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DownStreet Art Celebrates Turning 10 With A Makeover

The 10th annual DownStreet Art project in North Adams, Massachusetts is in full swing. 

DownStreet Art, run by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, is in its 10th year.

The center’s director, Michelle Daly, says there’s a different mindset for this summer’s projects, performances and mural.

“I am calling it DownStreet Art 2.0. So, for the first nine years it was all about filling vacant storefronts in downtown North Adams,” Daly says.

MCLA President James Birge says the project has made a large impact on the city.

“You know, we are really excited that the research we have been able to do tells us that 63 percent that come to the DownStreet Art events end up spending money on Main Street,” Birge says. “But more so it’s a way to bring campus and community together for all sorts of things: from murals to concerts to painting projects, children’s art activities,” Birge says.

Daly says the good news is, there are far fewer vacant storefronts today.

“But what that has opened up for us is an opportunity to sort of celebrate our local community through culture,” Daly says.

Over the past decade, DownStreet Art has brought 150,000 visitors to downtown North Adams. Daly and Brige agree it has literally changed the face of downtown with colorful murals, and arrows pointing the way to local galleries.

“This might step us kind of into the next decade of programming on Main Street,” Birge says.

Between this year and last, the effort has worked with more than 230 artists.

Daly says she has learned a lot since she took over the project a few years ago.

“People who don’t necessarily identify as creative or artist are really fascinated in the creative process,” Daly says, “sort of, when you see the finished product, and you know, it is really hard to understand what the process was to get there.”

Every Thursday, DownStreet Art will host an event, including selections from the Williams College Museum of Art Reading Room: People’s Library; “kidstops” with family friendly activities; interactive freestyle rap performances by Seth Brown; community tabling; and interactive art projects.

The goal is bringing emerging artists in to show and tell how their work is being arranged, painted or played.

“And that has really been a great way for us to make the arts accessible, and for us to give people an opportunity to try out a new skill, to understand how something is made,” Daly says.

The first week featured performances by Nimble Arts Circus, a Vaudeville-inspired, family-friendly circus show with juggling, aerial dancers and acrobats. There were concerts from the Berkshire Organization for Original Music, or BOOM, including performances by local favorites like Sandy McKnight, Sammy Brown; and Chad Tarves.

Two parklets – temporary parks that exist in parking spaces – opened on both ends of Main Street. And a new multimedia exhibit of works in MCLA’s Gallery 51 called “Cloud Headed Artists” opened to the public. 

“In August, we have an artist who goes by Yu-Baba who’s based in New York City coming and doing a new mural for DownStreet Art,” Daly says.

Yu-Baba is from Belarus. Existing murals around the city include work by Egyptian street artist Alaa Awad, Jarvis Rockwell and Corwin Levi.

“So it will be our third internationally-based mural artist coming to DownStreet Art and creating a mural for our city,” Daly says.

“Imaginarium” will be on the side of the juvenile courthouse building.

DownStreet Art runs until Sept. 28th. Highlights: 

·        In June, 100 Hours in the Woodshed event is back from June 22-26, in the MCLA Design Lab at 49 Main St. A selection of collage works that result from the efforts of 20 participating artists will be on display in the Design Lab beginning on Thursday, June 29. Now in its sixth iteration, 100 Hours in the Woodshed brings together collage artists from around the country to work together in an intensely creative 100-hour period.

·        Katie Hargrave and Brett Hunter will present their “Like Riding a Bicycle” residency project and performance July 24-27. They will collect, archive, and share local knowledge using an interactive installation, on-site interviews, a low-power mobile radio station and a community bike ride.

·        On July 27, Thread Ensemble will perform, with original music created in the moment through the use of listeners’ experiences and improvised music. In MCLA Gallery 51, an opening will be held for “3 Second Stories,” the work of flipbook artist Tom Olson. BOOM Music Stage performers will be The Matchstick Architects and Christine Bile.

·        Aug. 8-14 will feature a community, kid-focused residency with photographer Jamie Diamond. An exhibition of works created during this residency will be on view Aug. 31 through Sept. 30 at 49 Main St. Diamond will also work with student photographers to document everyday people and places that make North Adams unique.

·        On Aug. 31 on the BOOM Music Stage, Craig Hop and Crew and Izzy Heltai ’18 will perform.

·        On Sept 9 and 10, it’s two days of exploration of site-specific performance, dialogue, empathy and community when three artists from throughout the country come to North Adams to perform in various locations throughout the downtown.

·        On Sept. 28, Magic Lantern Theater will perform on the BOOM Music Stage alongside Eight Foot River, Francesca Shanks, and Chad Tarves. There will be a “Marafanyi Meets the Mural” performance on Center Street, as Alaa Awad’s “Justice” mural becomes the catalyst for community collaboration with Marafanyi Drum, Dance and Song.

·        Also on Sept. 28 in MCLA Gallery 51 will be “Yellow Bowl Project” by artist Setsuko Winchester, an exhibition of photography which documents the artists’ journey to 10 World War II Japanese internment camps and the installations of traditional yellow tea bowls she created at each site.

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