Breakfast with The Eagle

Lucie Castaldo tackles access to the arts over hash

IS183, Art School of the Berkshires Executive Director Lucie Castaldo took over the helm of the organization, officially, in January 2018.
IS183, Art School of the Berkshires Executive Director Lucie Castaldo took over the helm of the organization, officially, in January 2018.

PITTSFIELD — A teal and red structure amid more muted tones, Misty Moonlight Diner is hard to miss along Dalton Avenue. The Pittsfield restaurant's interior offers a similarly eye-catching palette, one that appeals to IS183, Art School of the Berkshires Executive Director Lucie Castaldo.

"I'm going to be such an art person right now and say I love the colors in this place," Castaldo said shortly before ordering homemade corned beef hash with a scrambled egg and rye toast on Monday morning.

Part of Castaldo's job is to ensure that those visiting Race Brook Lodge on Saturday, April 27, have the same reaction to its spaces. IS183 is holding its annual fundraising gala at the Sheffield venue that night, so Castaldo and company have been at work planning and building the installations now expected at one of the Berkshires' most anticipated yearly parties. This year, the event is called "La Belle PUNK."

"It's based on 'La Belle poque,' which was the time when all the artists were hanging out in Paris [before World War I]," Castaldo said. " ... There's going to be a lot of plays on those different artists, but then, of course, with a twist, because we always have to do a twist."

The twist is a nod to 1970s punk culture. As for the French part of the theme, Race Brook Lodge inspired it, according to Castaldo. She recently dined at its restaurant, The Stagecoach Tavern. The bar there immediately evoked douard Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Berg re."

"It's the bar," she said.

On the 27th, dinner will begin at 6 p.m. in the tavern, with dancing set to commence at 7 p.m. in the barn. An after-party is slated for 11 p.m. in the Down County Social Club's speakeasy-like space. The entire Race Brook complex conjured a different time and place for Castaldo.

"It has that bohemian Paris feel," she said.

The night benefits the Stockbridge art school, which encourages "people of all ages, means, and skill levels to enrich their lives through hands-on experience in the visual arts," according to the nonprofit's website. Those experiences are vast; courses starting in May, for instance, include topics in pottery, photography, collage, figure painting and welding.

Castaldo's ties to the school date back to her childhood. The Chatham, N.Y., native attended a summer art camp there when she was 3. Her first teacher was Karen Arp-Sandel, with whom she recently visited Rishikesh, India.

"She's amazing," Castaldo said.

The 28-year-old's parents were perhaps most responsible for her early development as an artist, though. Recognizing that their daughter loved art, Nancy and Dean Castaldo enrolled Lucie in an art-focused preschool and took her to numerous museums.

"I used to cry leaving museums all the time when I was a kid because there was never enough time. My parents would literally be dragging me out of museums," Castaldo said, noting that the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown was one of them.

Castaldo knew that she wanted to study art history in college, so her admissions essay focused on the importance of accessibility to art and its institutions.

"I never once went into a museum and thought what I was seeing was not meant for me and that that wasn't obtainable in the future," she said, "and I know that is not the case for most people."

At IS183, the Mount Holyoke College graduate has made accessibility a point of emphasis. An upcoming pilot mentoring program, for example, will pair 30 Pittsfield eighth graders with Berkshire artists. Student and mentor will meet once a month to engage in an artistic activity together.

"It might be going to Mass MoCA. It might be going to a gallery, making art in the artist's studio, helping with an installation," Castaldo said.

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For years, the nonprofit's Learning Through Arts (LTA) program at local schools has spurred students from a variety of backgrounds to explore their creativity in the classroom through various mediums and techniques. Castaldo helped write that curriculum before she assumed her current executive director position in January 2018. (Castaldo served as interim executive director for five months after Hope Sullivan's departure.)

Recently, the organization held its first LTA family night at Silvio O. Conte Community School in Pittsfield, urging parents who might usually downplay their own skills to partake in art-making. Over the course of an hour, the adults finished pieces and hung them in a gallery. Enthusiasm was high.

"The desire's definitely there," Castaldo said.

In Stockbridge, Castaldo led efforts to make the school's studio spaces light-filled. Providing easy access to materials was also essential.

"A lot of our stuff in the studios had kind of just been shoved in cabinets and opaque Tupperware and not labeled and not visible, so we really embraced the tidying up Marie Kondo [trend]," Castaldo said.

Still, the programs in Stockbridge aren't as accessible as Castaldo would like. Transportation is one issue; timing is another.

"If we're only providing a handbuilding class at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, we're hand-selecting who can come. It's not intentional, obviously. But it is what it is," she said.

The biggest barrier, however, is systemic: Who feels comfortable walking into an art studio?

"Historically, it's a very white, middle-class — not middle-class — even upper-class [person]," Castaldo said.

To combat inaccessibility, the organization is considering different transportation options, she said. Future schedules will include more night and weekend sessions to appeal to millennial professionals.

Castaldo is a young artist herself. The 28-year-old Pittsfield resident recently had photography on display in the 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival and a cut-paper piece in the "30under30:3" show at No. 6 Depot Roastery in West Stockbridge. With her hands-on leadership role at IS183, Castaldo doesn't have as much time to create as she once did.

"I'm definitely making less," she said.

In her rare free time, Castaldo also enjoys dancing, hiking and visiting Pittsfield's lakes. This summer, she's looking forward to watching 4th of July fireworks and IS183's partnership with the Tanglewood Learning Institute. "Focal Point" features Saturday classes with faculty artists in photography, painting and drawing over an eight-week span.

"We're going to be exploring the Tanglewood campus, looking at architecture, design and landscape, primarily," Castaldo said.

While there's a lot to see in the Berkshires, Castaldo knows that IS183 provides unique educational studio opportunities for locals. Ultimately, she hopes the organization will serve a broader purpose.

"I want to see us being the epicenter for making art and artists in the Berkshires. I would like our website to be the place that every artist knows to go to to find out where there [are] ... shows or exhibition opportunities or residency opportunities, even if they're not with us," she said. "I believe our job is to support our artistic community in helping our artists stay here and make a living and nurturing new artists to blossom into following the same path."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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