Franklin County’s already vibrant creative economy is getting a big boost thanks to Fostering Art and Culture Projects supported by federal and state funding. The Fostering Art and Culture Project (FACP) recognizes that art and culture enhance the lives of all area residents and visitors and supports the work of area artists, non-profit art organizations, and art-related businesses. After doing behind-the-scenes work for a few years gathering information about the local creative economy, FACP is this year sponsoring five pilot projects across the county, updating its website, and conducting research into the many formal and informal ways that artists in the county support themselves and each other. The funding comes from two congressionally-directed federal sources, thanks to the work of Congressman John W. Olver (D-Amherst) – $167,000 from the US Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) to support marketing projects, and $30,000 from the US Department of Transportation Massachusetts Regional Traveler Information Center (RTIC) to support website enhancement – and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Adams Grant for $48,000 to support implementation of the pilot projects.
FACP has hired several experienced area professionals to implement its projects. FACP’s staff includes: Project Coordinator Becky George who focuses on networking and organizing events, Lisa Davol whose work focuses on website development and producing a newsletter, and Amy Shapiro who manages the evaluation of the Partnership’s projects. In addition, Leo Hwang-Carlos from Greenfield Community College continues as the project chair, and Chris Pappas from Open the Door marketing has been retained as a consultant. Each of the staff bring extensive skills and vision from their work with Franklin County organizations. Becky George is the Greenfield Business Association Coordinator and Marketing & Membership Director for Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, Lisa Davol is the director of the Turners Falls RiverCulture Project, and Amy Shapiro is the Business Assistance Director of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation. Leo Hwang-Carlos is the Associate Dean of Humanities at GCC, and is integrating research into the creative economy of Franklin County into his doctoral work at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The FACP partners include area artists, Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC), Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and Greenfield Business Association (FCCC), Greenfield Community College (GCC), Turners Falls RiverCulture, the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association (SFABA), Double Edge Theater, and The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. Working together, the Partnership’s goals are to:
- Increase artists’ capacity to engage in commerce, and thereby foster and grow the creative economy
- Increase cultural tourism to the region
- Promote in the wider community the centrality of art and expression in our lives.
Leo Hwang-Carlos, Associate Dean of Humanities at Greenfield Community College said, “As an educator, I am always thinking of future generations. It is hard to conceive of possibilities if you have not been exposed to them. We want to make sure we can foster a continuing lineage of people engaged in a creative lifestyle. That is part of Franklin County’s heritage. Building stone walls, writing poetry, theatre, painting. If we don’t actively support and expose people to what’s possible, we can lose that. Franklin County’s artists and craftspeople and creative energy are one of the region’s greatest assets. The Fostering Art and Culture Project is working to value and strengthen that.”
The pilot projects, each based in one of five “cultural hubs” in the county, showcase Franklin County’s fine art, food, crafts, agriculture, creativity, chutzpah, community know-how, and flair for drama.
The projects include:
- ART and LOCAL FOOD at the Old Deerfield Craft Fairs, Deerfield, September 18 & 19. This year’s Fairs include a special collaborative booth space where farmers and local food producers can showcase their products and test the craft market for their goods. Visitors can bring home a taste of Franklin County to their own communities!
- The Brick + Mortar International Video Art Festival, Greenfield, October 9. The 2nd annual Brick + Mortar International Video Art Festival will present cutting edge video art works from around the world in Greenfield. The downtown is transformed into a video art district with a selection of contemporary video art exhibitions scattered throughout a variety of buildings.
- Confluence: A Juried Art Show, Turners Falls, October 1-31. Confluence is a juried fine art exhibition showcasing the high caliber of local artists’ work. The Hallmark Gallery is hosting this gathering of Franklin County-based fine artists working in drawing, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and video art.
