Friday August 17, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In a setting typical of Third Thursdays -- where people, strollers, vendors and musicians clog a closed North Street -- city officials still managed to get their own celebratory voices heard throughout the happenings.

If the new banners strung up on downtown lightpoles didn't get anyone's attention, then the Third Thursday beeline -- led by a trio of booming Youth Alive Band percussionists -- surely did.

With a snip of a white ribbon by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi just before that, the area officially became the Upstreet Cultural Center.

The area, named from a Pittsfield colloquialism, encompasses East and West Housatonic streets, north to Linden Street, and from First to Center streets. It is one of six cultural districts designated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) but the only one west of Boston.

"Pittsfield really is a model for cultural districts," said MCC Executive Director Anita Walker. "This place has the history and culture needed to be a cultural district. When someone asks for an example of what a cultural district looks like, I point them to Pittsfield."

The goal of designating a cultural district is to make a city more attractive for tourists and businesses.

"There's no money that comes directly out of this," Bianchi said after the beeline dispersed at the intersection of North and Eagle streets. "This allows me to market Pittsfield to those who might be interested in doing business. We're hoping to grow as an economy."

Also in attendance was state Senate President Pro Tempore Stan Rosenberg of Amherst.

"Establishing a cultural district is about either breathing new life or vision into a community that doesn't have it yet, or to accelerate a community, like Pittsfield, where that's already happening," Rosenberg said during a brief news conference before the ribbon-cutting.

The march of initiation by the Youth Alive Band percussionists and about 20 others was a brave one to take under the hot, late-afternoon sun.

The scene and drummers' beat caused those nearby to turn and look, but after that, Third Thursday took on its usual setting of fast-paced walkers, leashed dogs, and youngsters maneuvering their scooters through the crowd.

At about 6 p.m., Berkshire Life employees donned green shirts and presented a flash mob in the middle of the intersection of North and Eagle streets. Dozens of people danced through the song "Summer Lovin' " of "Grease" fame and "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction.

The hundreds in attendance Thursday may have been attributed to several festivities going on once, including WordXWord and Call Me Melville.

It was a perfect time to unveil the new Upstreet Cultural District, according to Megan Whilden, the city's director of cultural development.

"This attracts everybody," she said. "It seemed natural to have the kickoff at Third Thursday."