Thursday, February 15, 2007

Arts community hosting forum

By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript

Tuesday, February 13
NORTH ADAMS — At one time, immigrants moving into the city could easily be identified by their customs, languages and even appearances. Nowadays, those cultural markers aren't evident in the newest wave of immigrants — artists.

"On some level, we're the new immigrants," artist Jane Hudson said Monday. "Unlike other groups, we don't have identifying qualities. We look like everyone else, but we suffer the same discriminations and the same need for integration into the broader community."

Integration into the broader community, as well as the needs of the arts community, will be the focus of a forum tonight from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Eclipse Mill gallery, 243 Union St. (Route 2).

Hudson, a co-founder of last year's Open Studios, said the forum is a continuation of a public dialogue started at the November meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

"It's open to whomever wants to come out — members of the wider community or those from the arts community and institutions," she said. "It will be interesting to see how many people show up. In November, the forum happened after the monthly business meeting of the coalition, so there were a lot of service agency members present."

Alan Bashevkin, executive director of the coalition, said the arts community is a small society existing inside of a larger one — a gap that needs to be bridged.

"In some sense, they are like the Jewish or the Italian community that is part of its own community at the same time," he said. "We talked about making them part of the broader community and how to make those linkages between their community and ours. We want to try to do the best we can for them. There are many artists who are very new to the community."

Hudson said she hopes some of the subjects discussed will include not only ways to integrate artists into the community, but also ways for them to introduce themselves to the community.

"There's this idea that we might have reached a point where we have enough presence in the local community to have a voice in the city's affairs," she said. "I didn't want to set the agenda. Perhaps there will be discussions about practical issues like health care or about events like Open Studios."

She added, "I feel there is a chasm between the arts community and the rest of the community. People feel ambivalent toward art. On one hand there are people who feel Mass MoCA is excellent, and on the other hand, there are people who don't know or don't care to understand art. But, I think this is true in general, not specific to North Adams."

Hudson said the national interest in art is "not great."

"Maybe more than anything else, we need to persuade people we are just normal folks, instead of the great unwashed, starving artists or the kooky ones," she said. "I feel Open Studios is one way to do that."

In case of snow, the meeting will be rescheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m.