A burst of arts activity: Easthampton to host two arts festivals over Memorial Day weekend

  • Mary Witt, left, Evelyn Harris and Ellen Cogen will lead a gospel music singalong at the Wild & Precious Arts Festival. CONTRIBUTEDJULIAN PARKER-BURNS

  • Seminal rocker and singer June Millington will be part of a songwriters’ performance at the Wild & Precious Arts Festival. Wild & Precious Arts Festival

  • Holyoke painter and illustrator Lyn Horan is one of close to 40 women artists whose work will be exhibited in the Wild & Precious Arts Festival. Image courtesy Wild & Precious Arts Festival

  • Michayla Scully and her father, Michael Scully, star in the film they made together, “Montauk77,” which plays at the Easthampton Film Festival. CONTRIBUTED/CHRIS FERRY

  • A scene from “Candy Cakes,” a short movie that’s part of the Easthampton Film Festival. Image courtesy Chris Ferry

  • That doesn’t taste good: a scene from “the Answer,” a short film that will screen at the Easthampton Film Festival. Image courtesy Chris Ferry

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2022 5:52:28 PM
Modified: 5/20/2022 5:50:44 PM

Easthampton’s busy arts scene has gotten even busier over the last few months, as the city’s monthly Art Walk returned after a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Marigold Theater opened in a space that had most recently housed a tattoo parlor, and work began on turning the upper floor of Old Town Hall into a new performance venue.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the city will offer another burst of arts activity with two separate events. The Wild & Precious Arts Festival will feature music, visual art and more by female artists 50 years old and up, while the Easthmpton Film Festival will offer a range of dramas, documentaries and short films in several locations — the first time the city has staged a film festival.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap.

Wild & Precious Arts Festival, May 27-28 — As Ellen Cogen sees it, female artists in a number of fields often face challenges as they age, given how much scrutiny they can undergo for their looks. Opportunities to showcase their work can diminish, she notes, even as the actual art that older women produce “becomes stronger and more confident.”

That’s what prompted Cogen, a jazz pianist and singer who teaches music at Holyoke Community College, to begin thinking of organizing an event dedicated to older female artists. She started discussing the idea with friends about a year ago, and now, with support from a number of people, in particular from Burns Maxe y at CitySpace, the nonprofit group that manages Easthampton’s Old Town Hall, the festival has taken shape, with nearly a dozen events in eight venues.

“Without this becoming a political statement, the idea is to shine a light on what women artists can do and the pressure they can face concerning their looks,” said Cogen, who also directs the music programs at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. “I know I felt that pressure as a jazz singer when I was younger.

“But as a woman and an older artist, I think you feel the freedom to do whatever you want,” she said.

The Wild & Precious Arts Festival kicks off Friday, May 27 from 4 to 6 p.m. with an opening reception at Big Red Frame/the Elusie Gallery, where work from close to 40 female visual artists, mostly from the region, will be exhibited; the Bel Canto Chamber Players, a string quartet, will perform at the site.

And that evening at 7:30, the “Sensational at 70+ Cabaret,” held in the Blue Room at Old Town Hall, will showcase female artists still going strong after seven-plus decades, with 80-year-old tap dancers and, according to program notes, “a retired policewoman who just happens to be a former Ms. Senior Massachusetts.” Cogen will provide piano accompaniment.

Most events take place Saturday, May 28, and they include an origami and poetry workshop, a dance performance, a gospel music singalong, Afro-Cuban drumming and singing, and a songwriter’s showcase at Luthier’s Co-op including local favorites June Millington and Narissa Nields.

The festival wraps up with a 7:30-10:30 p.m. performance at the Marigold Theater by the Wild & Precious band, led by Mary Witt, the longtime O-Tones singer and a key co-organizer of the festival.

Cogen says about 60 female artists are involved in the festival, which she stresses “is for everyone, for all ages and genders. We think everyone can appreciate what we’ve put together.”

Visit wildpreciousartsfestival.com for more information and to preregister for a couple of events; most are free, though two require tickets (for $10).


Easthampton Film Festival, May 26-29 — When actor and film producer Chris Ferry moved with his family to Easthampton from New York City in 2020, he was struck by this smaller city’s artistic vibe and wondered what he might be able to contribute to it.

Two years later, Ferry, who’s known for his work in the 2006 thriller “Salvage” and 2009 comedy “London Betty,” as well as work on several independent films and film festivals, has answered that question: He’s organized Easthampton’s first film fest.

“I saw that Northampton had had a film festival in the past, so I thought ‘Why not try to do something here?’ ” Ferry said. “The idea was to keep it small, see how it goes, and build on that.”

The Easthampton event features 33 films in four different venues (most of these are short films, ranging from 15 to 20 minutes), and though many of the movies are by regional filmmakers, some are from further afield, including overseas. Ferry used a digital platform, FilmFreeway, to view independent films and to seek submissions for his festival.

The Easthampton event begins May 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Abandoned Building Brewery with four 30-minute documentaries covering an eclectic list of topics: an effort to revive an historic brewery in Lapland; an exploration of Syria’s civil war; a portrait of a mural painter battling multiple sclerosis; and a look at the debate over arming public school teachers. (That last film, “G is for Gun,” is co-directed and produced by Valley filmmaker Julie Akeret.)

Short film screenings covering varied topics take place in two locales — the Marigold Theater and Luthiers’ Co-op — on May 28-29, respectively. A series of horror shorts May 27 is sold out.

Ferry says he’s especially enthused about three feature films that will screen May 28-29 at the Marigold, in part because directors, actors and others involved in those movies will be in attendance and take part in post-film discussions with audience members.

“That brings another dimension to the experience, to hear how these films came together,” Ferry said.

In “Montauk77,” for instance, the two principal actors are the film’s director, Michael Scully, and Scully’s teenage daughter, Michayla, who wrote the script with him. In the film, which won several awards at the 2021 New York Long Island Film Festival, Michael Scully plays a down-on-his-luck ride-share driver whose latest client is a snarky teenage girl, Liz, who wants to go to the eastern end of Long Island with her mother’s ashes — but who may have an ulterior motive for the ride.

“They wrote and made the movie together, and I think it would be fascinating to hear about that,” Ferry said.

Another feature, “Just Say Goodbye” by Valley filmmaker Matt Walting, explores the relationship between teenage Jesse, a troubled kid who’s enduring abuse by his alcoholic father and a high school bully, and his best friend, Sarah. When Jesse tells her he’s contemplating suicide, Sarah must make some fateful decisions about how she might save her friend’s life.

Tickets for all films or film series are $5 and can be purchased at easthamptonfilmfestival.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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