Cultural Facilities Fund gives $2 million to Berkshire County arts venues


Photo Gallery | Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund awardees

The Berkshires' cultural community will share nearly $2 million in state grants toward improvements at local art galleries, performing arts venues, a meeting house and possibly jump start the creation of a new children's theater.

The Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund has awarded $1.84 million in capital funds for upgrades to 11 venues, including the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox and the Monterey Community Center. In addition, another $90,000 in feasibility and technical assistance grants is being distributed to study potential improvements and expansion at four other cultural organizations.

The 14 grant recipients -- Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival received one of each -- are among the 129 projects across the commonwealth receiving a total of $15 million in the latest round of funding from the Cultural Facilities Fund. Since it was established seven years ago by the state Legislature, CFF has invested $70 million to help maintain and rebuild cultural venues in 118 cities and towns; money organizations have leveraged millions more in private donations toward their projects, according to the Governor Deval L. Patrick administration.

Shakespeare & Co. officials view their $290,000 grant as a momentum builder in an effort to raise $20 million over the next decade or longer to pay for its capital improvement master plan. The theater troupe wants to bring some of the older buildings on the 33-acre campus up to code, make them energy efficient and replace other unused structures with outdoor educational space. Shakespeare board of trustees President Sarah Hancock said the first order of business is using the state grant to refurbish St. Martin's Hall, a nearly 80-year-old run-down building that first greets visitors, for future use as a campus center.

"We don't want another winter of water getting into the foundation, so we want to bring it up to code for occupancy," Hancock said. "We want [St. Martin's] to be the centerpiece for the campus."

Locally, the Clark Art Institute landed the single-largest grant, $600,000 toward completion of its 10-year renovation and expansion project. The final phase includes an overhaul of the Manton Research Center -- which was built in 1973 -- renovated galleries, new reading room and refurbishing of the courtyard skylight.

"The renovations allow us to better serve the Clark's visitors, students and scholars," said Director Michael Conforti. "We will increase public access to the Clark's important collection of works on paper through the creation of a new Manton Study Center for Prints, Drawings and Photographs."

The Clark views its entire makeover as key to the North County economy --each year the facility attracts 200,000 visitors who spend millions to shop, dine and lodge in the area. Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard in 2012 said that year-to-year, the Clark has a total impact of roughly $39 million on the local economy, and generates about 440 jobs -- about 70 of them in the food service industry and 125 in hotels.

For several CFF funded projects, their value is measured more by the impact on the quality of life than the dollars and cents they generate.

The Friends of the Wilson McLaughlin House is confident the $40,000 it received will jump-start the completion of a 10-year effort to convert the former residence into the Monterey Community Center. To date, the nonprofit, incorporated in 2005, has raised and spent half of the $225,000 needed to renovate the two-story house bequeathed to the town in 1995.

"We anticipate when people see we have the grant, this will validate our project," said Friends President Joe Baker.

Depending on fundraising, Baker expects the community center ready for use next spring at the earliest. So far, the basement and foundation have been shored up, a new roof installed with renovation of the 800-square foot-first floor remaining. He noted there are no immediate plans to fix up and use the second floor.

Meanwhile, the New Marlborough Village Association is ecstatic about its $60,000 award to augment the association's just-launched $175,000 capital campaign to upgrade the town's only state historic landmark.

The Meeting House, home to the organization for 40 years, is largest gathering place in town and overdue for exterior and interior improvements, according to Louise Yohalem, board of directors chairwoman for the association.

"The Meeting House is the center of the community, hosting children's plays, an art gallery and our Music and More series," Yohalem said. "It needs some tender loving care as the inside hasn't been painted for 45 years."

Local children's theater has a bright future thanks to the $30,000 CFF grant bestowed on the Berkshire Theatre Group. BTG, umbrella group for the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and Stockbridge's Berkshire Theatre Festival, plans to spend the money on a feasibility study on the potential conversion of an empty 12,500-square-foot warehouse behind the Colonial on South Street into the Berkshire Theatre Children's Performing Arts Center.

"The Cultural Facilities Fund is invaluable to all of us in helping to serve our capital needs," said BTG Artistic Director/CEO Kate Maguire. "We have all faced the challenges of these economic times and I don't know how we would have tended to our facilities without this fund."

To reach Dick Lindsay:,
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