In a backwards kind of way, I find myself on track to put an art show up at the Discovery Center’s Great Hall. My plan was to have a long lead time to plan and design a show with artists selected months in advance and time for all of us to think about what we want to say with our art. For myself, I wanted time to go out and take photos and print them, design a collection of work, show it as best I could and include the work of others in the show, not just to fill the space but to share a vision. Perhaps that will all happen organically. I hope so. But time is not what we have. Will it work out? I really don’t know.
On a warm weekend in March, of 2012, some two hundred people came together in Greenfield, Massachusetts to attend the third Creative Economy Summit sponsored by the Franklin County based Fostering the Arts and Culture organization. It is interesting that one of the oft repeated messages that weekend was the value of one great idea. Interesting because the idea behind this year’s summit was in itself brilliant. Bringing artists together with business owners, politicians, community officials, college administrators, anyone who has decisions and power to allocate money, make choices regarding projects, all of them sitting side by side with a chance to see what they could learn from each other and how they could work together to improve their business fortunes and the communities in which they live.
It is now an accepted concept that artists and the arts add substantially to the economic health of a community. The arts also add to the quality of life for the people who live there. So the arts in all forms; theater, music, dance, visual arts, sculpture, pottery, film, all of the many creative ways in which we express ourselves. Greenfield is itself still aspiring to find more significant ways to grow the arts but they have made a good start. And the commitment to work on it is a big part of what will be their substantial contribution in the end to the value of the education and quality of life for its residents. There are financial hurdles. There are physical limitations determined by the design of the town. In many of the towns around Greenfield, there has been more observable progress which is to some extent geography, but also can be attributed to how the people of the community responded to that geography. In other words, what they did with what they had. I love going to Shelburne Falls. The Bridge of Flower, the Potholes, those are real tourist draws that give the town value and income, and allows potters, crafters, gallery owners to flourish due to the foot traffic through town. Still, the Bridge of Flowers was once just a bridge that was being replaced by another bridge, better for the modern world. What the town did with it is what makes it what it is today. Now in Shelburne Falls there are lots of little restaurants and music venues that weren’t there a few years ago, and that is the result of some conscious decisions to build up the community. In Turners Falls, an organization known as Riverculture has brought many wonderful events into being. Alongside that are some wonderful restaurants, such as DiPaolo’s that offers a sophisticated cuisine that draws people from all around the area. The Shea Theater provides local community theater groups a venue for their shows. There is also the Discovery Center, and Riverside Park, all built up in the last several years and offering more opportunities for people to enjoy nature, educational experiences, art exhibits, good bike paths, good food and experiences that will keep them coming back.
So it turns out that one great idea can in fact be many great ideas that together, over time, build a community that benefits everyone. As artists, we have an opportunity here to do great things. I believe in working in collaboration, not competition, because I think if we work together we all succeed. If we work in too much isolation, we suffer for the loneliness of the work and for lack of resources and solutions to the problems we face. The idea of this blog is to find ways to work together to build our lives into what we want not just professionally but also personally. That starving artist living in a garret going slowly mad – that is not what anyone should aspire to. We want good work and good lives. That is what I want for myself, for my friends, family and community. Please come join us in that effort.
The Artists of Franklin County is a non-profit arts organization that supports artists and businesses in building the local creative economy. Our main project over the past several years has been the Artist Window Exhibits (AWE) that gives artists an opportunity to display their work in store windows, primarily in the downtown center of Greenfield, Massachusetts. The idea of showing art in store windows is two fold – to help artists get their work out in public, which gives them a sense of pride in their work and experience preparing artwork for display, and also to improve the atmosphere of the downtown area.
Art contributes to the appearance of a town. It makes people feel good about their community. It shows the people and especially the children the value of art, and inspires creativity. In addition to our AWE project, the town has been the beneficiary of many other art exhibitions, including from local schools, work from other towns throughout Franklin County, groups that have a particular theme or project they are promoting, all offering to display their work throughout Greenfield, in storefronts, in local restaurants, and many other places that once had blank walls. The search for empty spaces in town where art can be hung is now a serious effort that continues all year through. This demonstrates the success of our efforts.
This website is now devoted to continuing that work in an expanding effort to find new ways to serve the arts. Look here for information on places to show your work, for artists to approach for exhibits or to hire for projects that need a creative mind, for opportunities that we can all share to continue the work building the creative economy in Franklin County.