DownStreet Art Fest off and running in North Adams


Photo Gallery | Downstreet Art kick-off celebration

NORTH ADAMS — Children designing streets in crayon. Artists expounding on their visions to strangers. Actors performing in the street. Live music and dancing. A pop-up market.

It must be June, time for the first DownStreet Art celebration, the city's annual summer-long arts festival on the third Thursday nights of each month.

Hundreds found all the above and more on Thursday, in a hyper-local iteration of the festival.

North Adams featured heavily in "The Old Coot on Coca Cola Ridge," a locally set play put on repeatedly by the Bad Drama Club outside the Mohawk Theater.

"North Adams, you're so beautiful," said Joshua Torres, a 2015 Williams College graduate and author of the play. "There's the steeple and the other steeple and the other, other steeple."

Later, his character would return to the North Adams of the present and bemoan the tearing down of one steeple, the conversion of bars into antique furniture stores and Main Street looking like a "giant Ikea."

"Why has North Adams changed so much?" Torres wailed. "This is clearly the work of New Yorkers on vacation."

In an interview, Torres said, "We want to deemphasize traditional rehearsal structure. I was thinking about productions about the community, out in the community, with the participation of the community."

A little down the way, Joshua Ostraff, a visiting assistant professor of art at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, was having people screen and embellish pictures of tuna in connection with a legend he heard while traveling in Tonga.

In it, a young man was rescued by a school of the fish after a jealous brother left him stranded in the ocean. His true love had summoned the animals. The idea of calling the fish is, in Tonga, an act of love and a gift of life.

"I think it poses a parallel that's important to consider," Ostraff said. "People have a lot of amazing needs [in North Adams]. It makes us think about how there are things we can do, like sharing the fish in the story. And there are some doing things in this community that are, in a sense, calling the fish."

Ostraff added, "It acts as a metaphor for some great happenings in town."

The complete project will later go on display at Gallery 51, after which the makers may collect their fish.

"They can give it to someone they love, they can keep it, sell it," Ostraff said.

Jennifer Crowell, director of Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, which organizes DownStreet Art, said every vendor and artist participating in the festival "had to be within a 30-mile radius of North Adams."

"We're really thrilled about the idea of celebrating what's here instead of bringing things in," Crowell said.

She added, "This community is really supportive of culture and of art," Crowell said. "We don't take a commission on any of this. We want you here; we want to have an exciting program going on. When you're bringing a couple hundred people downtown on a Thursday night, it's a great benefit for [area businesses]."

DownStreet Art continues with dates through September.

The market, located on Holden Street, is a new feature to this festival, Crowell said.

Another new feature garnered praise from Crowell: An MCLA-funded summer program to put four artists in empty storefronts or galleries with the assistance of interns and the goal of learning to run a sustainable business.

The participants create a budget, a business plan and more, and are housed on Main and Ashland streets. One of these, Common Folk, located at the head of Main Street, enjoyed steady traffic all night and seeks to create a self-sustaining artist collective and gallery there, with the assistance of the program.

"This is really taking it to the next step, I think, where we're giving artists the tools to become business owners," Crowell said.


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