Former sociology professor Maynard Seider will premiere his documentary, “Farewell to Factory Towns?” on Tuesday, April 17 in Murdock 218. The event is free and open to the public, and is co-sponsored by Freel Library. Those attending are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to help fight hunger in Berkshire County.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, to be moderated by local historian Stewart Burns. The panel will include Anne French, service learning coordinator at Drury High School, business professor Nancy Ovitsky, and MCLA alum Gail Bobin (’98) who has worked in a number of Berkshire County factories. Live music will be performed at the screening by Lanesboro-based folk group Wintergreen.
The documentary was edited by MCLA alum Zeke Meginsky (’09) and narrated by Court Dorsey. It was filmed by Meginsky, MCLA Television Studio Manager Peter Gentile, and English/communications professor Michael Birch.
Seider said the documentary focuses on the city of North Adams, which has moved from an industrial economy to post-industrial. It once boasted a thriving textile industry, and for much of the twentieth century, North Adams was home to Sprague Electric Company. By 1966, Sprague employed over 4,000 workers in the city of 18,000, making it a city inside a city. But competition from overseas led to declining sales, and the company closed in 1985.
Seider began working at the College in 1978, when Sprague was still operational. “I’ve always been interested in labor, and the sociology of work,” he said. This sparked his interest in the transition occurring in the city.
In 1995, Seider worked with others to put on a play titled “The Sprague Years,” which covered the history of industry and labor relations in the city. The play ended with MoCA’s opening on the horizon, Seider said. “It also asked an important question: ‘Can art save North Adams?’”
Seider says much of the documentary is dedicated to capturing the “local energy” of the city, saying North Adams is important to people who live there. “People have a real sense of place,” he said.
The documentary features interviews with labor activists, artists new to the community, local historians, the last CEO of Sprague Electric, high school students, the mayor of North Adams, and the director of MoCA.
In 1999, the former location of Sprague opened its doors as Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), which is visited by approximately 120,000 people each year. But Seider says MoCA still hasn’t completely solved North Adams’ problems. Many residents live below the poverty line (about 20 percent, according to the 2010 Census). North Adams’ population has also declined – the population has dwindled from 25,000 in 1900 to fewer than 14,000 in 2010.
And while MoCa was originally expected to generate 600 jobs, either directly or indirectly, Seider said only half of that has been created.
“Given the economy, more needs to be done,” Seider said.