Founding members sworn into inaugural North Adams Public Arts Commission

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NORTH ADAMS >> In a city whose buildings and bridges are increasingly covered with public murals and art installations, the role of deciding what is suitable for public consumption has changed.

An ordinance to create a Public Arts Commission was passed by the City Council earlier this year with the blessing of Mayor Richard Alcombright, who didn't believe his office should have sole authority over what public art is allowable. This week, the Council finally approved the founding members of the inaugural commission.

The Public Arts Commission is designed to consist of seven voting members, five of whom would have a background in the arts, art education, art criticism, museum curation, real estate development, or architecture, with the remaining two members being residents from the city at large.

"We have, with the help of Councilor [Kate] Merrigan, put together a tremendous slate of people for this commission," Alcombright said.

The seven new board members, who were approved unanimously by the Council at its Nov. 24 meeting, represent a wide cross-section of the community.

The five members with arts-related backgrounds are Julia Dixon, the former director of Berkshire Creative now serving as creative economy specialist for lBerkshire; Pittsfield Public Schools English teacher Cynthia Quinones, formerly the director of education for Barrington Stage Company; Eric Kerns, formerly the director of marketing and development at the Williamstown Theatre Festival who is now managing the renovations of the Redwood Motel and Blackinton Mill for Broder Properties; Gail Kolis Sellers, co-owner of River Hill Pottery at the Eclipse Mill; and Erica Manville, a visual arts teacher since 2005 and now the community outreach coordinator for the North Adams Public Schools.

The commission's two at-large members are Nancy Zeiter, business manager at North Adams Public Schools, and William C. Blackmer Jr., a retired Massachusetts State Police lieutenant who served as the station commander of the Cheshire barracks.

"I'm very excited, I think this group is going to have some interesting work to do," Merrigan said.

The new Public Arts Commission was designed to serve a similar function to public art boards in large cities such as Salem and Boston.

They will take the authority on public arts out of the mayor's office and review any planned artwork that is visually accessible to the public or on land that is owned or controlled by the city.

With vibrant programs like DownStreet Art, the city can receive multiple requests for public art displays every year. There are already numerous examples of public art in the city, including two massive murals — one by Egyptian artist Alaa Awad and, opposite that, a mural by artist Maya Huyak — on Center Street. Additionally, those who have parked in the Center Street parking lot have undoubtedly noticed the enormous "Muralismo Publico" by Spanish artists Marta Gil and Estibaliz Vera.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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