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Grant program aims to put the ‘awesome’ back in downtown Northampton

  • The Downtown Northampton branch of the Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant earlier this year to have this mural painted at its headquarters. Maricella Obando Moya of Greenfield, who is originally from Costa Rica, is pictured in July painting the acrylic mural in the center’s stairwell. The mural will depict the universe, surrounded by the work of the center in English classes, computer literacy, job placement and citizenship services. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The downtown Northampton branch of the Awesome Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant earlier this year to have this mural painted at its headquarters. Maricella Obando Moya of Greenfield, who is originally from Costa Rica, is pictured in July painting the acrylic mural in the center’s stairwell. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The mural will depict the universe, surrounded by the work of the center in English classes, computer literacy, job placement and citizenship services. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



@BeraDunau
Sunday, October 15, 2017

Northampton — There’s no doubt they think downtown Northampton is the jewel of Paradise City, but even a jewel can be a bit more awesome.

And that’s where the fledgling Downtown Northampton branch of the Awesome Foundation comes in. Backed by cash from its 10 members — downtown business owners and other groups — the local chapter of an international organization has this lofty goal in mind: to bring an “artsy, edgy, interesting, different vibe” to downtown.

That’s according to Amy Cahillane, executive director of the Downtown Northampton Association, which is a trustee of the Northampton branch of the Awesome Foundation. The organization does this by awarding money to people and groups who have inspiring ideas to make downtown — you guessed it — awesome.

Cahillane said that the definition of awesome is left purposefully vague and subject to branch interpretation. The group is always looking for proposals to get behind.

“We would just love to get more ideas,” Cahillane said.

The Awesome Foundation is an international organization that seeks to improve quality of life in the communities in which it operates. The local branch started in January.

“Their goal is just to bring more awesome into the world,” said Cahillane.

The Northampton branch is overseen by 10 trustees, all of which are prominent organizations that are active in downtown Northampton, including A2Z Science & Learning Store, Thornes Marketplace and the Hampshire Council of Governments.

The other trustees include the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, Northampton Brewery, Northampton Center for the Arts, Northampton Community Television, Northampton Radio Group and a shared seat for Roberto’s and Sylvester’s restaurants.

Each of the trustees agreed to donate $100 for every month of the year. These donations then enabled the Awesome Foundation to award $1,000 grants for projects and activities in downtown Northampton, or up to $12,000 a year. Grants of $1,000 are what all chapters of the Awesome Foundation give out to promote the cause.

While the trustees can choose to award a grant every month, they are not obligated to do so.

That first Northampton grant was given to the Center for New Americans in March, and it funded a mural in its Gothic Street building that was designed and created by Maricella Obando Moya, a former student at the center.

The other four grants awarded so far for downtown initiative went to New Century Theater in April to present staged readings of plays written by local authors; to Juggling Bards in May to create a juggling group that will be active; to Pencil Bandits in June to oversee events for youth such as a live songwriting contest; and to Pioneer Valley Food Tours in September for guided local food tours.

Cahillane said that the foundation tries to choose projects that wouldn’t happen if it did not get involved, and to support new local ideas and players. All projects must also have an impact on downtown Northampton.

“We want to bring some new voices to downtown,” she said.

“Absolutely,” said Diana Stiles, development associate at the Center for New Americans, when asked if the grant had made the mural possible. “We’re really indebted … to the Awesome Foundation.”

Stiles noted that the center runs on a tight budget, and that it would not have been able to commission the mural without the grant. She also said that the mural has touched everyone who has come into the offices and seen it.

“It’s definitely improved our space,” she said.

Speaking to The Gazette, Maricella Obando Moya said that the mural was a good opportunity to show off her skills as an artist.

Because there have been several months where no grant was given, the branch has a surplus of funds, and Cahillane said that the branch would consider giving out multiple grants in a month.

She also said that all the trustees seem to be on board to continue the program next year, but that it would be nice if the branch could receive more applications. She noted that grants could be given to anyone — nonprofit, business or individual — but that most of the ideas that the group funds have a free component that is open to the public.

Cahillane also said that the grant process is designed to be streamlined, and that there is no follow-up process after the award is given. Projects are also not required to be completed during the month that they are awarded.

“You get the money and you go do the grant,” she said.

The foundation is set to meet and award October’s grant on Oct. 26.

Those who wish to know more can visit the branch’s website, www.awesomefoundation.org/en/chapters/northampton

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazette net.com