Downstreet Art returns with focus on local art, artists


NORTH ADAMS — "What do you want North Adams to be?"

Michelle Daly, Visual Artist and Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC) Program Coordinator, will ask that question at Downstreet Art on Thursday, June 25, through her ReVision project.

Daly is new to Downstreet art. This is her first year as Program Coordinator since Jonathan Secor, the festival founder and longtime coordinator, left the Berkshires last fall.

Downstreet Art will return with live street performances, pop-up galleries and businesses open late, she said, but with a different aesthetic.

Working with a newly chosen jury to influence shows — with local artists and with organizations like the newly opened Makers Mill and Common Folk Artist Collective, which has moved into its first semi-permanent space for the summer, Downstreet Art seems to have a stronger community focus.

Through the summer, Daly has also planned art shows with community themes. On June 25 she will open "ReVision" at 30 Eagle St.

Daly has patterned the work on "Before I die," a 2011 interactive public art project by Candy Chang, a Taiwanese-American artist from New Orleans. Chang took over the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood and invited people to write in chalk what they wanted to do before they died. After posting her pictures on Facebook, she received hundreds of messages from people who wanted to re-create the wall in their communities, and she encouraged them. More than 1,000 walls have evolved in more than 35 languages and 70 countries, from Kazakhstan to Iraq, Haiti, China, the Ukraine, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Argentina and South Africa.

Daly's project is different. She will ask North Adams visitors and residents what they want North Adams to be. The project will run until Downstreet Art's closing ceremony, Sept. 25, and Daly will document and share the responses through social media before presenting them to the city.

On June 25 Downstreet Art will host its season-opening celebration with two pop-up galleries, six local galleries, two outdoor installations, four participatory art projects and two musical performances. "Belle Machine, from Brattleboro Vermont, will open the evening, and NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest winner Fantastic Negrito will appear as the main act. A Berkshire native, Fantastic Negrito captured NPR judges with a video submission shot from a freight elevator in Oakland, California and beat out nearly 7,000 other submissions with his black roots music, slide guitar, drums, piano.

Secor, founder of BCRC, started Downstreet Art in 2008 as a way to revitalize the North Adams downtown. Pop-up galleries opened in empty storefronts, Daly said, and encouraged audiences flocking to attractions like Mass MoCA to spend time (and money) in local businesses.

This year, under Daly's direction, a new jury will choose artists for popup galleries and street performances. The new jury includes Julia Dixon, the Managing Director Berkshire Creative; Lauren Abman, the Kress Foundation's Interpretive Fellow at Williams College Museum of Art; Melissa Post, the new director of Ferrin Contemporary and Cynthia-Reeves at Independent Art Projects. Daly thought a new jury would help to enact the changes she wanted for Downstreet Art.

"I was interested in getting new curatorial voices into the mix," she said, "and also with focusing on the idea of projects with a community engagement component."

With a new jury and a new coordinator, Downstreet Art has taken on a greater focus on local artists and local art organizations, she said, and a goal of attracting more local residents.

"We really want to capitalize on our local assets," Daly said. "We want to know how to get people in our community to come downtown."

The newly opened Maker's Mill creative space has a similar mission, said chairwoman and book artist Kate Barber. The Maker's Mill hopes to stimulate creative activity on Main Street and to become a community resource.

"Downstreet Art was one of the big driving forces [in our] wanting to open on Main Street," Barber said. "We want to build on what's already here."

They plan to bring the making outside on Thursday by yarn bombing the tree outside their door and inviting others to join in a creative activity like print making.

"Tourists are great for the general economy, but this is a local space," Barber said. "It's important that our community reflect the outside community."

Downstreet Art still wants to bring in artists from outside the community and tourists, Daly said, She hopes the Fantastic Negrito performance will capture Solid Sound enthusiasts.

Fantastic Negrito — Xavier Dphrepaulezz — was born in Great Barrington, one of 14 children, to a Muslim family in the '60s. As a black Muslim in Great Barrington, he said, he felt like an alien.

"It made me stronger and probably more interesting," he said.