- The Rural Initiative, Double Edge Theater, Ashfield. Double Edge Theater seeks to diversify and deepen their audience’s experience of the western edge of Franklin County. The project will highlight the unique symbiotic relationship of theatre, art, local culture, eco/agro producers. Double Edge Theater will develop an Arts and Culture trail of regional locales and activities, with itineraries designed for an afternoon, a day, or several days. These cultural trails will be available at local arts, eco-tourism, agro-tourism, hospitality, farming, and crafts venues as well as the local chamber of commerce. Gift bags and baskets promoting the cultural trail will be created that feature goods from area agro- and arts-business, such as local produce, tickets to theatre, homemade artisan foods. Double Edge will implement the cultural trails promotion on the FACP website, connecting customized itineraries and special packages for the region.
- Pioneer Pathways, North Quabbin Woods, Orange. The North Quabbin Woods Visitor Center and Local Artisan Gift Shop features the work of 45 artisans, primarily from the North Quabbin. The core of the effort is for economic revitalization of the North Quabbin region in industries that complement more than 100,000 acres of conservation land, primarily through the promotion of eco-tourism, local artisans, and arts and culture. FACP is supporting extending North Quabbin Woods’ (NQW) visibility by supporting web design to link countywide promotional materials with NQW, and by providing NQW with updated arts-based, theme/niche-based itineraries (green tourism, GLBT, agro-tourism, open studio days, etc.) that are connected to related activities throughout greater Franklin County. Print materials promoting arts-related activities throughout the region will be featured in the North Quabbin Woods’ visitor information area and transparent links between FACP and NQW web resources will be utilized.
Commenting on the origin of the pilot projects, GCC Associate Dean of Humanities Leo Hwang-Carlos said, “The pilot projects are meant to be like the demonstration farms created during the New Deal. Those farms were an opportunity to show farmers what could be possible with their farms. Similarly, these pilot projects are models of ways artists and arts organizations can enhance their ability to sustain themselves. ”
FACP Project Coordinator Becky George said, “The artistry and culture in Franklin County are a large part of what makes this area so special. We hope the pilot projects will both remind those of us who live here and visitors about all that is going on across the county, and will help the many talented artists and artisans in our area be able to keep doing what they’re doing. We also hope that the pilot projects will spark other similar and different creative endeavors.”
FACP’s website, www.fosteringartandculture.org, is a valuable resource for artists, arts organizations, and everyone interested in art and culture in Franklin County. The website features information about the pilot projects, profiles of area artists and organizations, an “Artist Index,” arts and culture itineraries (or “Joy Rides”). Also in the works is a regional events calendar. The Artist Index is a database of information that allows Franklin County artists to list information about themselves and anyone to search for artists based on artistic medium and geographic location. To create an accurate database of all the talent in Franklin County, all local artists are encouraged to register – from those whose art must be secondary to their full-time job to those who have made art their full-time work. There is so much to be learned from the connections made from all angles of artistry.
FACP communications staff person Lisa Davol said, “We hope the FACP website will be a useful tool for artists to connect with each other and, more broadly, to promote the vibrancy that art and culture bring to our community. Cultural events that capitalize on what is unique about the community draw people in-businesses in vibrant/connected communities do well. Culture encompasses not just art, but also recreation, history, natural history, agricultural history. All of these are vital parts of the fabric of the community.”
The FACP research project is a participatory action research project with artists and artisans of Franklin County. The artists and artisans will conduct research of their peers to learn what economic practices they are engaged in, both visible and invisible, formal and informal. Practices that are unique and innovative will be shared with others across the county. The goals of the research project are to discover what innovative economic practices of area artists are, and to help Franklin County rewrite the narrative of what is possible in Franklin County, to say “look at what we can do here.” Information sessions for artists and artisans will be held in late August and researchers will be recruited and trained in September. The research project is coordinated by Leo Hwang-Carlos, Associate Dean of Humanities at Greenfield Community College and sociologist Abby Templer of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They are drawing on the research of Professor Julie Graham who did similar research ten years ago in the broader Pioneer Valley.
Leo Hwang-Carlos said, “Core to GCC’s mission is helping the community envision what the community wants to be, and then helping make that vision possible. The ultimate goal of any economy is to improve the quality of life of people and their environment. GCC and the FACP are working to help people in the community have the quality of life they want, and to be able to pursue and express themselves creatively.”