyone interested in investing in the project should email [email protected].

Creative Economy

Getting a Taste of the Region

Deborah Christakos

When her research revealed that this region didn’t have any food tours, Deborah Christakos decided that was a void she needed to fill.

Deborah Christakos has spent most of her adult life in the food business — or several businesses, to be more precise.

Trained in France, she was a chef in restaurants in several major large cities, including New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Later, after moving to Northampton, starting a family, and deciding that a chef’s life didn’t mesh well with family life, she started offering cooking lessons.

And it was while teaching one class, where students shopped at a local farmers’ market and prepared what they bought, that she started to conceptualize a new and different kind of venture — at least for this region. She would call it Pioneer Valley Food Tours, and that name tells you all you need to know.

Well, not really, but it sets the tone.

These are, indeed, walking tours involving food — in the Pioneer Valley. There’s one focused on Northampton and another that takes people to various stops in Amherst. There’s a bicycle tour, a concept born at least in part from COVID-19 and the need to keep people socially distanced during the pandemic, and private tours that have taken people to Springfield, Greenfield, and other communities.

The tours take people to restaurants, bakeries, butcher shops, farmers’ markets, and other … points of interest, let’s call them, where participants can explore local food and beverages from source to table.

“If you just go buy a loaf of bread or pastry, you may never hear about it. But when you hear from them, in their own words, talk about what they do, how what they do is special, and what they love about it, it’s a really neat experience.”

Christakos started in 2017, and what she’s learned since then is that, while these tours are centered around food, they’re mostly about people, communities, and the mostly small businesses that participants get to visit.

The people come from all over, she said, adding that some are local, while others hail from across the state or neighboring states. Others are from further away, many in the area visiting friends and family and looking for something to do, specifically something that, well, whets their appetite when it comes to this region and its food.

“I thought it was a neat idea, and I thought we could really inform people that come to this area about what’s going on here,” she said. “I felt the food here was of incredible quality, and I felt like people were visiting the area, dropping their kids off at college, driving off, and not knowing what we had here. I felt that this area was very underappreciated, so one of my goals was to sort of lift up the profile and make it into a food destination.”

Easily the best thing about her business is the opportunities it provides to meet people and learn from them while providing some insight into this region and all that it offers.

“Something I didn’t expect was that it’s really fun to meet people from all over the country or different walks, and even locals,” Christakos said. “The conversation is different every time because people bring to this their own experiences. Some people are really into food; others are really into history. It’s always interesting and fun.”


food tours of Northampton

Guests enjoy one of the food tours of Northampton, which visit several sites in Paradise City.

As for the communities that participants tour, there are opportunities to learn about much more than food. Indeed, tour members get a ‘taste’ of these communities, be it the murals, architecture, and ‘vibe’ in Northampton or Amherst’s vibrant history, including, on most tours, a stop at West Cemetery, where Emily Dickinson and several members of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, portrayed in the movie Glory, are buried.

As for the small businesses, they are the focal points of the tour, said Christakos, adding that the tours not only support such ventures — and, during COVID, that support was critical — it celebrates them and their specialties and the manner in which they help provide a community with an identity.

For this issue, we talked with Christakos about her venture and how it has gained traction and provided tour participants with some food for thought — in every way one can imagine.


Walking, Taking, and Eating

As she talked about how and why she launched this venture, Christakos said food tours are common in other countries — as well as in larger cities in the U.S. She had only been on one herself, in Ireland, but she knew about them and all they aim to celebrate in a particular community.

Returning to that cooking class she was teaching and the visit to the farmers’ market, she started thinking there must be food tours in a region so rich in agriculture and restaurants. When some research revealed there wasn’t, she decided this void needed to be filled.

She did a trial run, spoke to the businesses that would be involved in these tours, and concluded that there was a market for such a concept. She launched in the summer of 2017, and at first tried to do both the tours and the cooking classes. Eventually, she decided that she wanted, and needed, to devote all her time and energy to the former.

The venture has seen steady growth over the years, although COVID certainly created some challenges.

At the start, most of the participants were local, she told BusinessWest, but eventually word started to spread.

“People from Central Connecticut would come up for the day, or people from Boston would come up for the day,” she explained. “And then, gradually over the next few years, people started coming from further away — Utah, California, all over, people who were coming to this area and looking for something to do.”

Many had been on food tours in other cities, regions, and countries, she went on, adding that her venture provides an opportunity to explore a different area.

In larger cities, there are many different kinds of food tours, she explained, noting that some will focus specifically on pizza, or chocolate, or a specific neighborhood. Her tours are broad in nature and focused on specific communities noted for their food, restaurants, and culture, especially Northampton and Amherst.

In Northampton, the food tour, which runs three hours on average, usually starts in Pulaski Park, where participants will make introductions and sample local produce that’s in season, such as blueberries, which Christakos will either pick herself or buy from a local farm. From there, there are roughly 15 different places a group might stop; Christakos generally picks five for each tour.

A common first stop is Hungry Ghost Bread on State Street or the Woodstar Café on Masonic Street, where participants can sample something Christakos has pre-selected and often hear from the establishments’ owners about what they do and the passion they bring to their work.

“If you just go buy a loaf of bread or pastry, you may never hear about it,” she explained. “But when you hear from them, in their own words, talk about what they do, how what they do is special, and what they love about it, it’s a really neat experience.”

This is the essence of the food tours, she went on, adding that participants can hear Hungry Ghost owner Jonathan Stevens and his wife, Cheryl, talk about what makes their bread unique and how they use local ingredients.

From there, the tour might go to Sutter Meats on King Street and a few of the restaurants in the city, such as Paul & Elizabeth’s on Main Street, a vegetarian restaurant; or the Dirty Truth, also on Main Street, a gastropub featuring craft beers; or the Mosaic Café on Masonic Street, a Mediterranean restaurant.

Along the way, participants take in murals, architecture, a little history, and the feel of downtown Northampton, she said, adding that the flavor of the community, and all that goes into that phrase, comes through.

It’s the same in Amherst, she noted, where tours generally start at the farmers’ market and proceed to stops such as the Black Sheep Deli; Lili’s, a Chinese restaurant; and Mexcalito Taco Bar, as well as West Cemetery and other points of interest.

There are generally two Northampton tours a week, on Friday and Saturday, and a few Amherst tours each month, she said, adding that they are offered year-round. Spring and summer are obviously the most popular times, but there is appetite for the offerings throughout the year — she conducted a ‘chocolate tour’ on Valentine’s Day — and she will carry on unless the weather is “dangerous.”

A fairly recent addition to the portfolio has been bicycle tours, she noted, adding that these will stop in a few different communities, visiting farms, food producers, and eateries and generally covering 20 to 25 miles at a decent, but not overly fast, pace.

“The people who take those tours like to bicycle, but they’re more interested in their food,” she explained. “They’re not Tour de France candidates.”


Bottom Line

Moving forward, Christakos, who splits the tours with the company’s other guide, David Bannister, said she would like to continue growing the concept, perhaps expanding to other communities (Springfield is a possible candidate).

In the meantime, she will continue honing the concept, which is bringing the region’s restaurants, farms, and other food-related businesses to light.

As she said, these tours are really about people and communities — and an opportunity to celebrate both.


Creative Economy

Creating a ‘Time Machine’


The mural on Bridge Street

The mural on Bridge Street remains a work in progress.

You’ll need more than a glance to take in, and fully appreciate, the mural being created on the south-facing wall of the old Skyplex Building on Bridge Street in Springfield.

You’ll probably need at least 10 minutes to fully absorb all the images on the 100-foot-long wall. There are dozens of them, large and small.

But you’ll also need a cheat sheet of sorts (a few different ones will be created — more on that later) and probably easy access to Wikipedia.

That’s because, while some of the people can be easily identified (Muhammad Ali, Abraham Lincoln, and even Peter L. Picknelly, among them), most of them are far more obscure and need some explaining, at least when it comes to their connection to, and importance to, the City of Homes.

And that’s part of the charm, if that’s the right word, of this project, which is one of the more ambitious projects to date of City Mosaic, a nonprofit organization that has brought many colorful and, in some cases, informative murals to downtown Springfield — and, in the process, reactivated a number of properties and made them conversation pieces.

Such was the case with another huge work of art just around the corner on Worthington Street. That project involved the recreation of wall advertising that was on the building more than a half-century ago, as well as a few images of personalities from the past and present.

John Simpson, the lead artist on that project, said some have referred to it as a “time machine,” and asked that he create another one at the Skyplex building, another somewhat underutilized property that is slated to become home to another brewery.

Susan Riano, Madden Sterrett, and John Simpson.

And he a team of artists, including Madden Sterrett and Susan Riano, have done just that.

“We wanted to blend many of the city’s historic firsts with historical figures, and modern community members, such as Mayor [Domenic] Sarno,” Simpson said. “We want to have the past connect with the present — and have it connect with the future.”

While the wall, which is a work in progress that should be completed “soon,” according to Simpson, features some well-known personalities and landmarks (such as the Puritan statue in front of the library) that need no explanation as to why they are pictured, many of them do.

Let’s start with Abraham Lincoln. According to local legend, the name ‘Republican Party,’ the party of Lincoln, originated in Springfield. Meanwhile, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is said to have taken in shows at the Paramount Theater. As for Ali, he had connections to a mosque in the city, and is said to have visited it while training in Chicopee for his first fight against Sonny Liston.

Frederick Douglass also has a presence on the wall. Simpson said he visited Springfield several times, at least once to meet with fellow abolitionist John Brown about his raid on Harper’s Ferry, which started the Civil War.

There’s also the artist James Whistler, famous for the composition known as Whistler’s Mother. While born in Lowell, he did live in Springfield for a time, Simpson said. There are a few images of Eleanor Powell, a dancer and actress (she was in a few movies with Fred Astaire) who was also born in Springfield.

As was the actor Kurt Russell. There’s a small image of him portraying the character he is perhaps best known for, Snake Plissken, from both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.

Former NBA star Travis Best, another Springfield native, is on the wall, as is Gwen Ifill, the journalist, television newscaster, and author, who was born in New York but later relocated with her family to Springfield and graduated from Classical High School.

There’s also June Foray (born June Lucille Forer), who grew up in Springfield and later became the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and a host of other characters.

There aren’t many — if any — people who would recognize Foray from the image on the wall. And that’s why there will be a plaque, or key, to the images, explaining what they are, Simpson explained, adding that there are plans to print flyers to hand out at the restaurants — Granny’s Baking Table and the Osteria — that have windows facing the mural.

“Already, people are asking the waiters and the owners of these establishments who the people are on this wall,” he said, adding that this is one of the main objectives of this project — to get people talking and asking questions — about the wall, and about the city depicted on it.

Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, collaborator with Simpson on several art-related projects in and around downtown, and leader of efforts to reactivate properties in that area, agreed.

“They’ve captured a moment in time, and the history and character of the city,” he said of the artists. “And while doing so, they’ve brought this property back to prominence; people are talking about it, and in the present and future tenses. That’s what these murals do.”

There is still some work to do on the mural, especially in and around the letters that spell out SPRINGFIELD, Simpson said, noting that many more characters, firsts, and landmarks will be added before the wall is officially finished. He mentioned an image of the Basketball Hall of Fame and perhaps something depicting the M-1 rifle, produced at the Springfield Armory, and its inventor, John Garand, as likely additions.

But already, those behind the project are accomplishing their primary mission. They’re creating that time machine, and they’re prompting people to stop, look, point, maybe ask some questions, get some answers, learn about Springfield, and celebrate the city and its history.

That’s a lot to ask from a mural, but this one does all that and more.


—George O’Brien

Creative Economy Special Coverage

Art and Soul

Double Edge Theatre isn’t the easiest organization to describe.

Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s not an entity that lends itself to one obvious description. And that’s a positive thing, said Adam Bright, the company’s producing executive director.

“If you ask a different Double Edge ensemble member or anyone who works here, they’ll have a slightly different answer, I would imagine,” Bright said. “But for me, it’s simply that we’re trying to live together with an understanding, with certain agreements, about how we want to leave the world after we’ve stepped through it.”

That said, “we’re definitely an arts organization first, and everybody here is extremely creatively minded,” he noted. “We all come from different educational backgrounds, different parts of the world, we all grew up in different places, but we’ve all been magnetized to this strange little place.

“Everything you’ll see here comes from that seed of creative thinking,” Bright went on. “The way we’ve renovated the buildings that could no longer be used for dairy farming and were repurposed. The way we create theater and art, and how we integrate that with our work with conservationists, the Native peoples of this area, and how they approach the land. It’s a holistic way of thinking and being.”

Double Edge was born in Boston in 1982 but moved to Ashfield, a bucolic Franklin County community, in 1997, repurposing, as Bright noted, a former dairy farm into a theater company that stages performances, including ‘spectacles’ the audience follows across the grounds (more on those later), but also hosts training programs, workshops, and much more.

It does so while centered on values that are painted in large letters on one of the property’s buildings.

“We’re trying to live together with an understanding, with certain agreements, about how we want to leave the world after we’ve stepped through it.”

“Our vision is to prioritize imagination in times of creative, emotional, spiritual, and political uncertainty,” the message reads. “Our mission is to pursue authenticity, interaction, and identity with whomever is seeking creative, emotional, spiritual, and political clarity. Our art is grounded in a rigorous ensemble aesthetic unfolded in dream, imagery, metaphor, mystery, and symbolism. Our work is created and sustained within an open, honest, meaningful, relevant shared experience. We call this ‘living culture.’”

And then: “Our dedication is to face isolation and erasure, to face despair and pain that can translate into personal incapacity and political paralysis. To uplift. We call this ‘art justice.’”

It’s a mouthful, and Bright knows it. But at its core is a reflection of life that many people in this modern world — especially post-pandemic — have gotten away from.

“I think we’ve isolated ourselves more and more. Even in neighborhoods that seem great, everyone goes to their little boxes, and then they’re isolated,” he explained. “I think what we’re creating here — or recreating, let’s say — is something closer to a village, and that feels healthy. On any given day, there will be 70 people working here, ages 18 to 70-something, from all over the world: different languages, different cultures, different music, all of these things in this little place.”

Adam Bright

Adam Bright says Double Edge is an arts organization first, but one that is always considering how it interacts with and impacts its community and its world.

As part of that philosophy, Double Edge has taken a keen interest over the years in the Indigenous history of Ashfield and its environs, specifically the Nipmuc Tribal Nation, which traces its lineage in the region back 12,000 years. The theater company has partnered with the Ohketeau Cultural Center in efforts to bring awareness to this heritage and support Native priorities today.

