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Paper’s redesigned pages offer more space to arts

  • CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Jonny Forance in a rehersal for generation IV.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/><br/>Amherst photographer Donald David, 82, was featured in Art People on June 15.

For the past few years, I’ve been the arts editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. It’s a dream job for someone like me who’s been interested in the arts, well, forever. And, in that role, I’ve had the pleasure of leading the newspaper in its coverage of arts-related issues as they arise, as well as the vast array of artistic happenings that take place each and every day here in Hampshire County.

But, as I plan the stories that will appear in our once-a-week Thursday arts section, I’ve been frustrated, more than once, by the worthy topics that I’ve had to set aside for another day, or, sometimes, sadly, ignore altogether. Four or five newspaper pages a week are hardly adequate to cover a region that hosts dozens of weekly theater, dance and musical performances, films, readings of new books by area authors and visual arts exhibits.

So, when, in April, I was asked to take on the role of editor for Hampshire Life that was being revamped as an arts, entertainment and Valley living magazine, I saw my chance to put more well-deserved focus on area artists. In a new magazine feature, Art People, reporters Suzanne Wilson and Steve Pfarrer and I write weekly about what motivates the artists who make their homes in the Valley.

Beginning with our first Art Person, Chuck Stern, a Florence painter, whom Pfarrer wrote about for our launch issue on April 12, to our last of the year, Michael Zide, an Amherst landscape photographer and teacher, also profiled by Pfarrer, we have been able to shine a spotlight on 36 artists, many of whom might not have come to the attention of our readers if not for this feature.

Since April, we have written about painters; fiber artists; musicians; mask, puppet and doll makers; a ukulele aficionado; photographers; singer-songwriters; dancers and choreographers; authors; quilters; poets; a Dadaist; sculptors; and actors. They range in age from 19 year-old Jonny Forance of Southampton, who dances and composes music, to 82-year-old Donald David of Amherst, a retired polymer scientist who has been taking photos as a hobby since first picking up his father’s Eastman Kodak box camera when he was about 9. They live, work, exhibit and perform in towns across the Valley, including Florence, Northfield, South Hadley, Sunderland, Northampton, Shutesbury, Amherst, Hadley, Easthampton, Southampton, Leverett, Conway, Holyoke and Belchertown.

Some are newbies, like 19-year-old Sierra Gamble of Leverett, a triple threat (acting, singing, dancing) who hopes to star on Broadway someday, and 20-year-old singer Susan Dillard of Northampton, who dreams of creating a professional a cappella group, to established artists, like Lorna Ritz, in her mid-60s, who has shown her work frequently in the area, and is a consultant, teacher and lecturer, and Elinor Lipman, 60, an award-winning novelist and essayist, who divides her time between Amherst and New York City.

At the Gazette, we believe that the arts add to the identity, strength and vitality of a community, and each of the creative folks we have featured in Art People in the past eight months has done so, too, as do the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other artists who call the Pioneer Valley home. While we may not be able to get to each and every one of you, we’re not done trying. Look for continuing coverage of local artists in Hampshire Life in the new year, with more weekly Art People features.

Have a suggestion for an Art Person? Contact Kathleen Mellen at kmellen@gazettenet.com.

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