Pittsfield has long had cultural offerings, but it hasn’t always had a cultural community. The city wasn’t convinced culture could play a role in the economy and there was in fact resistance to that concept in some circles. It was a manufacturing city, and the cultural economy was for communities like Lenox and Stockbridge that went out of their way to welcome tourists.
That attitude began to change shortly after James Ruberto was elected mayor. He didn’t see cultural and manufacturing as either/or, suggesting instead that cultural attractions could, by reviving downtown and making the city more appealing, help attract business and industry and their employees. There was skepticism, but the concept took hold and Pittsfield fully joined the Berkshire artistic scene.
In her nine years as the city’s cultural development director, Megan Whilden was instrumental in that cultural renaissance. Third Thursday and WordXWord are perhaps the best examples of her approach, which was to get the community as a whole, adults and children, involved in the city’s cultural offerings. A cultural community was created, destroying the image of culture as something dusty and elitist and making it part of Pittsfield’s fabric. Her energy and enthusiasm were refreshing for a city that needed both, and the new attitude was noticed by, among others, Barrington Stage, which moved to a welcoming downtown Pittsfield in 2006.
Ms. Whilden will be leaving on May 16, the day after the first Third Thursday of 2014, to take over leadership of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College. She will be difficult to replace, but culture’s role is now firmly rooted in Pittsfield, and the next cultural director will be fortunate to have a firm foundation in place upon which to build.