“Our interactions introduced us to the Indigenous peoples who still inhabit this land after millennia, even though their presence has been rendered invisible on the land we now occupy,” Double Edge notes in its literature. “Ashfield may never be ‘diverse’ within the currently circumscribed and restrictive use of the term. However, the mission, values, vision, and work of Double Edge will always reflect the larger population of our region, our state, and our country.”


Making a Spectacle of Themselves

Amid its cultural passions, this is, as Bright noted, primarily an arts organization, and its performances — both on site and touring — have become widely noted for their unique, eclectic, and interactive nature.

“The art is predominantly theater, although we touch all the mediums of art,” Bright said, noting that company members — some live on the grounds for extended stretches, while others commute — not only write and perform works, but build and paint sets; create costumes; handle lighting, sound, rigging, and other production aspects; and more,

The summer performances are called ‘spectacles,’ and it’s an apt term. “They move around this farm, so the whole farm turns into a theatrical stage, essentially,” Bright said. “We really interact with the outside world; there are giant puppets and fire.”

“Even in neighborhoods that seem great, everyone goes to their little boxes, and then they’re isolated. I think what we’re creating here — or recreating, let’s say — is something closer to a village, and that feels healthy.”

The audience — which is capped at 80 to 90 per night — follows the performance across the grounds, both inside and outside its buildings, and are often timed to begin in sunlight and end with dark skies, beside a small lagoon lit by fire and stage lights, lined with platforms in the trees, a trapeze, a trampoline, and more. It’s … well, a spectacle.

“We essentially guide everything, from parking the car through the final hurrah,” Bright explained. “There’s a whole journey that the audience follows, and whether you’re at the front or the back, you’ll experience the whole thing. You won’t miss out on anything, although each audience member experiences it differently.”

Double Edge creates ‘spectacles’

Double Edge creates ‘spectacles’ that move around the farm, so the whole property turns into a theatrical stage.
Photo by David Weiland

The spectacles have been a staple of Double Edge’s offerings for a couple decades. “Lots of people are involved; it could be painting giant murals or doing puppets, making costumes,” he said. “We also work with a bunch of contractors that come in to help us with some heavy lifting, certain set pieces. So, really, lots of people are involved before we even open the performance.”

The current spectacle, directed by Double Edge founder and Artistic Director Stacy Klein, is called The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae, and is “our response to Euripides’ Bacchae, in which women’s rites are no longer in hidden territories and women are freely able to express their deeply held desires,” according to the company’s description. It runs from July 19 through Aug. 6, and tickets are available at doubleedgetheatre.org.

“Then, other times of the year, we make other works that can go into regular-type theatres, and we tour,” Bright said. “We just got back from Europe for a couple of tours there. It’s still large-scale, but it becomes a little bit more intimate, and you can control more in the theatrical setting than outdoors. There are different limitations, I would say. But it’s still visually stunning, very physical, poetic … it’s definitely not your average Shakespeare recital.”

Meanwhile, Double Edge offers residencies and other cooperative oppportunities to like-minded companies across the U.S., he noted. “We come together once or twice a year, and we train together, and sometimes we present each other’s work. So it’s really a cool thing.”

Hannah Rechtschaffen, director of Greenfield Business Assoc., who recently came on board Double Edge as its team and relationships manager, called the organization one of the most well-organized and communicative companies she’s ever worked for.

The concepts of ‘living culture’ and ‘art justice’

The concepts of ‘living culture’ and ‘art justice’ are integral to the training and performance work going on at Double Edge.

“You don’t find that in a lot of arts organizations. Sometimes the art is taking over so much that the business side lacks a little, and I think one of the real strengths of Double Edge, and one of the reasons that we rise as a real leader and attract people from many sectors, not just the art sector, is because, though our message is really complex, it’s also very clear because it’s being rolled out in a way that a lot of different people can relate to.”


Living History

Klein founded Double Edge in 1982 as a feminist ensemble collective alongside co-founder and emerita ensemble member Carroll Durand and several other women, performing in six-week rentals of various Boston theaters.

In 1985, the ensemble located a parish hall in Allston, a long-unused building at the Episcopal Church of Saints Luke and Margaret. Following renovations, this was its home for the next 12 years. In 1994, the company located a new home in Ashfield, precipitated by the economic impossibility of paying exorbitant rent in the Boston area, and by the desire to house overseas guest artists for long periods.

After driving back and forth for a couple years, the Double Edge team opened their first performance space in Ashfield — in a converted barn — in 1997.

In addition to its spectacles, which launched in 2002, Klein and her team have created seven performance cycles, or series of plays, that have toured around the world, including:

• The Garden of Intimacy and Desire (2002-08), a cycle exploring distinctive visions of magic realism in Jewish and Hispanic culture;

• The Chagall Cycle (2010-15), which was imagined entirely from the visual art of Marc Chagall;

• The Latin American Cycle (2015-18), which began as an effort to come to artistic terms with Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona’s sociocultural and personal background; and

• The Surrealist Cycle (2017-present) three performances, loosely woven together, relating to the Latin American Cycle and research into surrealism.

In addition, the Ashfield Town Spectacle & Culture Fair (May 2017) and We the People (summer 2017 and 2018) were a duet and ode to the history of Ashfield and the surrounding hilltowns of Western Mass. Eighty local artists and groups participated in each two-day event, which took place throughout the entire town of Ashfield, ending in a 700-person parade and an aerial flight over the Ashfield Lake.

“There’s a whole journey that the audience follows, and whether you’re at the front or the back, you’ll experience the whole thing. You won’t miss out on anything, although each audience member experiences it differently.”

Clearly, a sense of place and culture is a constant theme here, and Double Edge itself is a model for a living community. About 10 years ago, the ensemble started thinking about ‘greening’ and the necessity of moving off the grid, “not only as giveback for what we receive from nature, but also as a model for theaters around the country and other organizations who are themselves modeling unsustainable building and operating practices,” the organization notes.

With that in mind, single-use plastic was banned from the farm for our students, audiences, and daily living, and the property has also started using solar energy and wants to replace all its heating systems, with the dream of building a solar farm and multi-acre apiary and wildflower sanctuary.

So, yes — this is a theater company with a lot on its mind, one that takes a holistic approach to art and life, striving to find the critical connections that often get lost in today’s world.

“I’m always in the intersection of economic development and the creative arts, and how those things come together,” Rechtschaffen said. “It’s a constant process of figuring out how to communicate that in a way that every sector can understand. I think that’s something that we do incredibly well and have an opportunity to do even more — to figure out how to grow that impact.”


Creative Economy

Collective Soul

By Mark Morris

Hannah Staiger

Hannah Staiger displays her jewelry at the Sawmill River Arts Gallery.

The artists at Sawmill River Arts Gallery in Montague have taken a creative approach — not just to their art, but to how they run their business.

Organized as an artist collective 12 years ago, Sawmill River Arts consists of 15 member artists who run the business and 22 guest artists who display their work on consignment. The distinction between the two is significant. While guest artists share 40% to 50% of their sales with the gallery, member artists make a deeper commitment and receive a larger return.

Each member artist contributes to the rent and agrees to staff the gallery at least three times a month. Members also agree to serve on committees such as finance, marketing, and others that contribute to running the business. In return for their investment in time and expertise, each member artist enjoys a permanent space in the gallery and receives 100% of the sales when someone buys their work.

“All the tasks that one business owner might do, we have 15 people able to do these things,” said Hannah Staiger, a member artist and owner of La Boa Brava jewelry studio. “The gallery is our space that we own and operate together. We all have keys to the front door.”

“We’ve been here for 12 years, and we’ve been successful and growing. Now we’re in a position where we are a full-fledged business, and we have to treat it as such.”

As part of the creative process, artists tend to work alone for long periods of time. Staiger said being a member artist is a welcome opportunity to occasionally get out of her home basement studio and experience life not covered in dust and dirt from making jewelry.

“I get to put on nice clothes and come here to talk with customers and my co-workers,” she said, adding that having member artists also serve as the staff gives the gallery a unique positioning. “When you walk through our door, you interact with the artists who made the work that’s in the gallery. Staffing this way allows us to collectively maintain the store and provide a vital resource for all the members, as well as the 22 other local artists who sell their work here.”

To keep things running, the cooperative holds monthly meetings, but for the daily concerns that come up, email is the main communication tool.

Lori Lynn Hoffer

Lori Lynn Hoffer specializes in oil paintings of landscapes and botanical scenes.

“It can be a challenge to get consensus from 15 people via email to make a change to the gallery or vote a new member into the group,” said Lori Lynn Hoffer, member artist and owner of Waterlily Design, specializing in oil paintings of landscapes and botanical scenes. “While email is time-consuming, we do it to make sure all 15 of us are on the same page.”

As a customer of Sawmill River Arts for many years, Hoffer applied for membership in the collective last year after seeing it go through a positive transformation and deciding that she wanted to be part of that effort.

“I was willing to do the work of staffing the gallery and taking part on the committees because it’s so worth it,” she said. “It’s extremely unusual to be able to get 100% of the selling price for your artwork. When you exhibit at a commercial gallery, they take half of your sales.”

On the day BusinessWest visited Sawmill River Arts, it was Roy Mansur’s day to staff the store. In between helping customers, he was removing storm windows to prepare the gallery for spring and summer traffic.

A nature photographer for three decades, Mansur — a member artist at Sawmill River Arts for the past 10 years — explained why he joined the collective after years of displaying his work in different galleries, stores, and fairs. “The chance to have a wall of my own where I can choose what I want to exhibit was the first big pull to joining the gallery for me.”


Focus on Growth

In early 2020, Staiger applied to become a member artist just before the pandemic lockdown closed thousands of businesses, including the gallery. She wanted to become active with a local gallery when it became apparent that the types of fairs and markets where she usually sold her jewelry weren’t going to open for quite a while.

“I contacted the collective and suggested they reach out to the public during the lockdown,” she said. “I offered to help with online and social-media outreach, which was something they needed.”

Roy Mansur

Roy Mansur was drawn to the collective by the opportunity to display his photographic works in whatever way he chooses.

According to Hoffer, having 15 member artists seems to be the right number to keep the gallery growing. Two new members were recently added after one passed away and another retired. A new-member search committee takes on the job of finding people to apply to be part of the group.

“There’s a whole process involving interviews, deciding who is a good fit based on their art, and what strengths they bring to operating the gallery,” Hoffer said, noting the online experience Staiger brought to the group when she joined. “Hannah is far savvier about social media and online marketing than most of us in the group. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been looking to bring in younger members.”

As an example of new types of art featured at the gallery, Staiger called attention to a rack of printed T-shirts.

“The patterns are from hand-carved wooden blocks that are printed on to the T-shirts,” she explained. “We haven’t had something like this before. This type of art speaks to a younger crowd, and we’re excited to have this artist join us.”

Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the gallery will look to upgrade its logo and branding. Staiger described it as a bit of a facelift to reintroduce the gallery to the community.

“We’ve been here for 12 years, and we’ve been successful and growing,” she said. “Now we’re in a position where we are a full-fledged business, and we have to treat it as such.”

The group is working with the Homegrown Studio, a local marketing agency known for its work with local farms and small businesses. Homegrown will create a new logo and a new look for the gallery. “Our vision is to create a modern local art gallery,” Staiger said.

Hoffer added that part of the branding effort will involve reaching out to locals as well as out-of-towners to make it easier to find Sawmill River Arts.

“From the universities to the prep schools, it’s not unusual to see students and parents who are not from the area,” she said. “We have an extraordinary destination, and we love it when they visit.”

The art gallery is one of several businesses located in the Montague Bookmill complex. In addition to the art gallery and the bookstore, there are two restaurants — the Watershed (sit-down dining) and the Lady Killigrew Café (pub atmosphere) — as well as a music shop, Turn it Up! The entire complex faces the Sawmill River, which can be heard rushing by in the background.

“We have art, music, books, and the river,” Hoffer said. “With lots of outdoor seating, it’s a real draw for people who want to get out of the house and see other people who also care about all these things.”


Picture This

Staiger said the mill complex is an iconic New England location makes people feel like they’ve stumbled upon it.

“Many people who come here for the first time feel like they’ve discovered this oasis in the middle of Western Mass.,” she said.

If all goes to plan, many more people will be discovering Sawmill River Arts, and the entire mill complex, for themselves … and maybe bringing home a unique piece of local art, too.

Cover Story Creative Economy

Playing in Harmony


Springfield Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Paul Lambert

Springfield Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Paul Lambert

Paul Lambert left a long career with the Basketball Hall of Fame in early 2022 to become interim director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

He said his family has often asked him why. Incredulously. Like … really, Paul, why?

To answer that question, he first notes that he loves music, but that’s only part of why he took over an institution that was still emerging from the pandemic and a long stretch without concerts at Symphony Hall — and embroiled in labor strife with Local 171 of the American Federation of Musicians, which, absent a new contract, had filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

But Lambert, who shed the interim tag and was named president and CEO of the SSO earlier this year, saw the value in righting the ship, working toward labor peace, and re-establishing — or at least re-emphasizing — the organization’s importance to not only downtown Springfield, but Western Mass. in general.

With the announcement on May 4 of a new, two-year labor deal between the SSO and the union — which calls for a minimum of eight concerts per year at Symphony Hall, annual raises for the musicians, and possibly other community and educational concerts around the region as well — Lambert, the SSO board, and the musicians are all breathing easier as they plan the 2023-24 season.

“Everyone had been reading the negative stories in the press about the labor issues. People were aware of the global pandemic issues. People were aware of all the challenges facing the SSO. And we had to rebuild people’s confidence.”

“I was very aware of the talent on stage and a great appreciator, if that’s the correct word, of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra,” Lambert said of his career change last year. “But I also was aware of the fact that it was a very challenging time.”

In fact, even long-time supporters in the community, including corporate sponsors, were growing anxious, Lambert admitted.

“Everyone had been reading the negative stories in the press about the labor issues. People were aware of the global pandemic issues. People were aware of all the challenges facing the SSO. And we had to rebuild people’s confidence that not only would we perform, but perform on a first-class basis, and then come back with a full season, with real concerts and real energy with our musicians working with us.”

Beth Welty, the union’s president, called the past few years a “demoralizing” time in many ways, but said everyone is feeling grateful now.

