Downstreet Art introduces 2012 mural project

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DSA to design murals on walls around North Adams as part of their Last Thursday events throughout the summer and to increase North Adams tourism

DownStreet Art - Photo: Valeria FedericiTo help transform North Adams from a mill town to a cultural and artistic tourist destination, DownStreet Art (DSA) will design four to five outdoor murals this summer.

“We want to change the face of the city,” Valeria Federici, program coordinator of the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC) said.

The mural project is a result of DSA wanting to incorporate their goals of expressing local art and changing the face of North Adams. Instead of having art inside the galleries, artists will turn the city into their canvas. The project is the first outdoor art initiative ever in North Adams. The galleries will be kept alive with various performances and artists on top of the mural revealing.

DSA began five years ago as a means for local artists, galleries, and curators to come together and coordinate their marketing and promotional efforts. Its season will begin with a kick-off party on June 28, and will go until Oct. 25.

This summer, DSA will hold five “DownStreet Art Thursdays” on June 28, July 26, Aug. 30, Sept. 27 and Oct. 25. On these days all of the galleries associated with DSA will have exhibit showings as well as live performances.

“People visit Mass MoCA, get in their cars, and leave,” Federici explained. Tapping into the tourism that is already drawn into the city from Mass MoCA, DSA strives to get MoCA patrons to stay and walk around Main Street to enjoy the city itself.

In past years, DSA has added footprints stenciled into the sidewalks and other signage to market Main Street’s galleries to MoCA patrons. The murals will serve as this year’s advertisement for the group. The proposed mural locations are designed to surround the downtown area in art.

In 2011, BCRC organized an open call for artists and created 20 exhibits for the summer from the open call alone. Thus far, the 2012 open call has been just as successful with new artists expressing interest daily.

“We wanted to give all artists a chance so we did an open call instead of just commissioning the murals,” Federici said.

For the artists, outdoor art can present different challenges and advantages other than the obvious scale of being able to design an entire wall instead of the inside of a gallery. The pieces will also have a large audience, including residents of North Adams, students and parents visiting the College, as well as the thousands of people a year who come to the Berkshires to visit Mass MoCA.

The murals will open over the summer on the last Thursday of each month starting in June and ending in October. Two of the openings will happen while MCLA students are back for their fall semester. DSA is making an effort to get students more involved at all levels and the two mural openings in the fall will allow students to see the progress of the last two works and see the other finished murals.

“We want to create the feeling that something is happening [in North Adams] again,” Federici said. The artistic revitalization of North Adams should be reflected in more ways than just the galleries, and the mural project is the first time the art will break out into the public eye directly.

The walls DSA has requested for the project from the city are all different dimensions. From smaller walls up to a three-story space have been requested. DSA and the city of North Adams are finalizing the walls before the projects start in June.

The applications will be reviewed by a committee of curators from Williams College, the Clark Institute and other local museums, as well as MCLA DownStreet Art organizers. The committee helps oversee the design of the space, taking into consideration the public nature of the pieces and evaluating what content would be appropriate for each space.

Artists will be notified within three weeks of the application deadline. Selected artists will be required to attend mural openings throughout the summer. The deadline for applications is April 5 and any visual artists interested can find the application at downstreetart.org

by Andrew Hodgson
Staff Writer