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Lisa Thompson: Let’s work now to earn Northampton’s arts reputation

To the editor:

Two important changes are occurring this year within our arts community. We should take note. In fact, we should do more than take note.

Bob Cilman, director of the Northampton Arts Council, is stepping down in September. Concurrently, the Northampton Center for the Arts, a separate entity, is losing its space in the Sullivan Square building this spring with nowhere to go. While neither of these are cataclysmic, they dramatically signify the end of a long period of strong stewardship in the arts. This presents an opportunity for the mayor, City Council and members of city arts organizations to consider changes in the way the cultural arm of Northampton is structured.

The Northampton Arts Council, a city board, does an excellent job of providing grants to artists, creating public art and producing successful arts events such as the Four Sundays in February and Transperformance.

The Northampton Center for the Arts provides affordable space to artists and produces one of the most valued events in the city, First Night. The center is also the fiscal sponsor for Arts Night Out, working closely with other arts organizations to plan the city’s monthly art walk and collaborating with the Northampton Business Improvement District to produce the annual Chalk Art and Ice Art festivals.

We should capitalize on the good foundation these arts leaders and organizations have created in the last 20 years and try to build a new model for the future — a model like those that have strengthened arts and culture in places like Easthampton, Pittsfield, Worcester and Lowell.

Let’s consider a plan to review and consolidate the services for artists and cultural events successfully in place. Instead of having them work independently, competing for sponsors and audience, let’s create an umbrella, a Northampton Office of Arts and Culture, with a strong mission and mandate from the city. Let’s innovate and create new events while holding on to the tried and true. Let’s be worthy of our reputation as one of the strongest arts communities in the region.

It’s all too real that a crisis of space exists for artists in Northampton. Many are going to Easthampton, Holyoke and Greenfield. We need to support our artists and our community by having a coordinated, strong vision and a plan to implement that vision.

Lisa Thompson


Lisa Thompson is associate director of A.P.E. and a board member of the Northampton Community Arts Trust.

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