Union President Beth Welty

Union President Beth Welty said the musicians are relieved to have a new contract but hope to increase the number of performances in coming seasons.

“There are a ton of people throughout the organization that want to work together,” she told BusinessWest. “The musicians want to work with Paul and the staff and the board, and we are working together. We’ve got to come together and put the past behind us and work for a much better future.”

Lambert agreed. “This has been a very challenging time for the SSO on a variety of fronts. Certainly, the labor issues that have been in place for some years, on top of the global pandemic, which shut everything down and badly affected all performing-arts organizations for some time, were very real. And to get ourselves into a new beginning, a fresh start for all concerned around this labor deal, was critically important.”


Developments of Note

That said, as in many negotiations, no one got exactly what they wanted. For one thing, Welty said the musicians have been clamoring for more performances.

“When I joined the orchestra 40 years ago, we probably did three times the number of concerts we do now. For years, they’ve been constantly cutting and cutting; it felt like no number was small enough for them. They wanted to keep cutting, and we felt like we had to take a stand on that.”

She said the musicians were looking for more than 10 shows, the SSO wanted to go as low as five at one point, and they settled on eight — six classical and two pops.

“We’re not happy about that, but we’re looking to build back up from eight, and now there are some new board members interested in growth,” Welty noted. “You can cut yourself out of existence; the less we play, the less people know we exist.”

“The idea now is to put ourselves in a safer place to see what we can do together, to see what revenue streams we can create, where we can create new opportunities to play.”

Welty did have appreciative thoughts for Lambert, saying it’s clear he understands where the musicians are coming from. And Lambert told BusinessWest that eight concerts is not a hard ceiling, but only the minimum.

“That was a critical point in the negotiations: let’s see what we can do,” he said. “Let’s see what the market will bear. Let’s see what funding is available and what opportunities present themselves. We have to be very creative and open-minded as we work together to see what’s available.”

Symphony Hall

Symphony Hall will host eight SSO performances in 2023-24: six classical and two pops concerts.

Revenue is the big sticking point, he added, noting that, if the SSO sold every ticket for every performance, it would still be running a deficit without increasing external support.

“The challenges that face the Springfield Symphony Orchestra are hardly unique to Springfield. The industry as a whole — traditional, classical symphonic orchestras — is challenged right now,” he explained. “Those audiences, demographically, are aging and fading, and the folks who go to those concerts on a regular basis, and donors and corporations who support those concerts, have been a shrinking pool around the country. There are a lot of orchestras that are really struggling right now to make ends meet.”

He noted that many cities with wealthier populations and deeper corporate pockets than Springfield don’t even have symphonies.

“The idea now is to put ourselves in a safer place to see what we can do together, to see what revenue streams we can create, where we can create new opportunities to play. The whole idea, of course, is to play, to create opportunities for people to hear the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in a variety of formats.”

To that end, the Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO), the organization formed by SSO musicians during the labor unrest to perform smaller concerts across the region, will transition into a newly named entity, the Springfield Chamber Players, and will continue to present chamber-music concerts, including the long-standing Longmeadow Chamber Series.

Performances like these, Lambert said, will help build a larger audience pool. “They allow new people to come in, who, perhaps, have not listened to the music on a regular basis, and will be exposed to the symphony orchestra and say, ‘wow, this is beautiful. I didn’t know they played this.’”

He and Welty noted that the new season of full-orchestra performance at Symphony Hall, and seasons to follow, will feature a healthy mix of what might be called ‘the classics’ and newer works by more recent composers.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra, boasting 67 musicians, is the largest symphony in Massachusetts outside of Boston.
Photo by Chris Marion Photography

“People love the classics, but you have to bring in living composers and composers of color and women composers, and represent everyone at concerts,” Welty said. “We really started to do that this season. It was more diverse and inclusive. In terms of the repertoire we’re doing next year, it’ll be the same type of year; we’re really excited about that programming, which is going to be more diverse and interesting. We’re still going to do a good dose of the classics — we’re not abandoning them — but we are combining them with stuff that was written in our lifetime.”

Lambert was also excited about this broadening of choices. “We want to certainly maintain and nurture our core audience, the folks who have grown up with us for many years, the subscribers and the bedrock of our audience who love the classic repertoire of classical music. But at the same time, there’s all kinds of music.”

He feels like that’s an important element in bringing in younger, more diverse SSO fans, who will continue to support the organization in the coming decades.

“We happen to live in a very diverse community and region,” he said. “So I think it’s really important that we find ways to reach all those audiences, let them know that the Springfield Symphony Orchestra is for everybody, that it’s music for everyone. We really are excited about those opportunities for people to come in and hear this beautiful music and these wonderful musicians.”


Sharp Ideas

The other key element in expanding the audience, of course, is connecting with young people. To that end, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that the city of Springfield will provide $280,000 over two years in financial support for SSO to create educational programming for youth.

“As the Springfield Symphony and its talented musicians turn a fresh page of music in our beloved Symphony Hall, I cannot stress enough how important Springfield’s talented youth are to the success of this new beginning,” the mayor said in announcing the grant. “Creating a younger, more diverse, and more inclusive classical-music ecosystem should be a top priority of the symphony organizationally. The success of these efforts will ultimately be reflected in the diversity of the music that is played, those represented on stage, and those in the audience.”

Lambert said outreach to youth had been a big success, but stopped happening over the past few years. “As I talked to folks out in the business community, so many people said to me, ‘the first time I ever heard a symphony orchestra, I was in fourth grade … I remember going to that concert, and it changed how I looked at the symphony.’ So I said to the board on more than a few occasions, ‘that’s just not discretionary, that’s mandatory; we have to start redoing that.’ It opens the door for so many people, for the first time in their life, to hear a symphony orchestra live on stage.”

“As I talked to folks out in the business community, so many people said to me, ‘the first time I ever heard a symphony orchestra, I was in fourth grade … I remember going to that concert, and it changed how I looked at the symphony.”

Welty wants to go beyond those experiences, hoping to not only bring kids to Symphony Hall, but for small groups of musicians to visit area schools.

“We used to go play for kids in the classrooms. We probably stopped doing that in the early 2000s, but we did hundreds of those concerts,” she recalled. “I loved it. We interacted directly with the kids; there were Q&A sessions. I want to get back to that as an educational resource.”

She also fondly recalls the days when the symphony toured New England. “I understand that a lot of financial repair has to happen, and we can’t afford to take the whole orchestra, but we can take a quartet out. We can take a quintet out.”

Such traveling shows, like the two series of performances MOSSO staged at the Westfield Atheneum over the past two years, are another way to grow the SSO’s fanbase, she added. “It’s not just great for the audience, but a great marketing tool for the SSO. We hope to keep expanding that.”

As for corporate sponsorship, Lambert said it was a tough year, scheduling live performances on the fly under the old contract’s terms while building up the staff, negotiating with the union, and keeping supporters on board.

“There was a lot of work being done trying to convince people to trust us and come on board. Some folks started to do that when MassMutual came back and was willing to support us; that was critically important. There are other folks we need to embrace that. We’ve had some really wonderful response from a core group of sponsors — I hope there’s a lot more.”

As for growing new audiences, Lambert is confident that those who attend a concert — whether a full symphony performance in Springfield or a chamber concert in Longmeadow, Westfield, or elsewhere — will be “blown away,” and not only want to attend more shows, but perhaps support the SSO as a sponsor or donor. “We need everybody to work together.”


In Tune with the Community

After a couple years of performing concerts under the old contract’s terms, Welty is relieved the musicians can focus on the positive impact of what they do.

“For this community to thrive, it really needs a vibrant art scene. It’s a real economic driver,” she said, noting the impact of downtown events on restaurants and other attractions — not to mention on the ability to grow a business.

“If you’re a CEO or business person looking to be based in the Springfield area, and you want to attract the best talent to come work for you, Springfield has to be an appealing place to live — and the arts are so important to that,” Welty added. “Local sports teams are important, but the arts are just as important. If you think you’re living in a cultural desert, you won’t get the best people to come work for you.”

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra, boasting 67 musicians, is the largest symphony in Massachusetts outside of Boston — which is impressive in itself, Lambert said.

“The fact that Springfield, Massachusetts has a symphony orchestra in 2023 is kind of a miracle at this point. There are much bigger places that don’t have this great gift,” he told BusinessWest. “I think it’s really important that we all get together and recognize how this adds to the quality of life here in Springfield, how it adds to the reasons that people might want to live and work here and come downtown.”

Which is why Welty is encouraged by what the new labor agreement promises, and what it may lead to in the future.

“On paper, there’s less guaranteed work, but there’s more energy on the board to create new concerts, new programming,” she said. “I think, in the end, we will start building back and offer more to the community.”


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SPRINGFIELD — After a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, The Zoo in Forest Park is bringing back its popular Brew at The Zoo, presented by PDC Inc., on Aug. 6 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The 21+ event features beer samples from local craft breweries, a home brew competition, food trucks, live music, games, a raffle, and animal interactions.

“We haven’t been able to host Brew at the Zoo since 2019, and we’ve really missed it,” said Sarah Tsitso, executive director at The Zoo in Forest Park. “This event brings together our incredible craft beer community, who all come out to support the 225 animals that call our zoo their home.”

Attendees can choose from four ticket types: VIP, VIP Designated Driver, General Admission and Designated Driver. Attendees with a VIP ticket will enjoy an extra hour of sampling beginning at 12 p.m., the opportunity to participate in up-close animal encounters, and grain to feed the animals. All attendees must be 21+.

The current list of breweries attending the event include Loophole Brewing, One Way Brewing, Vanished Valley Brewing Co., Broad Brook Brewing Company, Connecticut Valley Brewing Company, Berkshire Brewing Company, Rustic Brewing Company, Iron Duke Brewing, Two Weeks Notice Brewing Company, Brew Practitioners and New City Brewery, in addition to nine home brewers.

The Zoo will be closed to the public on Aug. 6. Advanced tickets are required to attend this event and IDs will be checked at the door. Tickets are limited and on sale now at www.forestparkzoo.org/brew.

For more information, contact Gabry Tyson at (413) 733-2251 ext. 5 or [email protected].

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SPRINGFIELD — The historic grounds of Springfield Armory National Historic Site is once again the stage this summer for live music.
On July 16 at 6 p.m., the Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestraled by Jeff Gavioli,  will perform. The Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestra is a 19-piece orchestra that has been performing since 2012, playing swing music from the 1930s and 1940s.

Creative Economy Daily News Events Luxury Living Sports & Leisure Tourism & Hospitality

SPRINGFIELD — MOSSO, the Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, will celebrate the film music of John Williams on July 21, at 7:30 PM in Springfield Symphony Hall. MOSSO will perform excerpts from Williams’ scores to ET, Schindler’s List, Superman, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and more. Some popular classics, including Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite open the program.

Maestro Kevin Rhodes was music director and conductor of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra for 20 seasons before the pandemic. He returned to Springfield to conduct his musicians last October in front of a packed house at Symphony Hall, featuring many musical highlights from his tenure as their music director.

Rhodes was recently appointed Chief Conductor of the Slovak National Opera and Ballet in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. In this role he will have a leading artistic position in a European city noted for its cultural diversity, while he continues to serve as music director for the Traverse Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, and as principal conductor of Boston’s Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra.

Rhodes has been a presence in the major musical capitals of Europe for over 25 years, with credits including The Paris Opera, The Vienna State Opera, The Berlin State Opera, La Scala of Milan, The Dutch National Ballet, The Verona Ballet, The Stuttgart Ballet, and many others.

Tickets for the concert, a MOSSO benefit, are priced at $60, $45, $25, and $10, and are on sale at: SpringfieldSymphonyMusicians.com. MOSSO sponsors include BusinessWest and Healthcare News, the Republican/MassLive, WWLP-22News & the CW Springfield, the Sheraton Springfield at Monarch Place, New England Public Media, and the Bolduc Schuster Foundation.

MOSSO is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which is not a subsidiary of nor affiliated with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra Inc.

Creative Economy

Dramatic Effect

the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006

Following a $21 million renovation, the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006 after more than 50 years of inactivity.

Kate Maguire was out shopping recently, wearing a shirt that proudly celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge.

“The young girl at the register — she was probably 18 — was stunned. She said, ‘that theater is 90 years old? I had no idea!’ For her, it was ancient history. But she made me realize that, yes, 90 years of theater is a long time.”

As artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Group, which puts on performances at venues in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, Maguire has witnessed quite a bit of that history first-hand since joining the organization 25 years ago.

“The facilities represent two iconic sites,” she said. “The Colonial Theatre is the center of Pittsfield — the center of the county.” As for the playhouse in Stockbridge, also known as the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, “considering that culture is the heart of the community in the Berkshires, that is as iconic a structure as any in Berkshire County.”

But while the buildings themselves are iconic, more importantly, each campus has brought countless people to see some of the most remarkable names in the history of American theater, as well as up-and-coming talent, Maguire noted. “It has created a sort of cultural destination for artists and audiences. That’s what the buildings represent.”

They’re also an economic driver, she added, currently drawing about 75,000 visitors a year and contributing almost $4 million to the local economy annually — as well as employing some 600 people in some capacity each year.

Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) was created in 2010 by the merger of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, housed at the main stage in Stockbridge, and the Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 in Pittsfield. One of the largest arts organizations in the region, BTG oversees the development, production, and presentation of theatre, music, and various other performing arts.

Kate Maguire says involving hundreds of children in productions each year is key to securing BTG’s future.

Kate Maguire says involving hundreds of children in productions each year is key to securing BTG’s future.

The Stockbridge campus presents work at two venues. The 314-seat Fitzpatrick Main Stage, designed by famed architect Stanford White, is a summer-only venue where classical theatre and world premieres are produced. Meanwhile, the 122-seat Unicorn Theatre, open year-round, is home for new and emerging artists, and a space where more experimental, provocative works often finds a receptive audience.

Meanwhile, in Pittsfield, the 780-seat Colonial Theatre — built in 1903 and re-opened in 2006 following a $21 million restoration — hosts family entertainment, comedy, live music, and other events year-round.

Located in the lobby of the Colonial is the Garage, a name that pays homage to its former owner, Berkshire Auto Co. This newest BTG venue, complete with a stage, lights, and sound system, is a dedicated space for local and regional music, comedy performers, and more.

In short, Maguire said, there’s something for everyone.

