Berkshire Carousel founders seek new owners; riding season in jeopardy
PITTSFIELD — The founders of the Berkshire Carousel are ready for someone else to take the reins.
Jim Shulman, who grew up in Pittsfield but lives in Ohio, sent a letter last week on behalf of himself and his wife, Jackie, to more than 20 nonprofits, business organizations and community leaders looking for new ownership for the permanent art exhibit and amusement ride.
If nobody steps up, Shulman said, the ornate, handcrafted passion project, which was built by hundreds of volunteers over 10 years, will not open this summer.
"Our home is in Ohio, over 600 miles from the Berkshires, and now that we are in our mid-70s, we feel that it's time for a succession plan in which the carousel ownership and operation is assumed by a Berkshire Community entity," Shulman said in the letter. "We are asking community leaders and interested citizens to help with such a plan and guarantee its future operation in Pittsfield or another location. This wonderful gift of art, created and sponsored by so many members of the Berkshire Community, needs community participation and support for generations to come."
The Shulmans first thought up the idea for a carousel as a community art project in 2004, with the first carvings beginning in 2006. At first, a professional carver was contracted to mentor and supervise local volunteers in carving horses. From 2012 on, all the work done was by volunteers.
Ten years, more than 400 volunteers and $3 million later, the wooden carousel opened at its South Church Street location in 2016, Shulman said.
That season, Berkshire residents and visitors rode the hand-carved horses and chariot more than 35,000 times, Shulman said. The next year, ridership dropped dramatically, to 6,000.
But for the Shulmans, operating the carousel was never the goal. Their fun was building a project that the community can work on together, he said in an interview.
The couple, now in their 70s, are hoping that a group can take on the duties of seasonal operation of the carousel so it can live on forever.
"It's too hard to manage from so far away," Shulman said in a phone interview from his home on a nature preserve in the small town of Galena, Ohio.
In the 2018 season, the Shulmans cut back operation of the carousel from six days a week to one.
Shulman said that several people have reached out to him since the letter went out, but he said it was too early in conversations to name them.
While some people might think of the carousel as an amusement ride, he sees it as artwork that he and his wife have gifted to the city.
"We researched, designed and pledged to support the building of the carousel to its completion," he wrote in the letter. "The Massachusetts Cultural Council assisted with a planning grant and contributed to the construction of a building to house the carousel."
"The carousel itself was privately funded through donations, loans and sponsorships. The two of us have also backed the construction of the carousel and the building."
Shulman said he never had asked for funding to build the project, but now, to keep the carousel in the community it was built in, help is needed.
"It's not going to fit in my backyard," he said.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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