In 1979 he moved with his family to Oakland, Calif., where he left home young. He still lives in the Bay Area with his wife and children, is touring the nation with musicians like Mumford and Sons and has recently released a new deluxe EP.

Tonight he will return to Berkshire County for the first time. Downstreet Art seemed like an interesting event, he said, and He is curious to see how Western Massachusetts had changed.

Fantastic Negrito is his third incarnation as a musician. He chose the persona two years ago, he said, after a five-year break from music. It happened one night while he was trying to get his son to bed.

"I'll never forget the day," he said.

He had one guitar at the time, having sold all his other instruments. When goofy faces failed to pacify his son, he pulled out his one guitar and played an open G chord. His son was transformed.

"I was surprised to see his reaction to music," Dphrepaulezz said.

Since then he has decided that "music is the language of humanity."

Inspired by blues artists like Robert Johnson and Fred McDowell, he wants to offer "Black roots music for everyone," he said.

He began by playing in the streets, wanting to bring his music to communities everywhere. Now he'll play on the streets again as part of an effort to rebuild an economically stressed community.

"I want [my children] to be real happy people, people who practice love," he said. "I want all people to be happy, loving people."

Get Down with DownStreet Art

Shows and events at galleries, pop-up spaces, Maker's Mill, Eclipse Mill and more, opening in North Adams on Thursday, June 25 — celebration includes ...

Mountain One Bank Gallery

What: "Semiotic" by Debi Pendell — acrylic drawing, painting, mixed media

Where: 93 Main St.

When: 4 to 5 p.m.

Adams Community Bank Gallery

"This Year's Nature" by Andrew Davis, landscapes the Berkshires

When: 4 to 5 p.m.

Gallery C

Where: 33 Main St.

What: "Into the Valley of Hands" by Joshua Field "Skywalk" by Amherst artist Chris Page, photography and participatory performance from of nature and walking in the open environment "Feverland" by and Karl Frederick, 35 mm slides found in an abandoned house.

When: 6 to 9 p.m.

Neck of the Woods and Commonplace Gallery

What: Assets for Artists, "Convergence" — wood, metal, glass, painting, textiles, and mixed media — and Common Folk Artist Collective "Stained and Blown: A Glass Act" shows

Where: 87 Main Street

When: 6 to 9 p.m.

MCLA Gallery 51

What: Valerie Hird's "Origin of Birds"

Where: 51 Main St.

When: 6 to 9 p.m.

Press Gallery

What: "Manifestos," work from a Revolutionary Press, Angel Bomb, New Lights Press, Harrington and Squires, printer Isaac Wood and Holstee

When: Hours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ferrin Contemporary and Cynthia-Reeves at IAP

What: "Glazed and Diffused" group show of international artists working with fired clay — Raymon Elozua, Peter Christian Johnson, Jun Kaneko, Young Lee, Lauren Mabry, Sara Moorhouse, Ron Nagle, George Ohr, Peter Pincus, Robert Silverman, Linda Sormin, Toshiko; "Collograph Constructions" by Sara Amos, Australian printmaker, on felt

Where: 1345 Mass MoCA Way

When: Opening 4 to 6 p.m., daily hours noon to 7 p.m.

Berkshire Art Museum (formerly the Rudd Art Museum)

What: "That 70's Show," 15 regional artists from the the 1970s

Where: 1 59 East Main St.

When: 6 to 9 p.m.

Martha Flood Design Studio and Fabric Gallery

Where: 38 Eagle St.

What: "The Woodland Collection" custom fabrics, digital accordion to celebrate her gallery's fifth anniversary.

What: Michael Chapman stuffed bear installation with an elaborate backstory

Where: 109 Main St.

Liminal Chimes

Where: Hoosac Park at the Corner of Main & Ashland


Where: 30 Eagle St. Michelle Daly asks North Adams residents what they want their town to be.


What: Belle Machine, from Brattleboro Vermont.

When: 6:45 p.m.

What: Fantastic Negrito, from Oakland California.

When: 8 p.m.

Where: Main Street

After Party

Luke Tobin, a local student at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Smash Frequency, a team of two local DJs, Elixer and Iamsam.

Where: Berkshire Bank

When: 9 to 11 p.m.


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