“I want people to know they’re welcome here,” she told BusinessWest. “They can listen to acoustic musicians or hear a really funny comedian in the Garage, sit with friends, have a drink, then go into the majestic Colonial Theatre and have a completely different experience. Or they might see a rock band on stage, and the following week see an opera performed. It’s a space where people come together from all strata and all walks of life.”

Rich History

The Colonial Theatre opened its doors on Sept. 28, 1903. Built in five and a half months, it boasted pristine acoustics and classic Gilded Age architecture. As was sometimes the custom in that day, the exterior of the theater was designed by a respected local architect, Joseph McArthur Vance, who also designed Pittsfield’s Masonic Temple, the Christian Science building, the superstructure of the Wahconah Park Stadium, Mount Greylock’s Bascom Lodge, and the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington.

“I want people to know they’re welcome here. They can listen to acoustic musicians or hear a really funny comedian in the Garage, sit with friends, have a drink, then go into the majestic Colonial Theatre and have a completely different experience. Or they might see a rock band on stage, and the following week see an opera performed. It’s a space where people come together from all strata and all walks of life.”

From its early days, the space played host to some of the most notable lights in theater, including Maude Adams, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Eubie Blake, Billie Burke, George Cohan, Irene Dunne, Grace George, William Gillette, Walter Hampden, Helen Hayes, Al Jolson, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Julia Marlow and E.H. Sothern, Will Rogers, Lillian Russell, Ted Shawn, Noble Sissell, Ruth St. Denis, Laurette Taylor, and Ed Wynn.

the Colonial Theatre

Following a $21 million renovation, the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006 after more than 50 years of inactivity.

To the south in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Playhouse was founded in 1928 when Mabel Choate sold the Stockbridge Casino to financier Walter Clark. An organization called the Three Arts Society remodeled the casino’s interior by adding a stage and seating for 450 people, and christened the new theatre the Berkshire Playhouse.

In 1937, the Colonial was renovated with a new marquee, projection room, and two retail stores added to the front of the building. With cinema on the rise, the venue operated primarily for the next decade and a half as a movie theater, although some community performances continued. In 1951, the Colonial closed due to the rise of TV and the decline of touring theatrical companies — and would remain closed for more than a half-century.

Down in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Playhouse was reorganized as a nonprofit organization in 1964 and renamed the Berkshire Theatre Festival. In 1976, the playhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, the Unicorn Theatre was reopened after a lengthy renovation and became BTG’s official second stage.

To the north, meanwhile, efforts to restore and reopen the Colonial were picking up in the 1990s. And organization called Friends of the Colonial Theatre Restoration was formed in 1994, and public tours in 1997 led to increased community awareness of the venue’s potential. A $2.5 million appropriation in state funding followed, and designation of the facility in 1998 as a National Historic Treasure by the Save America’s Treasures Program of the National Park Service only increased the momentum.

After years of design, planning, and community fundraising, the rehabilitation of the historic theater — and the extensive renovation of the adjacent Berkshire Auto Garage — were undertaken. In 2006, the $21 million restoration was complete, and the theater reopened. The 22-month construction process preserved and reinstalled all historically significant architectural and design features — from the vaulted, gilded entrance to the elaborately decorated boxes and balcony to the custom plasterwork — while creating a modern performance center.

“I feel it’s very important to make sure that the community recognizes the theater as their own,” Maguire told BusinessWest. “The doors were closed for 50 years, and the community got together and put in a lot of hard work and money renovate that theater.”

In a year when the Berkshire Theatre Festival marked its 90th summer season and the Colonial Theatre celebrated its 115th birthday, the community continues to show its support, she added. “We’ve been successful in fund-raising, and certainly a lot of people coming to our shows — we’re very grateful for the attendance.”

Kid Stuff

Maguire might be even more proud, though, of the way BTG engages with children, reaching about 13,000 students with cultural programs each year and putting many of them on stage in any given year; this past summer, about 100 Berkshire-area youth performed in Tarzan of the Apes at the Colonial.

“Imagine how many other kids are coming to these productions,” she said. “We are ensuring the vitality of the future of these buildings. Those 100 kids in Tarzan in the summertime — those kids are going to remember that experience, and make sure that building is here for the next generation.”

She believes that because it’s her own story. Growing up in Lowell, she used to attend performances of Boston Children’s Theatre.

“I was amazed at the quality of work, and it looked like an army of kids were working on these produtions,” she recalled. “Little did I know that, many years later, I’d have the opportunity to create such programming in the community I live in now. Every single doorway I’m walked through has been opened because of theater.”

Maguire wants to open those doors for others today — not just children who might feel a spark to follow a passion for theater, but area residents and Berkshires visitors who become part of a long, rich history every time they buy a ticket.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy

Art and Commerce

Mary Yun

Mary Yun on the ground floor of Click Workspace’s Market Street location.

Co-working spaces — offices where members share physical work areas and office technology and supplies — have become an increasingly popular model for small, particularly solo, businesses in the region. Mary Yun, executive director of Click Workspace in Northampton, had a broader vision, helping to grow a center that brings economic energy to the city, but also builds on its cultural vibrancy through the arts. A rapidly growing roster of members testifies to the success of that vision.

Mary Yun remembers the days when fax machines were considered modern technology, and so much that has happened since — from e-mail to social media to 24-hour, mobile access to limitless information — has only served to make it easier for people to work pretty much anywhere.

“Remember telecommuting? Everyone was like, ‘that’s amazing; I can work in my pajamas.’ Everyone thought it was great,” said Yun, executive director of Click Workspace in Northampton. “But the further and further technologically advanced we get, the less human contact we have.

“That’s why co-working spaces have become so popular, because people need that,” she went on. “The more technologically advanced we get, the more we need spaces like this for people to physically gather, whether it’s for work or for other reasons.”

Yung has been a key figure in the dramatic expansion of Click, which launched in a 1,000-square-foot facility behind Sylvester’s restaurant back in 2011. An architect by trade, she created Market9.5, LLC in 2012 so she could purchase and develop a 9,000-square-foot building at 9 1/2 Market St., which Click has called home for the past two years.

Remember telecommuting? Everyone was like, ‘that’s amazing; I can work in my pajamas.’ Everyone thought it was great. But the further and further technologically advanced we get, the less human contact we have.”

“We have such a wide range of professionals here, from people who are sole proprietors, like myself, to people who work as consultants to firms in other parts of the United States and the world,” she added, referring to Click’s 98 members, soon to be 100 with two pending additions. “Then we have people of all different age groups. Right now, we have a huge amount of members with small children.”

Those tend to disperse around 4 p.m. each day, she noted, while others may work well into the night; Click is a 24-hour operation.

But why bother being a member at all, with modern communication turning any home into an office? There are a few reasons, said Sofia Nardi, Click’s member advocate.

“A lot of people don’t find themselves productive at home,” she told BusinessWest. “They see laundry, start to do laundry, and stop working. Or their TV is there. A lot of people feel that a shared space is more conducive to working. When you see other people working, you get to work.

Click has cultural force through its promotion of the arts.

Click has become not just a home to small businesses, but a cultural force through its promotion of the arts.

“The second reason,” she went on, “is that a lot of remote workers are looking for a community and looking for co-workers to talk to during the day, even if they don’t interact with them on a daily basis.”

The basic concept behind co-working is simple. It’s a workspace where people can share a table or an office; access fast Internet service and shared resources like a copier, conference rooms, and audio-visual equipment; and make the kinds of connections that inspire further growth and success.

Yun had a broader vision, however, when she came on board — one centered around the arts as an economic driver.

“When Click was founded, it was mostly geared toward entrepreneurs. I knew a couple of the founding members, and they came to me and said, ‘help us grow.’ And this building was on the market, so I said, ‘this is a perfect location. We want to stay downtown,’” she recalled.

“I also said, ‘I want to rebrand Click. I want to open it up not just for entrepreneurship but for all kinds of professionals, a broader group of users. But the bigger thing is that the rebranding involved the ability to do cultural events and welcome the community in.”

That has proved to be a critical factor in Click’s growth, simply by using the arts — gallery shows, music performances, literary events, and the like — to emphasize Northampton’s cultural heritage while exposing new faces to Click’s eclectic space.

For this issue’s focus on the creative economy, BusinessWest visits one of the Valley’s many burgeoning co-working centers to explore why it has grown so quickly in recent years, and why the shared-workspace model is so appealing to the area’s business people who plant roots there.

Out of the Ghetto

Click’s co-founders — Ali Usman, Lisa Papademetriou, and Rocco Falcone — drew inspiration from much larger projects such as the Cambridge Innovation Center and the Innovation Pavilion in Colorado, which Usman also founded. Their original space included a main room with several tables and three small offices, and growth was definitely limited.

That led to some healthy connections between members, Yun said; in fact, they couldn’t be avoided.

“That happened very easily because it was packed,” she said. “It was like a ghetto; everyone was forced to interact. We had people packed in, four to a table, working away, and you knew everyone’s business.”

Looking across Click’s main room during BusinessWest’s visit, as about a dozen members quietly worked, heads in their laptops, she noted that density has certainly decreased, which has its pros and cons.

“When we moved here two years ago, all of a sudden it was like living in the suburbs. Like, you know who lives in that house, but you don’t have to deal with them,” she said by way of analogy. “As we start our third year in this space. I’m hoping we grow in density in the open office space so that we’re an urban community — but not a ghetto. And with our open office-space membership growing, we’ll see more of that happening. The analogy of urbanism is really the best thing to describe what we’re going through as we grow into this space.”

In designing the four-story facility — with its blend of shared workspaces, private offices, and shared offices, with membership options starting at $195 per month and rising from there, depending on how much space and privacy is desired — Yun said it was important to create a place where people would want to gather, and she feels the former antique store on Market Street accomplishes that goal.

“It’s very comfortable, very intimate. We’ve tried to keep the charm of this building, which was built in the ’20s as a warehouse facility. Since then, it’s gone through various changes,” she said, pointing out the glass-walled offices designed to take advantage of the natural light from Click’s storefront.

Sofia Nardi

Sofia Nardi stands in front of the wall of company logos greeting visitors at Click’s entrance.

Nardi explained that the building is locked to outsiders, and members can give visitors a guest code to get in. Several conference rooms of different sizes are available to members for three hours at a time (longer for a small fee), and everyone has access to the shared office equipment, the basement kitchen and lounge, a shower for those who bike to work or visit a gym on the way in, and even a small room with greenscreen paint on the walls for video production.

Meanwhile, members access perks like reduced-rate gym memberships, hotel stays, and airport parking, to name a few, through area partnerships Click has forged, and member events throughout the month range from ‘Chew,’ a community lunch, to weekly yoga sessions to monthly happy hours, explained Nardi, whose roles at Click since coming on board in January include managing administrative functions, accounting, office operations, purchasing, and troubleshooting routine problems with equipment and maintenance, as well as serving as the first point of contact for all inquiries and visitors.

Art of the Matter

But what really has Yun and Nardi excited is the range of activities aimed at bringing in visitors. The space can be rented out for recitals, team-building exercises, and corporate parties, and Click maintains a steady flow of art displays through Arts Night Out events as well as music performances, with much of the ticket and art sales directly benefiting the artist.

“The first floor doubles as event space,” Nardi said. “It’s about getting people into this space and experiencing art and culture in Northampton.”

Yun said the space was designed specifically to facilitate such events.

“When we do art openings for Arts Night Out, we’ll have a guy come in to play the piano, and people walk in, and they’re surprised. It’s something you don’t necessarily expect.”

In addition, she noted, “because we have the rotating art, members that normally would not look at art are looking at art. That was one of my personal missions: trying to get more integration of culture, arts, and music into everyday life for everybody. Because it’s really disappearing.”

She explained that, when she moved to Northampton about 18 years ago, there were more small, “pocket” venues where people gathered to listen to live music. “Now it’s gotten a little more gentrified in Northampton, and those little spaces have kind of disappeared. So, having seen the evolution of that, it’s like, ‘oh my God, I don’t want Northampton to become just another New England tourist town.’”

Avoiding that fate, she said, requires a combination of professionals working downtown, not on the city’s fringes, and creating more vibrancy after hours through cultural events.

“People need that human interaction,” Yun said. “When people come for events, the first time they’re here, they’re like, ‘wow, this is amazing,’ and they might not even see it as a co-working space, since we move all this furniture out.” But when they do realize what the building has to offer an entrepreneur or creative professional, they may return during the day, asking about membership.

“I think what sets us apart from some of the other co-working spaces is that we really do have a mission to become embedded in this community,” she said, noting that renting out the conference rooms to area organizations is another way of bringing people inside. When they do, she noted, they’re immediately met by a wall of names and logos of member businesses, prominently displayed at the entrance.

“That’s the first thing they see because that’s what it’s all about. It’s a great physical space, but it’s really about the community of memberships we have,” Yun said. “If you want to keep Northampton downtown viable for anything, so that it just doesn’t become just another tourist town, you have to keep businesses here. There are towns like Northampton around, but it’s a challenge.

Part of the Whole

Click is a nonprofit organization, Yun said, but more importantly, it’s a collective and a place where professionals can collaborate — or, echoing Nardi’s observation, just hunker down in a place more conducive to working than beside the TV or a load of dirty laundry.

“If you have a membership here, you’re part of this whole community of Click, and you share all the resources. It’s totally convenient,” Yun said. “Plus, you can open a business and put all your energy into growing the business and not have to worry about the facilities. When you’re starting out, who can afford to have all the equipment, all those startup costs?”

Click has made forays into presenting professional-development events, but Yun admitted it’s more difficult these days to draw attendees, since so much information about … well, everything, really, is readily available online. “The best thing that happens here professional-development-wise is members making connections.”

Two years into the new space, Yun is glad she took on the challenge of converting an old building downtown into a bright, modern space — complete with fiber-optic service, a totally new HVAC system, and other amenities — that today’s professionals, whether remote workers, sole proprietors, or road warriors in need of a home base, can feel comfortable working in.

There’s a reason, she said, that co-working spaces — from Colab Design in Easthampton to the Writer’s Mill in Florence; from AmherstWorks to CoWork Springfield — have been popping up across the region, and succeeding. To many, that model simply makes more sense than working alone.

“We don’t compete with them,” Yun told BusinessWest. “We just make ours the best we can.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy

Behind the Curtain

Debra J’Anthony says the Academy of Music

Debra J’Anthony says the Academy of Music’s history speaks to the commit-ment of its community to the arts over the decades.

During a decade of renovations at Northampton’s Academy of Music, few proved more surprising than the sailcloth canvas that lined the theater’s century-old curtain.

