Pittsfield plans to bring art to the table with new Mass Cultural Council program

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GILLIAN JONES — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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This story has been updated to include the period of time over which the MCC awarded $289,000 for city programs.

PITTSFIELD — What would it look like if artists were at the table for the city's most transformative decisions?

That's what the Massachusetts Cultural Council is looking to find out with a pilot program in Pittsfield. On Monday the city became one of six in the Commonwealth to sign a "cultural compact" with the two cultural councils in the city — the Pittsfield Cultural Council and the Upstreet Cultural District — as well as the MCC, which committed $10,000 and staff resources to get the conversations started.

The other communities selected were Springfield, Harwich, Lynn, New Bedford and Worcester.

Embedded into the signed compact came three pilot initiatives devised by Mayor Linda Tyer and her administration: to develop an updated inventory of workspaces in the city; to connect an artist with the Morningstar development, in which the former St. Mary's Church has been converted into apartments, for purposes of contributing to its revitalization; and to unite artists and storefronts in the Tyler Street district to implement a stained glass theme within the neighborhood.

The MCC already contributed $289,000 to city programs during the last fiscal year, and it would consider providing additional funding for more formalized projects down the road, said Executive Director Anita Walker.

"We know you'll be coming, asking for funding for more specific projects," she told legislators in the room.

Tyer said the city has already spent significant effort refocusing its commitment to arts and culture, and this contract is a continuation of that work.

"I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished," Tyer said. "Today we are taking it to the next level."

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There's a direct link between the arts and economic development, said Senator Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.

"We know it's a driver," he said. "It has very tangible economic benefits."

Walker said her organization chose six communities it has longstanding relationships with to think more creatively about involving artists in day-to-day problem solving.

What if police officers carried musical instruments instead of guns for a day?

"Imagine walking with flutes and clarinets rather than guns in the holster," Walker said, smiling.

Walker praised Tyer for her ideas and her enthusiasm, noting the prospect of a stained glass district along Tyler Street.

"That is aspirational," Walker said. "That's what visionary leadership looks like."

Tyer said there's room in Pittsfield to connect culture and commercial development.

"We look forward to creating great things together," she said.

Amanda Drane can be reached at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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