Jacob's Pillow launches five-year expansion: Vision '22

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BECKET — In an interview with The Berkshire Eagle last June, Jacob's Pillow Dance's new director, Pamela Tatge, talked about the importance of the Pillow reaching out to the broader Berkshires community.

"It's important for the Pillow to go off-site," Tatge said in that interview. "There are possibilities in this county. We have to go to other people."

Now, one year later, Tatge is making good on that promise. She is launching Vision 22, a five-year initiative Tatge describes in an e-mail interview with The Eagle as "as blueprint, a vision of where Jacob's Pillow hopes to be in five years, by the year 2022."

That vision sees Jacob's Pillow Dance as a year-round center for workshops, residencies and collaborative ventures with communities, schools and other cultural institutions. At the same time, the Pillow plans to expand its home base to make the Pillow not only as a hub for dance performance but also for education, research and development by and for dancers, choreographers and other dance professionals.

"More outstanding artists will have time and support to make new work in this special place," Tatge says in a news release. "In addition, more Berkshire community schoolchildren and residents will experience the power of dance ..."

In an e-mail exchange with The Eagle, Tatge explained that Vision '22 was "prompted after a year's worth of conversations with artists and professionals in the dance field as well as Pillow patrons and local Berkshire residents. It is a strategic approach that reflects needs at the intersections of these communities."

Central to the plan is the Pillow's community outreach. There will be programs for local veterans tied to work being performed at the Pillow this summer. Discounted tickets for Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival performances will be made available to Berkshire County dance schools and studios through the Dancing Berkshires Fund, which will enable county dance students to observe classes and attend performances at the Pillow.

Among the biggest beneficiaries, initially, of the Pillow's community outreach is the City of Pittsfield and its schools.

In Pittsfield, The Pillow is planning to:

• present Pillow Pop-Up performances and events as part of Pittsfield's Third Thursday series;

• operate a free Saturday bus service, the Pittsfield-Pillow Express, connecting the Pillow with three Pittsfield neighborhoods, beginning this Saturady;

• expand community residencies, beginning June 26 with a five-day residency involving Camille A. Brown and members of her dance company and Pittsfield's African-American community through a series of social dance workshops and events for youth, teens and adults.

The Pillow also will bring its Jacob's Pillow Curriculum in Motion (JPCiM) to Pittsfield's Morningside Community School next year with the aim of expanding to all eight Pittsfield elementary schools by 2022.

In its news release, the Pillow describes JPCiM as a program that "links choreography, kinesthetic intelligence and critical and imaginative thinking to academic learning."

Pittsfield Superintendent of Schools Jake McCandless has known of JPCiM for several years but it wasn't until he saw for himself what the program accomplished for developing math skills that he understood its effectiveness. As a result, he said by phone, "when they [the Pillow] reached out to me, we were eager to work with then."

"Some programs that tie arts to education promise results. This program really delivers," McCandless said. "It lets kids be kids and helps them strengthen self-confidence through movement.

"Also, the Pillow has massive resources at its disposal and some of our kids don't know that. Bringing them to the Pillow will [open their eyes]."

This summer, the program will be integrated into a pilot project for third-grade students that also involves IS183, Flying Deer Nature Center, Berkshire Community College and Pittsfield schools.

Meanwhile, on the Pillow campus in the Becket hills, Vision  '22 will focus on "strengthening the artistic core," officials say, and "renewing campus facilities."

In terms of strengthening the Pillow's artistic core, Vision '22 will:

•  launch Pillow Lab, described as customized residencies for 10 to 15 choreographers each year to do research and development;

• create, beginning in 2018, a summer program for emerging choreographers at The School at Jacob's Pillow;

• host year-round workshops and conferences for dance professionals;

• develop a College Partnership Program to connect dance students and faculty to the Pillow Lab and Pillow archives;

• host retreats for New England-based choreographers.

In terms of renewal and upgrade, multi-use housing is being built for faculty, artists, staff and interns. There will be new space for training, rehearsals and small performances, and the venerable Ted Shawn Theatre will undergo structural renovations and enhancement of the theater's ventilation system. 

The centerpiece of the physical development of the campus is the $5.5 millions Perles Family Studio, the new home of The School at Jacob's Pillow, which is scheduled to officially open during a special season-finale event on Aug. 26.

The 7,373-square-foot building features a 3,500-square-foot dance floor — double the size of the main rehearsal space in The School's current home, the Sommers Studio.

The new space will be large enough for visitors to the Pillow to look in on classes and rehearsals without disturbing the dancers, and provide 200 seats for Inside/Out performances in the event of bad weather.

The Perles Family Studio is financed by a lead gift from the Perles Family Foundation and Jacob's Pillow trustee Claudia Perles. The project also is the recipient of a $225,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund.

Overall, funds for Vision '22 are being raised, Tatge said in her email, through "the quiet phase of a multi-million dollar effort to raise capital for our facilities needs and endowment support to sustain Vision '22 into the future. A number of private and institutional funding sources have already come in."

It's an investment Tatge is hopeful will pay off.

"The arts show us our best selves," she told The Eagle a year ago. "I think if we can figure that out, we can be a model for other places."

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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