“We’ve put a lot of attention on maintaining the historic integrity of this building,” said Debra J’Anthony, the facility’s executive director since 2008. “There’s a lot of mindfulness and thought in this space. We’ve tried to get state-of-the-art technical equipment and at the same time preserve the historical integrity of the space.”

The sailcloth, as it turned out, was actually a massive landscape painting of nearby Paradise Pond. It was restored by a Vermont company called Curtains Without Borders, which specializes in preserving historic stage scenery, and now hangs high in the Academy’s rafters upstage.

As historical fragments go, it’s actually a relatively minor one in the 127-year-old facility’s rich story. Edward H.R. Lyman opened the theater in 1891 as a building “suitable for lectures, concerts, opera, and drama for the public good.” Remarkably, the Academy’s priorities have changed very little since then.

“There has been a mix of activity, but depending on the year, there has been a weight toward one medium or another,” J’Anthony said. “In the beginning, it was just performing arts and lectures; then, starting in the 1930s, it was weighted more heavily toward film. We actually had a film distributor out of Boston that leased the building for about 10 years, so the Academy actually did quite well during the Depression because they had a renter in here.”

During the first few years of J’Anthony’s tenure, she led another transition, from what was largely a first-run film house, with occasional live performances, to what it is today, a performing-arts venue that hosts scores of shows — national touring acts, presentations by local companies, and sometimes the Academy’s own productions — throughout the year.

Efforts to fill that calendar have been boosted by a series of renovations to the theater, from shoring up the envelope of the building — including new roofing and replacement of leaky windows and doors — to launching the organization’s first-ever capital campaign to pay for a major renovation of the theater space itself.

“There were seats upstairs dating from 1947, and there were seats downstairs that were bought used during the 1960s,” J’Anthony said, noting that the Academy worked with Thomas Douglas Architects to re-establish a period look, and received a Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for its efforts. “We’re hoping to continue to renovate, finish the renovations in the hall, then go out into the lobby areas. We’re hoping to receive some Community Preservation Act funds soon to complete the opera boxes and add architectural lighting.”

In addition, because the Academy had mainly been a film house during the tenure of Duane Robinson, who ran it for more than 35 years before J’Anthony’s arrival, there wasn’t much modern theatrical equipment on hand. So the theater recently installed a new sound system, replaced some outdated theatrical lighting with LED lighting, and installed new flooring for theatrical productions.

Those efforts have helped make the Academy of Music a more attractive venue for national touring acts. The theater’s relationship with Signature Sounds led to a relationship with Dan Smalls Presents, which represents many of the the national touring bands that come through Northampton.

“We’ve got the attention of AEG and Live Nation as well,” she added. “The model is definitely working. There’s usually somebody in here most days. We have a wide range of offerings, from hip hop to ballet, from opera to Americana music, film, comedy, dramas, musicals — so there’s something for everybody.”

Rich History

Looking back to the beginning, Lyman had the foresight to purchase a lot of land on Main Street that would eventually be one of Northampton’s main crossroads. Working with well-known architect William Brocklesby of Hartford, Lyman had the two-story Academy built for $100,000, plus $25,000 for interior decoration and equipment.

It opened in 1891 with a sold-out concert featuring four solo artists backed by the Boston Orchestra. But Lyman’s fondest interest, opera, never really caught on at the center.

He eventually gifted the theater to the city, and it remains the only municipally owned theater in the U.S. — and a largely self-sufficient one. Aside from occasional help from the city to make needed repairs, the facility has never had a line item on the Northampton budget, surviving on box office and donations.

Throughout its first 15 years, the Academy became a popular stop for drama troupes and traveling road shows, attracting some of the top talent of the day, including Sarah Bernhardt and Ethel Barrymore.

With the economy shifting and top acts harder to come by, the Academy’s trustees went in a different direction in 1912, establishing a resident dramatic company, the Northampton Players. Although their shows were popular, especially with the Smith College crowd, they didn’t make enough money, and the group was disbanded a few years later. Various efforts to revive resident theater were reattempted throughout the 1920s, but none of the companies survived for long.

the Academy of Music’s iconic building

Opened in 1891, the Academy of Music’s iconic building has been a prominent fixture at one of Northampton’s busiest intersections.

That era saw visits to the theater by the likes of Frank Morgan and William Powell, among other names who later made the transition into motion pictures — which would be the Academy’s direction as well.

In fact, it had presented its first moving picture in 1898, shortly after the ‘projectiscope’ technology was introduced to the world. By 1921, the Academy was showing films three times a week, and by 1930, the facility was run primarily as a moviehouse. The trustees made the sea change permanent in 1943 by spending $40,000 to modernize the theater.

During that period, the Academy had a falling-out with the film distributor who leased the building through the 1930s, J’Anthony noted. When theater manager Frank Shaughnessy was called to military service, he recommended that his clerk, Mildred Walker, who had been working alongside him for 16 years, mind the shop while he was serving in the military.

“And the board agreed,” she went on. “She was a local resident and known entity to the organization. However, the film distributors were upset that the board would allow a woman to run the theater. So they took the Academy to court — and the Academy lost. That’s why their relationship discontinued; they didn’t re-up the lease.”

Walker, in the meantime, proposed a new governance model whereby the board would run the building, but would hire a manager. “And she recommended herself,” J’Anthony said. “They agreed to her governance model; however, they hired Clifford Boyd to run the theater.” Decades later, in 2014, following the spate of renovations, the Academy commissioned and presented a new work, Nobody’s Girl, that told Walker’s story.

Boyd, a veteran of the theater industry, oversaw a shift at the Academy of Music to live performing arts. Later, under Robinson’s tenure, from 1970 through the early part of the new millennium, the facility reverted to mostly film, as well as undergoing a series of needed renovations in the ’70s and ’80s. But that business model, too, was set to change.

“Film distribution changed in the 1980s with the rise of the megaplex,” J’Anthony said, “so one-screen venues across the nation had to make changes. Either they turned into megaplexes or became performing-arts centers.” The latter, of course, continues to be the Academy’s path today.

Into the Future

When J’Anthony came on board in 2008, the Academy was primarily renting the hall to community-based organizations, but soon established a series of resident companies and partners that supply regular programming.

“However, we needed to look at producing our own shows during the recession, when many of the opera companies folded, and so we started producing our own shows here, which led us into youth programs.”

Those include three sessions of summer musical theater workshops for ages 7 to 14, and in January, the Academy conducts rehearsals for a youth production in March.

“In addition, we have been producing plays,” she continued. “We started focusing on women’s works — being in Northampton, and being connected to Smith College, that just made sense. And we’ve been adding more presentations and productions each year.”

The theater, with a capacity of just over 800, welcomes some 60,000 visitors each year for performances, so it’s still a cultural force in the city after so many decades of change.

“Certainly, there’s a sense of place within this community for the Academy of Music. It is a place of gathering, of sharing ideas,” J’Anthony said, adding that its blend of big-name attractions and community-based productions make for an intriguing mix. “Somebody can be out in the audience and see a national touring show one night and be on stage the next night.”

That said, the Academy also strives to be sensitive to its market, she noted. “We do things that are a little more edgy than other venues. We keep our ear to the ground in regard to the values of our community, what is relevant to them, and making sure we bring art forms that can engage them in further discussions and offer new perspectives.

“A building like this is a valued asset, and it takes a large community to maintain this building and the programming we have here,” she went on. “So we’ll keep working with the city, the state, and Community Preservation Act funds, as well as individual contributions, to keep this space going. It’s all hands on deck.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections

The Show Must Go On

Brian Hale

Brian Hale hopes an ambitious fund-raising plan will transform the Bing Arts Center into a widely known destination.

Folks who grew up in Springfield’s Forest Park area or near the X commercial district have fond memories of attending movies at the Bing Theater — at least, until it was shuttered in 1999 for non-payment of taxes. But a 13-year (and counting) effort to revitalize the site into a multi-purpose arts center has the place buzzing again, with a regular schedule of arts events. Now comes the bigger challenge — renovating the Bing’s main theater and turning it into a regional destination.

Brian Hale remembers growing up near Springfield’s historic X district and watching movies on Saturdays at the Bing Theater. Those excursions, he understands now, were helping to lay the foundation for a lifetime of appreciating the arts — not just film, but art in all forms.

“A lot of people today don’t realize the impact going to the movies had,” he told BusinessWest. “People today take them for granted; you can watch a movie on your phone or your computer. But back then, going to the movies on a Saturday — that was excitement.”

Hale, owner of Design WorkShop Inc. in Springfield and president of X Main Street Corp. (XMSC), the nonprofit that owns the Bing, spends a lot more time there these days than he did as a kid, not just appreciating the arts, but trying to raise their profile and make the facility the community centerpiece it once was.

It hasn’t been an easy road, and there’s still a long way to go, but there is once again a palpable buzz about what is now known as the Bing Arts Center.

“It’s very intimate, very sociable; it’s a listening room, not a bar,” he said of the unassuming structure on Sumner Avenue, which is slowly being renovated while hosting music and educational events in its small lobby, flanked by two small art galleries. “It’s a welcoming space where people can feel comfortable coming and meeting friends. This is about making the community a better place, and a good way to do that is through the arts.”

I get frustrated with the state of the world and the community as much as anyone. But I feel like nothing brings people together like the arts, and having a community space that attracts a wide variety of people from the city who might not otherwise run into each other.”

Since reopening for cultural and community events in 2010, the Bing has quietly built a busy schedule of performances, all of which take place in the building’s front lobby because the former theater space is in need of a serious remodel. But Hale’s vision, and that of his fellow board members and area arts supporters, is to see the entire venue open once again, with multiple spaces housing gatherings both large and small, indoors and outdoors, perhaps even on the roof — all of it, he told BusinessWest, aimed at bringing people together over shared passions during a time when Americans increasingly feel polarized by current events.

“I get frustrated with the state of the world and the community as much as anyone,” he added, “but I feel like nothing brings people together like the arts, and having a community space that attracts a wide variety of people from the city who might not otherwise run into each other.”

The Bing has achieved part of that goal already. The rest will take a lot more work — and money. But the end result, Hale said, will be one more attraction to further stamp Springfield as a city clearly on the rise.

Reel Life

The building wasn’t always a theater, but originally housed Kossaboom’s Service Station through the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. When it closed, the pumps were removed, the front of the building reconfigured, and an auditorium was built in the rear.

The Bing Theatre, named for then-superstar Bing Crosby, opened in 1950 with a showing of Samson and Delilah. For the next half-century, the movies kept coming, concluding that era with Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. That was in 1999, when the city of Springfield took the property for non-payment of taxes, and all activity ceased on the property.

the Bing hosts myriad concerts, lectures, films, and other activities in its lobby.

With the main theater currently unusable, the Bing hosts myriad concerts, lectures, films, and other activities in its lobby.

But before long, a group of arts advocates and business people held a series of meetings and suggested the theater should be used as an arts center.

“The city put out an RFP for some type of community arts use, and our organization, the X Main Street Corp., made up of local business people, got involved,” Hale said. “These Main Street corporations are all over the country, and are generally created to try to revitalize urban commercial districts like the X.”

The organization was formed in 1995 to help revitalize the Forest Park neighborhood, the X commercial district, and the Sumner Avenue corridor, with efforts like starting the Forest Park Farmers’ Market, operating a food-security program, and securing significant streetscape improvements for the area, including new streetlights, benches, planters, and other touches to make the neighborhood more attractive. The XMSC also managed a façade-improvement program and developed and presented a series of technical-assistance seminars for local businesses.

The Bing posed a more significant challenge — but a great opportunity as well.

“When I saw this space was available, I said to the board, ‘this would make a great arts center. We could stimulate development, get people here at night; it’ll be good for local restaurants.’”

In 2002, the board of directors decided to adopt the strategy of arts accessibility to strengthen the community culturally and economically. XMSC then became the preferred developer for the former Bing Theater and, in December 2004, finally convinced the city to sell the property to the nonprofit.

Plans were formulated to convert the storefronts to gallery space, bring everything up to code, and use the former lobby as a multi-purpose space. The marquee and façade were also renovated. After six years of planning, fund-raising, and work, the Bing Arts Center opened in June 2010, and now presents regular cultural and educational programming — everything from visual arts and film screenings to musical performances and art classes — in addition to hosting meetings for other community groups, serving as a neighborhood hub.

“We’ve made an impact. We wanted it to be an arts center and offer as much diverse, eclectic content as we could,” Hale said, rattling off some of the performers who had been through in only the past few weeks, ranging from local rock bands to chamber ensembles to a folksinger from Sweden. Meanwhile, local artists are invited to display their work in rotating exhibits in the storefront galleries that flank the lobby.

“We also have a pop-up gallery where anyone can put their art on the wall for an evening and sell it,” he added. “We have refreshments and music; it’s a fun thing. People who want to see their work in a public space can come in and do it.”

The center also promotes connections between artists and the public instead of building walls between them, he added.

“A filmmaker makes a movie and shows it here, and people enjoy talking to them — ‘how did you do this?’ ‘How did you shoot this scene?’ That’s a good way to experience the arts.

“Springfield does big arts pretty well,” he went on. “We have Symphony Hall, CityStage, the MassMutual Center, and Theodores’ is a great little club; there’s a lot of good things to do. But there isn’t really anything else like the Bing in the area.”

Coming Attractions

To reach Hale’s goal of restoring the large theater, with the goal of featuring national-release independent and art films, preparations for phase 2 are underway. The theater will initially be configured for 300 to 350 seats, including a mezzanine, which it did not have before. The original theater held more than 900 seats, but the plan, as designed by local architect Stephen Jablonski, will accommodate two separate spaces, the main room for larger audiences and a smaller, adjoining space for smaller events.

Phase 1 of the Bing’s revitalization

Phase 1 of the Bing’s revitalization saw its façade, lobby, and gallery space renovated, while phase 2 aims to bring back its large theater.

Achieving all that will take about $1 million in fund-raising, but Hale also envisions creating a roof space for outdoor events, which could also be rented out for parties and receptions. “It would be the coolest arts venue in the valley if we had that,” he said, but admitted that addition could push the price tag close to $4 million.

Support for the main theater restoration has come from unexpected places, including a woman Hale went to school with in Springfield; she lives in Arizona now, but the two have kept in contact on Facebook, and she has donated periodically to the Bing’s revitalization. Recently, she and her husband reached out with a request to purchase naming rights to a program, and after a $25,000 donation, her parents have been memorialized with the Richard and Ethel Hanley Arts Education Program.

