Shaker Dam Speaker Series brings White House to West Stockbridge

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Kim Hubbard has walked the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and strolled the streets of North Korea. Since April, she has fueled coffee lovers at the helm of Stanmeyer Gallery and Shaker Dam Coffeehouse. Today, she will inaugurate a Speaker Series at the gallery that will bring White House insiders to West Stockbridge.

At 6:30 p.m., photographer Hubbard and writer Richard Stone will share tales of their fascinating and bizarre five-day visit to North Korea for National Geographic, with compelling images of the repressive regime. A reception will follow in the gallery and riverside garden.

A Tennessee native and former Nascar photographer, Hubbard spent two decades as a photo editor at Discover, Audubon (where she photographed the Gulf oil spill) and National Geographic magazines.

"I love science and paleontology, and was talking to the best scientists in the world," she said.

At National Geographic, Hubbard and international photographer John Stanmeyer collaborated on five segments of the "Out of Eden" series, tracing humankind's journey from Africa to the far corners of the world. The project produced his iconic image "Signal," chosen as the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year.

From there chief White House photographer Pete Souza recruited Hubbard for the Obama presidency's final year. "I still can't believe I did that," she said, "it was like a dream come true."

She edited photographs for U.S. and international media and accompanied the president to London. An image of Obama meeting his successor in the Oval Office went global minutes after she released it. "The whole world was waiting on that photo," she recalled.

Through the Speaker Series, Hubbard will share her world view with Berkshire residents and visitors, tapping her expansive Rolodex for speakers from the world of politics, photography, journalism, literature and science.

The first season's speakers include Chuck Kennedy, who traveled with Obama as White House photographer, and Janet Philips, archivist of six presidential administrations (she also distributed cuttings from the storied Oval Office ivy). Science writer Carl Zimmer will demystify heredity from his book "She Has Her Mother's Laugh," while Polly Shulman captivates young adult readers with her award-winning "Grimm Legacy" series. Still to be scheduled is paleontologist Jack Horner.

"I want to bring these amazing characters together and create this place that fosters real and meaningful conversations," Hubbard said.

Her words echo Stanmeyer's intentions when he opened the gallery and coffeehouse in 2013 as a place "where the power of photography and the brilliance of coffee and tea unite for the advancement of social change, education, outreach and liquid illumination."

The space offers organic Counter Culture coffee and In Pursuit of Tea products, and exhibits Stanmeyer's powerful, large scale images alongside artifacts collected on distant travels — Balinese masks, Chinese puppets, and now pots of presidential ivy.

"I've always had a gallery to educate and support the issues I work with in photography," said Stanmeyer via Skype from India as he accompanied a 107-year-old to her remote village for a story on women and the environment. "And I love human rights-based coffee and empowering people who make it."

Combining them was "an act of giving," he said; but with it came added responsibility.

"I was managing it 200 days of the year on the road, doing payroll from [satellite] phones on the front of cars in the middle of nowhere," he said, "ordering gluten-free cookies at 2 in the morning."

A year ago he realized so much more could be done at this "little yellow house on Main Street," once home to the tender of the neighboring dam.

Knowing Hubbard was looking for a change in life, Stanmeyer asked if she was interested in taking over. After visiting, "it felt like the most natural thing in the world," she said.

To prepare, Hubbard took in-depth classes with Counter Culture Coffee.

She plans to expand the year-round talks beyond her contacts, offer photography and coffee workshops, exhibit speakers' work and photography "that might appeal to different people," she said, and one day organize international trips to visit coffee growers.

She wants to create a community of "characters and creative types," a sanctuary to express ideas where people gravitate to "hang out." Recently, she said, BSO musicians met regularly to sip coffee and a composer worked on his music in a corner.

"Kim is growing what I started," said Stanmeyer, "a home for dialogue that moves us forward." While he is still artist-in-residence when he's in town, traveling without the day-to-day responsibility "is a breath of fresh air," he said.

He no longer has to worry about running out of muffins, Hubbard promised.


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