|Public Arts Commission Hopes to Present Master Plan This Spring|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
02:33AM / Tuesday, March 02, 2021
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Arts Commission is hoping to have a master plan draft ready for public comment by April or May at the latest.
"I am going to make some adjustments to placemaking priorities and reformat them to fit into the rest of the document," Chairwoman Anna Farrington said last week. "I'm going to make a final review through the document and identify any other areas where I think we're lacking information. And then perhaps we can review those elements, next time. I think we are very close to having a public give us feedback on the master plan. Maybe if not in March, perhaps we can target the April or May meeting."
The placemaking was one of the last elements and the topic of the first meeting in February when the commission discussed prioritizing where public art worked best: gateways, connection and gathering areas.
The commission received three emails commenting on that section, Farrington reported, and "I got a number of verbal thumbs up on our efforts from a variety of people in the community."
The first said the writer was "impressed and excited" about the master plan but thought the connections areas should be the key priority. "[The] addition of arts related structures and or events in this area would strengthen North Adams identity and contribute to goals of making it a walking friendly city," she said, but thought the western gateway seemed too much a link to Williamstown.
Commissioner Bryan Sapienza agreed that connections were important, saying one of his biggest points is trying to get people from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to the downtown. Commissioner Sarah Sutro said it was hard to prioritize one over the other: "But we could sort of look at them side by side and sort of approach it from lowest hanging fruit, like what's achievable in the soonest closest period of time, and then like a longer term plan."
Commissioner Eric Kerns, however, said as a business owner in the West End where a lot of investment and activity has been happening, it's a "big reminder that North Adams is not only downtown."
"I think that what I'm mostly just responding to is what Bryan just said about this goal of getting people who visit Mass MoCA to go downtown, so I mean that's been a goal for since 1999 ... it's been a difficult thing to do," he said. "We could maybe think about creating things that make people stay longer in North Adams, and explore it, and discover things as opposed to just trying to get them to make a beeline from the Mass MoCA parking lot to downtown where there may or may not be things open. ...
"That's how you get that economic activity ... as opposed to just thinking, getting people physically from Mass MoCA to [Main Street].
Farrington thought it was important to consider the city from the "30,000 foot view" in that downtown is an important connection but there's also limited things downtown for people to do.
"I think that the aspect of the connections category to me that makes it a little more complicated is that it is all the downtown streets and roads and there are limited opportunities where we, as a Public Arts Commission, working specifically with city on properties have any jurisdiction," she said. "I'm beginning to think that perhaps all three of these categories shouldn't be ranked hierarchically, but rather should be equally considered."
The second email was from resident Richard Zona who adamantly opposed gathering spots such as the Armory, Western Gateway Heritage State Park and Windsor Lake as places for public art. He cited the historical nature of the park and Armory, and the natural beauty of the lake as things that should not be diminished artworks, unless they were historically suitable.
"I believe that people should be able to seek out art in its place, and its time at their own choosing," he wrote. "I do not believe that art should be foisted upon people when they are not seeking to experience art."
That brought something of a laugh from the commissioners, whose portfolio is to encourage and aid in the development of public art.
"Our whole raison d'etre is foisting art on people," Farrington said.
But they decided to keep the three spaces on the list but did acknowledge that any placement of art needs to be thoughtful.
"I think that it's part of our job to make sure that art is relevant to that area not put something there that would distract people," Sapienza said. "Windsor Lake, my idea of putting art up there is not to cover up the natural landscape, the natural beauty of the area but to hopefully enhance in some way."
Sutro agreed and pointed out the playground equipment at the lake was itself something like a "gorgeous" sculpture. "We have to be very discriminating in these public places that people already love. I mean Heritage Park is is kind of forgotten place ... ." Kerns picked up on that noting the park is not used much but public art can draw people to an area.
"There's something to be said about inviting a broader spectrum of the public to utilize these public spaces," he said, noting that unless you're involved in kids basketball, you're not at the Armory. "You don't get to utilize the Armory. And your tax money goes and pays to help keep it up and keep it heated and have renovated it right ... those are public spaces that should be inviting. And the point behind public art in many instances, is to create an environment that will then make people want to come there."
A third email from resident Donna Motta offered an out of left field idea inspired by a friend in California who helped design functional spaces -- create small public bathrooms with aesthetics that complemented their placement, such as a contemporary one near MoCA. The commissioners thought it intriguing but far outside their purview considering the public services that would have to be involved and the current COVID-19 situation.
The plan includes an inventory of current public art and will have a section dealing with how expectations for how different types of art will last. Most murals have less than a 10-year life, Farrington said, because they begin to deteriorate. The commission also wants to at least document the artworks put in place prior to its existence.
Once the plan is internally reviewed it will be put of for public input. Farrington said she is working some groups to ensure that it is seen broadly and that underserved populations have a chance to comment.