Understanding that the valley is full of companies and individuals with the resources to make large gifts, Hale hopes it won’t be the last such naming opportunity. It’s an investment worth making, he added, noting that people talk about the rise of Springfield’s downtown, but only a few thousand people actually live there, while some 26,000 call the X and Forest Park area their home.

“Younger people are coming back to cities; they don’t want to live out in the suburbs, and this is definitely a crucial piece,” he said of attracting that new, younger generation of city dwellers.

“The arts can’t change a place by itself, but they are vital, no doubt,” he added. “A city has to think of itself as a business. You need residents moving into your city. There aren’t enough places for musicians to play, for artists to exhibit, places for arts education that bring artists and the community together, where they can actually interact. But it’s happening here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections

A Dream Home for the Arts

By Kathleen Mellen

An architect’s rendering of the new facility on Hawley Street in Northampton.

An architect’s rendering of the new facility on Hawley Street in Northampton.
Thomas Douglas Architects

It’s been four long years since the Northampton Center for the Arts had a place to call home. But that’s about to change.

In September, the center will become the first tenant of a building at 33 Hawley St. in Northampton, purchased in 2013 by Northampton Community Arts Trust, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve space for use by artists. It was conceived on the principle of a land trust, in which land is purchased with a particular intention, such as preservation.

“The arts trust’s mission is to preserve, in perpetuity, spaces for the use of arts,” said Penny Burke, executive director of the Center for the Arts, who has been involved in the development of the trust since its inception. “We need a multi-purpose, multi-functioning community place for the arts.”

The need for such a space became abundantly clear in 2013, when the nonprofit Center for the Arts lost its home of nearly 30 years at the former D.A. Sullivan School complex in downtown Northampton, after its non-renewable lease expired.

As Burke searched for new space that could accommodate the center’s programming of music, dance, theater, and visual arts — a process that took far longer than she had anticipated — she was forced to mothball much of its equipment and programming, and run the operation out of a small office on Strong Avenue, or, at times, from her home.

After a number of disappointing false starts, Burke said, the center entered into a collaborative search for space with interested city residents and other arts organizations, including Available Potential Enterprises, Ltd. (APE), which, in 2006, had moved out of its 10,000-square-foot home in Thornes Marketplace after the building was sold. APE has since relocated to a much smaller space on Main Street, which doesn’t accommodate many of the performances that had been a major part of its programming.


The spacious interior of the new facility in Northampton provides ample space for artists.

The spacious interior of the new facility in Northampton provides ample space for artists.

“Our interest is not in occupying the space,” said Gordon Thorne, the founding director of APE, “but we want to have input into programming in the building. We were looking for a way to replicate what we had in Thornes, to replace our performance capacity. This is really completing that goal for us.”

Northampton has long had a reputation as a premier arts town. It is home to scores of visual and performing artists who have been flocking to the city since the mid-’70s, when an economic downturn resulted in storefront vacancies and cheap rent. That was like a siren call to artists, who typically have limited economic resources.

With the resulting influx of creative individuals, by the early 2000s, the arts had become integral to the personality, character, and economic health of the city. Not only has it been dubbed one of the best small arts towns in the country, it has also been named one of the nation’s top 25 arts destinations.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner says artists need affordable space, and the new facility created by Northampton Community Arts provides it.

But all that has come at a price to the artists, says Richard Wagner, president of the Northampton Community Arts Trust’s volunteer board of directors. As the arts have helped propel the city’s renewed economic vibrancy, vacancies have been filled, and prices for space have exploded, leaving many of the artists to discover that they have unwittingly helped price themselves right out of their artistic homes.

“The end state of any creative economy is going to be where creativity has been pressed out of the market,” Wagner said. “Artists need space, and if you want to keep artists, if you want to keep the creativity, you’ve got to lock in affordability, or they go somewhere else. That’s what’s happening in Northampton.”

The Northampton Community Arts Trust aims to stem that tide.

Planning a Reboot

To be sure, Burke’s organization has not been dormant during the past four years, but programming has been minimal; she has continued to present the center’s annual chalk art, ice art, and en plein air painting festivals, as well as hosting Northampton’s First Night Celebration — a venture the center will turn over to the Northampton Arts Council this year after running it for 32 years.

Now, Burke says, she’s excited to have a home where she can reinstate the plethora of arts and community activities that have been the center’s hallmark. “It’s been a huge hole,” she noted.

The Center for the Arts will serve as an operational and managerial tenant of the Hawley Street building, and will facilitate much of the core programming. With that slated to begin right after Labor Day, Burke explained, she’s hustling to get her ducks in a row, reaching out to the center’s resident companies, including the Lisa Leizman Dance Co. and the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, and booking space for classes, rehearsals, and, eventually, performances. Other organizations are expected to follow the center into the space shortly, including Northampton Community TV, which will have an education and media center there.

We wanted to create a building with minimal operating expenses, where artists can actually afford to work, and that meant not borrowing money. I had the capital, so I paid it.”

The center’s move to Hawley Street is one step in a long journey that began in earnest with the $1.5 million purchase in 2013 of the former site of Northampton Lumber, a 25,000-square-foot building on 1.5 acres of land. Money for the purchase was initially raised through private donations and a short-term loan, but was ultimately paid in full by Thorne, who reimbursed the trust for the cost of the building.

“We wanted to create a building with minimal operating expenses, where artists can actually afford to work, and that meant not borrowing money,” Thorne said. “I had the capital, so I paid it.”

While some events were held in the building for several months after it was purchased, all that was put on hold in 2015, when construction began to build the trust’s dream home for the arts.

The $6.5 million project (which includes the purchase of the building) is being done in three phases, under the guidance of Thomas Douglas Architects. Phase one, with a cost of just over $1.86 million, is nearly complete, and has included an overall renovation of the building and indoor framing.

“We had to do basic development work because of the shape the building was in,” Wagner told BusinessWest. “We framed out the spaces, added an elevator … we took a beat-up box of a building and gave it a new skin.”

That work also included the addition of energy-efficient features, such as a highly insulated shell and roof, as well as a solar array, donated by Thorne, which should provide the building with essentially free electricity. “Our HVAC costs should be minimal,” Wagner said.

Phase 2 will be a complete build-out of the building’s interior, including a lobby and mezzanine, an 800-square-foot exhibit gallery, and space for performances, events, and workshops, as well as site work and landscaping. With an estimated cost of $2.5 million, that phase will have to wait while the trust secures further funding, but Burke and Wagner say they hope it will be completed by the end of 2018.

In the meantime, in order to accommodate an initial, limited public use of the building, the city awarded the trust a limited-occupancy permit to utilize space on the lower level of the two-story building, including a 1,200 square-foot multi-purpose studio for rehearsals, classes, and small performances, events, and meetings.

Burke has already booked some art classes and is working with local choreographer Kelly Silliman to create a dance program that will utilize a 900-square-foot dedicated dance studio that will be available for use on the upper level.

There will also be a series of outdoor events this summer, dubbed “Outside the Box,” that will feature film, music, and poetry presentations.

Looking Ahead

The current plan for phase 3 will be the creation of a 3,800-square-foot black-box theater on the lower level, capable of seating more than 200 patrons, as well as ancillary space, such as dressing rooms and a green room. That will be undertaken when the rest of the building is complete, Burke said, but only after members of the local theater community, including APE, have an opportunity to weigh in on its design.

We want to create a separate body of people who will take on the design and management of that space. We need to take into consideration not only technical aspects of theater, but to ask where that whole realm of creative work will be in the future.”

It’s a concept that still needs a lot of thought before a budget and timeline can be established, Thorne told BusinessWest.

“We want to create a separate body of people who will take on the design and management of that space,” he said. “We need to take into consideration not only technical aspects of theater, but to ask where that whole realm of creative work will be in the future.”

To date, the trust has raised roughly $4.38 million through gifts from individual donors, as well as government and institutional grants, including $50,000 from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, $35,000 from the Beveridge Family Foundation, $25,000 from C&S Wholesale Grocers, $180,000 from the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance, and $140,000 and $300,000 in separate grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The Center for the Arts contributed $400,000 — money that had been saved over the years from First Night revenue specifically to pay for a new home.

While what Wagner calls the “quiet” phase of the capital campaign continues, focusing on individual donors and other grant opportunities, he said a public capital campaign will be launched at a future date.

As those plans move ahead, Thorne said, it will be incumbent upon the trust to articulate its plans and its mission to the public. “We need to educate the community about what this is, our bigger mission.”

To that end, Wagner hopes the programming that will take place under the partial occupancy allowance will generate public awareness, and interest in supporting the space and the trust.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is to get the building back into use,” he said. “We want to open it up to the public, so they can feel and taste the possibilities.”

Creative Economy Sections

Broad Strokes

Springfield Central Cultural District Director Morgan Drewniany

Springfield Central Cultural District Director Morgan Drewniany

As director of the Springfield Central Cultural District, Morgan Drewniany doesn’t see the arts in a vacuum. Rather, they’re one of the connecting threads joining the realms of economic development, social justice, and a city’s walkability and livability, which are, of course, among the keys to any community’s future. To that end, the SCCD is raising the profile of the arts in and around downtown Springfield — and that of its myriad artists as well.

Morgan Drewniany recognizes the connections in her passions. That’s why she doesn’t think it strange that she went from studying soil chemistry at Hampshire College to leading the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD).

The specific connecting fiber is a passion for improving society. For example, to write a thesis on the political and physical environment in Northern New Mexico, she stayed on a reservation there, and later brought 200 soil samples — packed into the back of her Volvo — on a cross-country trek back to Amherst.

When she thinks back to her early interest in environmental health and social justice, “what I loved most was working with economically disadvantaged communities, those with lower education levels, lower income levels, communities of color in general. So, when I looked for a job, I didn’t look in the science field; I looked in art and nonprofits.”

The job Drewniany found was assistant director of the Springfield Business Improvement District. “It seemed like a good fit,” she told BusinessWest, explaining that the idea of lending her skills and passions to economic development appealed to her, particularly in the City of Homes. “I grew up in Westfield, and my parents brought me to Springfield all the time as a kid, to the museums or the symphony — I thought it was the coolest place ever. So to come back and help out during its revitalization was really gratifying for me.”

Violinist Anne Marie Messbauer

Violinist Anne Marie Messbauer plays in front of New England Public Radio during last fall’s Art Stop. NEPR will again host an Art Stop gallery next month.

But another opportunity would emerge that she’d find more intriguing. In 2013, the Massachusetts Cultural Council introduced the Cultural District Program as a way to brand areas densely populated with architectural, historical, and cultural assets. A consortium of cultural entities in Springfield applied for the designation, launching the SCCD in 2014. A year later, the organization sought a new director.

“When the opportunity came up, I knew the players, I personally have a passion for the arts, I have a lot of friends who are artists … it was a pretty natural fit,” Drewniany said, adding that she was drawn by the district’s untapped potential. “We were still applying for 501(c)(3) status, finalizing our bylaws and structure, a lot of internal stuff … it was a really exciting time. Now we know who we are. We want to be a unified voice for arts culture, not just within Springfield, but statewide, and even nationally.”

Today, the SCCD is supported by 55 members, ranging in size from the Mattoon Street Arts Festival, an annual weekend event, to larger players like Springfield Museums, New England Public Radio, the Community Music School of Springfield, and the Eastern States Exposition.

Representatives of these groups have long attended conferences on the state and national levels to advocate for the role of the arts, but the SCCD can represent the entire range of arts in Greater Springfield, Drewniany explained.

“We have a mission and vision — in short, to make Springfield a more friendly arts culture through civic engagement and arts engagement. That’s very broad, so it leaves us a lot of opportunities to interpret that.”

Forging Links

The district’s website explains its mission this way: “To bring more vitality to the city by highlighting its outstanding cultural offerings and adding new creative opportunities for artists and the greater community. We aim to make arts and culture in Springfield more accessible, while creating connections between artists, cultural landmarks, and visitors.”

One of those connections is the partnership known as Futurecity Massachusetts, a joint initiative of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Boston Foundation. Futurecity is working with mayors, urban planners, and arts and business leaders in Springfield, Boston, and Worcester on key real-estate projects in state-designated cultural districts in the three cities, targeting areas ready for development and job growth. The organization has created more than 200 such partnerships across the globe that reposition cultural assets from community amenities to marketplace drivers.

“We took on the Futurecity Massachusetts initiative with the Massachusetts Cultural Council with the idea of talking about a paradigm shift of art from nicety to necessity,” Drewniany said. “That has involved not just arts people but developers, city department heads, and city leaders talking about how, in order to create a 21st-century city, you have to integrate the arts. When you look at competitive cities right now, like London or Boston, developers are one-upping each other, saying, ‘we have art in our gallery.’ ‘Our building is totally made of art, and we have a huge sculpture outside!’”

She noted the example of London, where the developers behind a recent train-station project invested so much money in the building’s aesthetics that people started hanging out there because it was so beautiful. In short time, cafés started popping up, and adjacent vacant buildings were bought up and converted to lofts. “The revitalization of that neighborhood was based around the choice not to build a regular train station,” she said. “They didn’t just slap a mural on a wall and call it a day.”

The utility-box painting project

The utility-box painting project has brought splashes of color and whimsy to Springfield’s downtown.

That’s not to say public art of any size isn’t valuable. For example, starting last spring, the SCCD commissioned 26 artists to paint utility boxes around the district’s footprint, transforming the gray, bland boxes with a splash of bright color. The program was intended to both encourage walking downtown and provide a source of income to working artists, and was funded by matching local businesses and organizations to individual artists. The net effect has been increased feelings of positivity downtown, Drewniany said, which hopefully impacts pedestrian traffic.

“We’re so focused on walkability right now, and connecting spaces. If we have more people on the street, it portrays a more positive, friendly environment, and that affects public safety and also helps bring dollars to downtown businesses,” she explained. “And we advertised the times the artists would be painting so people could watch something be created right in front of their eyes, so it served a secondary purpose. We want people to interact with each other, even if it’s for a second. It’s a way to start building a bridge to a more connected community.”

Play and Pay

Other efforts to connect the district’s institutions through art include a new video map to accompany the Downtown Springfield Cultural Walking Tour, and the second annual Art Stop event slated for later this month.

The walking tour, first introduced in the summer of 2015, is a tool designed to be used by visitors or residents to learn more about the city’s architectural, historic, and cultural highlights. Printed maps are available at all downtown hotels, visitor’s centers, and cultural institutions.

