Pittsfield cultural leader Megan Whilden moving on
Photo Gallery: Megan Whilden
PITTSFIELD - Megan Whilden, a driving force behind Third Thursday, Word X Word and other downtown events that put Pittsfield on the cultural map, is moving on.
After a nine-year run, Whilden announced Tuesday afternoon she was leaving the municipal position of cultural development director to take the reins of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College.
Whilden says her resignation is effective May 16, the day after the first Third Thursday celebration of the year. Starting June 2, she officially replaces Barbara Hochberg, who is retiring as director of OLLI.
"It's hard leaving a position that is truly so much fun," Whilden said in an Eagle interview from her office at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. "I'm personally excited to see what the next person brings with a fresh set of eyes and new ideas."
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi already has begun the search for a new cultural development director, advertised with a salary range of $45,000 to $50,000. Bianchi hopes to find someone with the same drive and business sense as Whilden.
"Her creativity, energy and connection to the cultural community are what's needed," he said. "Arts and culture are also big business."
BCC President Ellen Kennedy said she can't wait for Whilden to bring her talents and enthusiasm to OLLI, celebrating its 20th anniversary of primarily educating people 50 and older who don't want to enroll in college.
"We've always admired her creativity to make programs work," Kennedy said. "OLLI is about giving people an opportunity to explore different things."
Appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto in January 2005, the California native has helped spearhead the creation of several downtown and citywide events that have attracted tens of thousands of visitors each year.
One of Whilden's first big undertakings was Third Thursday, the downtown block party held once a month from May through October, which brings together local merchants, performing and visual artists. Following Third Thursday's debut in 2007, Whilden and the city followed up with events including First Fridays Artswalk, The Big Read, Word X Word, 10 X 10 and coming soon, Shakespeare in the Park.
Ruberto says the cultural activities - all designed to make the arts accessible to all - have been a key to Pittsfield's decade-long downtown revitalization.
"Megan showed through energy and commitment to be as welcoming as humanly possible, that Pittsfield is the type of community to be a part of," he said.
Whilden's hiring was key to Barrington Stage Company's decision to relocate from South County to downtown Pittsfield in 2006, according to Artistic Director Julianne Boyd.
"We knew there was a champion for the arts when the city created the position," Boyd said. "You need a cheerleader in the arts."
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