The video map, available digitally on the SCCD website, springfieldculture.org, brings a new dimension to the walking tour. Viewers gain insight into the history of each location on the map and have the chance to learn an unexpected fact about the venue or building. Each short video (under two minutes, for easy viewing while out and about) is presented by a member of the SCCD on location.

The Art Stop initiative — essentially a pop-up gallery program — also encourages foot traffic downtown, while giving artists a chance to sell their work in one of three locations downtown: New England Public Radio, SilverBrick Lofts, and 1550 Main.

A request for proposals closes on March 8, and the exhibits will be displayed starting the first week of April. All pieces will be available for sale, with 100% of proceeds going directly back to the creators. Like last fall’s inaugural Art Stop, a joint reception will be held between the three locations on April 5, with artist talks, street art, and performances between the locations to encourage walking, and light food and drinks provided by the SCCD and artist hosts.

“Property owners had contacted me about how to activate a space, to get people interested in it, because it felt bland,” Drewniany said of the inspiration behind the program. “We felt we could provide economic impact for artists by creating galleries in these spaces, where the artists can actually sell their work. We also hire musicians and street performers and pay for their performances. That’s definitely a focus of ours — whenever artists are doing work, they’re getting paid like everyone else.”

Too many people, she went on, are too willing to ask artists to perform and produce work as a public service, when other industries don’t get treated that way. “You’d never invite an electrician into your house and say, ‘if you do this, I’ll tell my friends; it’ll be great exposure for you.’”

Other SCCD programs are one-off events intended to create buzz around often-unappreciated cultural genres. For example, in November, the district presented a free concert with three local organists in Old First Church in Court Square, playing the church’s full-size 1958 Aeolian-Skinner organ with its 56 ranks and 3,241 pipes.

The organizers hoped to both show how beautiful and versatile the Old First Church space is — demonstrating the potential in a historic building and encouraging future activity there — and, again, provide income to local artists.

Coming into Focus

While the district is prioritizing Springfield artists in its applications and trying to build a culture of artistic excellence downtown, Drewniany said, SCCD outreach includes artists from across the whole region, recognizing that Western Mass. is rich in cultural resources and individual artists. “But we want to make our downtown a place where artists want to be showing.”

Member fees fund roughly 75% of the district’s programs and expenses, she told BusinessWest, while most of the remainder is covered by grants, and a few projects, like the utility boxes, are sponsored. She treats her grant-application efforts like all her endeavors — in other words, seeking connections between art and community betterment.

“I’ve applied for public-health grants; I’ve applied for economic-development grants,” she said. “Really, the arts have such a unique way to reach people and solve problems — if you find the right partners and take the right approach. We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

That’s a vision worth painting — and it sure beats the cold gray of an unadorned metal box.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections

Space to Create

Mike Stone (left) of Cofab Design and Dan Battat of Battat Glass

Mike Stone (left) of Cofab Design and Dan Battat of Battat Glass, two of the founding members of Brick Coworkshop.

Dan Battat is a glassblower, and that can be a solitary art. But he prefers company.

“As someone who has worked in a solo shop setting, it’s awesome to look up from the bench and see someone pouring concrete into molds, or these guys in the machine shop cutting metal, all in my view from my workspace. Seeing them, it’s hard not to think of new ideas.”

That iron-sharpening-iron philosophy is one of the driving forces behind Brick Coworkshop in Holyoke, a co-working space that currently houses eight artists of varying disciplines — from glass, metal, concrete, and wood art and fabrication to ceramics, painting, and product design and engineering — who themselves represent six small businesses.

Battat said several of the players knew each other and were looking for this kind of shared space when an opportunity arose — 15,000 square feet of opportunity, to be specific — in the Wauregan Building on Dwight Street, along the downtown canal network.

“A lot of us had talked about this concept of an arts center before the space suddenly became available,” he said, noting that many of them knew each other through the region’s broad ‘maker’ community.

“We were all in the right place at the right time,” said Mike Stone, one of three members of Cofab Design who moved their operations to Brick. “There were zero days of downtime. The previous tenant got out, and we moved right in.

Aaron Cantrell of Cofab Design gets down to work at Brick.

Aaron Cantrell of Cofab Design gets down to work at Brick.

“Everyone had some kind of shop before that,” he added. “We all moved a lot of equipment in. It looked nothing like it does now. But we were intrigued by the idea of being able to share resources and inspire one another to work together on projects.”

Brick’s founders describe it as a shared work environment for artists, fabricators, engineers, and designers, where members work individually, collaboratively, and for the community in a variety of disciplines and mediums.

Besides Battat Glass and Cofab Design, Brick currently houses the creative entrepreneurs behind Kamil Peters Metal, concrete specialist Karmody Worldwide, Cog Ceramics, and Paul Palmgren, a fine-art painter. Other members have come and gone in the nearly four years since Brick opened, but most of the current ones have been there since the beginning.

Stone said the various members pursue their own business goals but also contribute energy to the collective, whether that’s through grant applications to fund educational programs or working with community groups on artistic projects. “We’ve let it develop as organically as possible, but we continue to formalize it.”

He sees more collaboration in the future, believing Brick has potential as a different kind of workspace — one where members from different disciplines work together as much as they do separately. “One of the things that differentiates us from the traditional model of co-working space, what makes us different, is that we don’t fit neatly into any category — maker space, co-work, incubator … we’re halfway between all of those.”

Building Momentum

Take, for example, a recent collaboration with Wistariahurst in Holyoke to create a traveling museum experience, comprised of installation space for interchangeable panels, protective cases for artifacts and objects, and a recording area where members of the community can document and share their memories. The idea, museum Director Kate Preissler noted last year, was to interact with people who’ve never heard of Wistariahurst and may never have visited the museum.

The traveling museum project involved many facets of what the artists at Brick do, Stone said, from preliminary research through design and fabrication of the actual exhibit infrastructure, and leveraging their collective expertise to benefit the community.

Brick Coworkshop

Brick Coworkshop has set up shop on the second floor of the Wauregan Building alongside Holyoke’s canal network.

“Kate was looking for an intriguing way to take the rich collection of history at Wistariahurst collection over the years, get that out of the bounds of the museum itself,” Stone said. “How do we take this great content and make it more accessible and more relatable to people? It was a great example of taking a project from concept to design to implementation.”

Meanwhile, Stone and Battat both say educational and community programming will be an increasingly more significant aspect of Brick. Some members, like Battat, offer private lessons in their specific discipline, while group classes are occasionally scheduled as well, in addition to school-group tours.

By bringing kids into the sprawling, open space where glass, metal, concrete, and more gets manipulated into both conceptual art and products they may use every day, Stone said, “maybe we can spark something in a young person’s mind.”

The collective is still working out strategies for a more robust educational program, perhaps in collaboration with the Holyoke Creative Arts Center, located downstairs in the Wauregan Building. Whether it’s a six-week course or a one-weekend session, Stone said he hopes each member can find the right niche to make education a bigger part of the Brick ecosystem.

“I like being able to teach here, having the space to do that, pulling in all the multiple disciplines we have,” Battat added. “We knew that aspect would become an important part of the picture.”

There’s also an element of sharing resources between members that makes their operations less capital-intensive, Stone said, and not just the common areas like the woodworking shop available to all. “It acts as a resource multiplier — if Dan’s got something I need, instead of running to Home Depot, I can borrow it from him, or vice versa.

“And if I ever need a tool that doesn’t exist yet,” Battat added, “we can probably make it within the hour.”

But it’s the sharing of expertise and inspiration that makes a bigger difference, Stone told BusinessWest.

Metalwork artist Kamil Peters

Metalwork artist Kamil Peters creates a mask, one of the many striking products he forges at Brick.

“It really comes down to the fact that it’s exciting and invigorating to share space with creative people. We all pick up knowledge with each other, have discussions, foster that crucible where ideas get bumped around — even just in passing each other in the hall. And when the time is right, we may work directly with each other. It’s a cool way to hone our individual disciplines and all work toward becoming a little more multi-disciplinary.”

Come Together

In the end, Battat said, not every artist or artisan will benefit from such a collaborative environment, but those with the right personality for it will find they accomplish more than working alone.

Stone agreed, calling the arrangement a creative multiplier effect. “Having eight to 10 people in the space as collaborators, we’re able to speak in a louder voice than one individual in a shop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that model; for the right type of person, it definitely works. But we’ve lucked out with a great group of people, sharing a similar mindset, that keeps the momentum moving forward.”

With more event and educational programming on the horizon and a better sense of how Brick fits into the Holyoke community, the organization is ready to increase its profile alongside the canals and beyond.

“We want to leverage our energy and potential down here and play off things going on in the community,” Stone said, “and keep all this moving forward.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections
Indian Orchard Mills Creates a Community for Artists

Sarah Concannon

Sarah Concannon is a very recent addition to the tenant population at Indian Orchard Mills, but she is already enamored with the sense of community she says exists there.

Sarah Concannon is an artist with a mission.
She calls it “The People in Your Neighborhood,” and it involves painting a portrait of a resident (of her choosing) from each of Springfield’s 17 recognized neighborhoods.
At this point, she’s still in what would be considered the planning and fund-raising stages of this endeavor. While contemplating a process for selecting her subjects, she’s also going about the task of amassing the nearly $7,000 she estimates she’ll need to complete the project; she recently ventured onto Kickstarter, a website that provides a vehicle for crowd-funding creative initiatives via the Internet.
“This is probably the only way I’d be able to fund a project like this,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she recently took one big step forward with this initiative — and what amounts to a fledgling business venture. That would be her move, just a few weeks ago, into a 100-square-foot studio at the Indian Orchard Mills in Springfield.
This step up, from a studio (of sorts) in a small spare bedroom in her home in Springfield, provides her with the physical space with which to flex her creative muscles while she continues her day job as an inventory-control analyst for Baystate Health. But it also gives her much more.
Indeed, she’s now part of what can only be called a community of artists at the sprawling mill complex, one that is fueling the economy in many respects, and also providing a strong support network for artisans trying to make dreams come true and, in many instances, turn passions into successful businesses.
There are now more than 50 artists in the 300,000-square-foot, 12-building mill complex, said Charles Brush, who used that term to describe individuals creating everything from jewelry to furniture to exhibits for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Brush bought the landmark in 1998 and has committed himself to continuing — and expanding — the work started by the mill’s previous owner, Muriel Dane.
Her name is on the 2,000-square-foot gallery in the mill, which is one focal point of twice-yearly open studio events, said Brush, noting that what Dane created, and he took to a higher level, is much more than physical space in which to paint or sculpt.
“You’ll never see an environment like this anywhere else,” he noted, “because I work with the tenants, and we all work with, and for, each other, with one goal in mind, and that is just to get it done and make it right, whatever ‘it’ happens to be.
Todd Harris

Todd Harris’ company merges engineering and art to create unique museum exhibits like this larger-than-life eagle’s nest bound for a Connecticut learning center.

“This doesn’t happen by accident or because you’re giving the place away — art is business, but consistency is the key to any business, doing the same thing all the time,” he went on, adding that the mill’s mission is to provide a mailing address, but also an atmosphere, where artists can create, collaborate, and thrive.
The story being written in each of the studios is different in some respects, although there are common denominators — a passion for art and a desire to be part of this community of artisans.
For some, like Peter Barnett, a fine landscape and portrait artist and retired systems analyst at MassMutual, his work is still mostly a hobby, albeit a full-time pursuit.
“I paint things that turn me on, clouds and rocks,” he joked, adding, “I don’t personally need to sell work to keep food on the table, but I do love to sell work, and I really like the community, the interaction, I find here.”
For others, like Todd Harris, the mill has become home to a new business venture. He left a lucrative career as an engineering consultant to start 42 design fab, which creates exhibits for museums and nature centers across the country.
“We’re trying to make this work as a business and support the whole creative-economy thing because you should be able to make a living for a team of people that come to work every day and have fun doing creative things,” he said. “Our growth plan is about pushing our boundaries artistically and making it work as a business.”
For this issue and its focus on the region’s burgeoning creative economy, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at one of the most recognizable — and successful — manifestations of that phenomenon, the Indian Orchard Mills, a landmark that speaks to the region’s past, but is now a symbol of its future.

Brush Strokes
Crystal Popko says people will invariably have two questions when they first encounter her jewelry made from butterfly wings.
“‘Are they real?’ and ‘what happened to the butterfly?’ — that’s what everyone wants to know,” she said, adding that the answer to the first query is ‘yes,’ and the response to the second is that the insect died naturally. (She acquires the wings from a nearby butterfly conservancy.)
Popko, who also works with fused glass as well as feathers, leaves, and other products from nature, is typical of the dozens of artists who now call the mill complex home.
Like many artists aspiring to turn their talent into a business, she started working out of her house. She would spend summers working, seven days a week, as a waitress on the Cape, trying to earn enough to spend her winters making and selling jewelry.
Three years ago, she decided to make her art a career, knowing that she would need, among other things, a studio where she could create and clients could see her work. She said she was drawn to the mill by its location, attractive lease rates, and, most importantly, that aforementioned community of artists already doing business there.
Carol Russell, a creator of stained-glass art, moved in for the same reason.
“I came here for the sense of community,” she told BusinessWest, “and being around other people and their energy.”
‘Community’ and ‘energy’ are words one hears often while walking the hallways of the mill complex, said Brush, who has a background in finance and manufacturing, but admits to being initially overwhelmed by the mill, its size, and all that goes into its upkeep.
But he was too intrigued by its vast potential to walk away when he started thinking about acquiring the mill in 1997. And he has no regrets about what most would consider a risky undertaking.
“It looked like it would be fun, and it’s really been a blast,” he said. While a number of industry groups (from asbestos abatement to precision manufacturing) are represented on a tenant list that now numbers more than 130, he noted, the growing number of artists — and the wide diversity of that constituency — is what has given the mill much of its identity.
“Everybody has a different definition of art,” he noted, adding quickly that his is quite broad, largely because of what he sees happening on each of the mill’s five floors. “Some people think artists stand at easels or over a lump of clay — and we have those in droves — but in my mind, arts is the creative, like the guy [Harris] that makes the museum exhibits. Yes, it’s manufacturing, but there is a lot of art that goes into what they do.
“What our woodworkers do with raw materials, what leaves here — the cabinetry, the furniture — is all art,” he went on. “We are a creative-industry complex, and as far as I’m concerned, the industry is just as artistic as traditional art.”
In his role as landlord, Brush says it’s his job to give all of his tenants an environment in which they can thrive. And when it comes to the artists — of all kinds — this means providing the space and the opportunity to create, collaborate, and feed off that aforementioned energy.

Peter Barnett

Peter Barnett has enjoyed the creative interaction of the artists at Indian Orchard Mills for two decades.

And nowhere is this more evident than at the Dane Gallery and the two open-studio events, he said.
The gallery is open Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., and it features works created by many of the mill’s tenants. Open year-round, the gallery allows each artist the opportunity to produce their own show for a month; Concannon’s “The People in Your Neighborhood” is expected to be ready for display in the gallery next year.
As for the open studios, they are, as the name suggests, events where tenants open up their studios to the public, with works on display and for sale.
Now in their 21st year, these events have drawn thousands of visitors to the mill (necessitating their expansion from one-day affairs to two) and, in so doing, have inspired a number of artists to join the community at the mill.
Such was the case with Concannon, who took in one of the open studios several years ago and began formulating plans to one day be one of the artists greeting guests. That day became reality a few months ago, when she and her husband, Greg Matthews, determined that they had the financial wherewithal for her to make her painting more than a part-time pursuit.
“It’s so inspiring to be a part of a community where people speak the same language and can offer critiques of your work if you want it,” said Concannon. “I can’t wait to get started because I know how good it will feel to be painting again and what a sense of accomplishment awaits if I’m able to make this project successful.”

His Nest Eggs
As he talked with BusinessWest, Harris showed off a larger-than-life eagle’s nest, complete with three oversized eggs, that is in the final stages and bound for the Harry C. Barnes Memorial Nature Center in Bristol, Conn.
It’s an example of how his company has merged engineering and art to create unique learning experiences, and also one of the hundreds of unique and diverse forms that the creative economy takes in the region — and especially Indian Orchard Mills.
There, tenants haven’t just created works of art. They’ve created a community — and real momentum in the efforts to make this sector an economic driver.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections
Easthampton Becomes a Mecca for Creative Businesses

Amber Ladley, left, and Macey Faiella

Knack, which Amber Ladley, left, and Macey Faiella recently opened at Eastworks, is just one of hundreds of creative businesses and artists that call Easthampton home.

On bustling Cottage Street in Easthampton — a corridor at the base of Mount Tom dotted with eateries, quirky retail shops, and scores of artists — sits Nash Gallery.
The shop — which showcases and sells work primarily by local painters, sculptors, and other creative folks — has called the address home for almost two decades, said its owner, Marlies Stoddard, or since her mother opened the gallery 18 years ago.
“She had no background in art, no retail background,” Stoddard told BusinessWest. “But she owned the building, and she was sick of tenants moving in, painting the place purple, and moving out after six months after paying only three months rent.”
At the time, her mother saw Easthampton as “an old mill town with empty storefronts,” but she did recognize the Cottage Street area as home to a growing cluster of artists, and saw potential in catering to that scene.
Through the intervening years, Stoddard said, as artists throughout New England were beginning to recognize the city’s creative scene, it remained under the radar for many locals. “Everyone else was looking in on Easthampton and saying, ‘wow, what a place you have; what a mesh of blue collar and the arts.’ But often, the local townie doesn’t necessarily see it.”
That image is gradually changing, however, as Easthampton is cultivating a reputation as a thriving cultural mecca, with artists and creative entrepreneurs at the forefront of a creative-economy sector that is benefiting businesses of all types.
Burns Maxey

Burns Maxey says municipal leaders and businesses have increasingly come to value what the arts bring to Easthampton.

Take, for example, Art Walk Easthampton, an event held the second Saturday of every month, when galleries — and many businesses normally unrelated to the arts — collectively open their doors to showcase visual-art exhibitions, live music, and other performances.
“We get an average of 350 to 500 people coming out for the art walk,” said Burns Maxey, coordinator of Easthampton City Arts+ (ECA), a quasi-public organization tasked with consolidating and promoting the local creative economy. “It started off as a way to bring people to the city, by having all the exhibitions open. Since then, we’ve added themes to each art walk.”
For instance, last month’s walk was subtitled “Sights & Sounds” and featured more than 15 musicians and performers busking on Union Street. The history-themed Oct. 12 walk is dubbed “Know Thy Past.”
“Some restaurants have exhibitions or gallery space, or host performances or musicians or readings, and it really activates the whole city,” Maxey said. “There’s a buzz about what’s going on.”
Stoddard said she was involved in managing the monthly walk before ECA took it over. “It was great because we transformed these non-traditional venues. If you’re a coffee shop or whatever, you can be an art venue for three hours and have fun getting people through the doors. If you’re an insurance agency by day, for three hours on Saturday, you could be a gallery. People had a lot of fun with the Art Walk, and it’s still really thriving.”
‘Thriving’ would be an accurate term to describe both the creative culture in Easthampton and the efforts of ECA to leverage them into an effective force for economic development. For this issue, BusinessWest sits down with Maxey and several local business people to discuss why this city’s arts scene is being held up as an example for other communities to emulate.

Grin and Bear It
Easthampton City Arts began in 2005 as a group of artists and business owners who recognized the impressive number of creative people working in Easthampton and saw opportunities for revitalization efforts stemming from promotion of the arts. The + was added to the name several years later to reflect increasing participation from neighboring Southampton and Westhampton.
Before ECA, Maxey said, “Easthampton had a lot of storefronts that didn’t have businesses in them. This was a potential economy they could tap into.
“A lot of things happened between that time and now,” she continued. ECA received an Adams Arts grant from the Mass. Cultural Council, which looks for projects that work toward community-revitalization efforts through the creative economy. A coordinator was hired, Maxey said, and one of the first things she did was map out the city’s creative assets. “And there was a lot going on under the surface.”
For example, more than 100 creative businesses, the vast majority of them solo artists, call the sprawling Eastworks complex home, and more than 60 others are located along the Cottage Street corridor.
“That was the starting point,” Maxey said. “They created a directory, and also an online directory, for all these artists and creative businesses. That was really the first stepping stone.”
Another key development was the success of Bear Fest in 2009, when life-sized, fiberglass bears were painted and otherwise decorated by a host of artists and displayed outdoors, throughout the downtown area, for public viewing. Another Bear Fest followed in 2012.
“Doing Bear Fest was huge because it showed not only that Easthampton has the potential for being a destination for people to visit, but businesses saw the impact of people coming to Easthampton. That was a major step,” she said.
“I think businesses questioned it, at first,” she continued, “but when they saw so many people — thousands of people came through the city the first day alone — they really saw the potential.”
Since then, Maxey said, that spirit has reverberated in many public events and projects centered on the arts.

Jean-Pierre Pache

Jean-Pierre Pache says the city’s growing profile as an arts mecca has attracted more businesses and residents.

Recognizing the economic-development potential of the arts, in 2011 Easthampton designated ECA a city committee. Today, it’s funded through the municipal budget, state grants, and private donations, and Maxey works out of the remodeled former town hall, along with a few other creative businesses.
Jean-Pierre Pache was the first tenant in the remodeled building, moving Eastmont Custom Framing — a business he started in 2001 — as well as a small art studio, to the historic property. As one of the more than 240 artists active with ECA, he said he has seen the town’s creative community boost more than just its own profile.
“I think what’s more important is that the whole city has changed,” he said. “The city has a different image, which attracts visitors, which attracts new businesses and even new residents.”
He insists that such progress has been greatly enhanced by ECA’s efforts to more prominently position the arts and the creative economy as one of the town’s core strengths.
“I’ve seen the differences; in 12 years, I’ve been able to witness a lot of changes,” said Pache. “It was happening before I got here, and it’s still happening now, but there’s a lot of momentum now. That’s one of the strengths of ECA, and I give them a lot of credit.”
He noted that Meri Jenkins, program manager of the state’s Adams Arts Program, has often held up ECA as an example to other fledgling groups of not only effectiveness, but longevity.
“Many [arts organizations] suffer from burnout, since they’re all volunteer-based,” Pache said. “But this keeps growing and reinventing itself and finding new energy. We’re very lucky to have this in our town.”
Maxey agrees. “My position is through the Planning Department, and it makes a huge difference when you have a person tasked with looking at the creative-economy efforts. It’s economic development, but a creative way of looking at it.”
Added Stoddard, “we’re really lucky the city is putting value in this. A lot of us have been working very hard, and Burns is very much our leader.”

Knack for Business
Former mill complexes like Eastworks and Paragon Arts and Industry, both located on Pleasant Street, as well as One Cottage Street, have become home to vibrant artist communities. Amber Ladley and Macey Faiella saw the potential of Eastworks when they conceived of Knack, the ‘creative-reuse’ store they opened in the complex over the summer.
“We’ve gotten an amazing, fantastic response. The community itself has been very welcoming,” said Ladley, noting that the pair met Maxey early on, and met other artists through networking events organized by ECA.
“Through all that, we knew we wanted to be in Easthampton or Northampton. We still looked all throughout the Pioneer Valley; we really wanted to have a convenient location with parking, and we looked all over the place. When we saw this space in Eastworks, we felt it was the right space, and that Easthampton would be a good area for us.”
Ladley and Faiella, each the mother of two boys, were Easthampton residents when they met about 10 years ago. When Ladley read an article about creative reuse, she and Faiella began talking about a business that deals in reusable, ‘upcycled’ materials for creative projects.
“I knew Macey is very thrifty, always finding fun stuff at the side of the road and decorating her house with it,” Ladley said. “We started chatting and loved the idea, so we kept going.”
Faiella said she was surprised that such a store — which caters to all ages, from young crafters and Pinterest-obsessed teens to idea-seeking teachers and senior citizens with creative hobbies — didn’t exist in the Pioneer Valley, with its emphasis on all things ‘green.’
“In such an artsy community, it seemed like a perfect fit,” she said. “Everything is donated, much of it from artists in the area — we’re lucky to be in an area where artists are everywhere. A lot of it is from people cleaning out their closets, moving on to different hobbies. A kitchen-remodeling company was going out of business and had tile samples they were going to throw away in the dumpster; we saw the potential for them.”
The shop simply oozes inspiration. When a registry of deeds donated some microfilm reels, they were turned into cupcake stands. One woman bought a collection of rusty wrenches with the intention of turning them into wind chimes.
“We have great things for kids to use, and when people walk in, even if they’re not a crafter or creative person, they’ll still find stuff they want to do,” Faiella said, adding that a recent Art Walk saw about 70 people stop by. “People are really craving that kind of thing and getting more involved in the arts and what’s available. It’s been a nice fit for us, and we definitely feel that vibe — that this is a town that supports that kind of thing.”
To bring more such life to Eastworks, the complex is partnering with ECA on an endeavor called MAP, or the Mill Arts Project. “We’re working together to offer space to artists or creative people or creative business owners who want to try out an idea for a month or two,” Maxey explained.
“It could be a pop-up shop, it could be a performance space or an exhibition space, and we give them educational tools for how to connect with businesses and how to market their work,” she continued. As part of the deal, “they have to be open a certain number of hours or have events open to the public. It’s really a learning tool, and hopefully it will show them the potential to perhaps open a business or continue their idea in the city, particularly in Eastworks.”

Cottage Industry
Meanwhile, the Cottage Street neighborhood continues to thrive with its eclectic mix of enterprises, from Luthier’s Co-Op, where patrons can buy stringed instruments, take in live music, and drink a local brew; to New England Felting Supply, which offers workshops inside its brightly colored walls; to Popcorn Noir, a restaurant, bar, and performance space that also hosts mixology classes.
“It’s interesting because there were so many empty storefronts in that location, but in the last couple of years, it’s filled up quickly,” Maxey said. “There’s an immense amount of art-making happening. These are people who have small businesses; they’re making money from it, but they’re not the typical businesses we’ve thought about for so long since the 1950, like shoe stores and investment companies — although those are there, too.”
Meanwhile, Stoddard is currently sponsoring the sixth annual Paint Out, a project for which local artists paint outdoor scenes from around Easthampton, which will be displayed and put up for sale.
“We have around 55 painters, which is really great,” she said. “It creates this snowball effect, where people driving by turn their heads and say, ‘what’s going on here?’ when they see four or five painters set up in the same field. It creates a sense of wonder. And we have such an incredible wealth of local artists.”
Successful events are springing up elsewhere as well, such as the second annual Art in the Orchard running through October at Park Hill Orchard, featuring temporary installations from 22 sculptors — and a schedule of music and dance performances — throughout the grounds during prime apple-picking season.
“The location is stunning, the art is compelling, and that appeals to a lot of different people, from toddlers to grandparents,” said Pache, who is organizing the event, adding that between 100 and 150 visitors stop by on a typical day. “The art is supporting the orchard, and the orchard supports the arts at the same time. It provides a very unusual setting for the artwork.”
Speaking of live performances, Maxey said ECA is trying to raise the profile of such events in Easthampton by building an online database of venues. “Anyone can come to it and research where to hold an event. We’re excited to put that together.”
She credits much of her organization’s success to the enthusiasm of the local arts community, noting that the 240 artists who call themselves ECA members are probably only a fraction of the total working locally.
“This is a tight-knit community, and people are excited about what’s going on here,” she told BusinessWest. “I moved here from Northampton in 2007 and immediately fell in love with Easthampton because of the community of people.”
Stoddard noted multiple reasons why Easthampton is an attractive landing spot for artists and creative business people. “We have endless real estate for studio space, and we have a large body of people who come here and appreciate their anonymity — and we respect that as well.”
Maxey added that “there is absolutely a buzz about what’s going on here. I think the quality of the artists in this location — in Easthampton and the Pioneer Valley as a whole — is immense. Go outside our area, and you can really recognize the quality of art made right here — that’s everyone from artisans to fine artists; performers to sculptors and installation artists. There’s a little bit of everything. We have a great community here.”

No Place Like Home
Stoddard said thriving business districts have a societal benefit that can be long-lasting, and creative enterprises have driven much of the recent growth in Easthampton.
“I have customers coming in with their kids and actively teaching them the values of shopping locally and supporting their local downtown,” she said. “That mentality has really changed — the appreciation for small businesses. I feel it all the time; I never feel slighted. I constantly have people coming in saying, ‘thank you for being here.’
“It’s a great feeling, and it makes being a business person in my hometown really rewarding,” she concluded. “I didn’t have that feeling back in 1995. When I was 18, I wanted to get out of here. But it’s a great place to come back to.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]