Editorial: Monday mix on vandalized art; high school broadcasters; ‘blizzard bags’

  • This is what is left of “The Queen of Main Street” bronze owl sculpture in downtown Northampton after it was vandalized June 18. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Last week’ s vandalism of the bronze owl sculpture on Main Street in Northampton struck a deep nerve in a community that values public art in many forms. The attack left an emotional scar as well as physical damage to a memorial for Eva Trager and others who helped revitalize downtown.

Police have not made an arrest since receiving a report about 9:45 p.m. June 18 that a man had been seen pushing over the owl sculpture and then getting into a vehicle. The owl was broken off the perch at its legs.

“The Queen of Main Street” sculpture was dedicated Sept. 14, 2012, the first anniversary of Trager’s death, on the sidewalk in front of 153 Main St. where she opened the Country Comfort clothing store in 1972.

Plaques bearing the names of Trager and others whose vision helped improve downtown are on the memorial crafted by sculptor Gregory Stone, who died last September. At its dedication, Stone said Trager inspired him to choose the subject of his sculpture: “To me the owl is like life, spirit, kind of tenacious, feisty — and Eva was like that.”

Judith Fine, former owner of Gazebo on Center Street and a member of the memorial committee, says, “An owl was chosen because of the symbolism of the wisdom of the owl. I think it’s not so fitting necessarily (just) for Eva, but for all of downtown.”

More than $20,000 was raised from local businesses and individuals for the memorial, and the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce worked with city officials to have it installed on Main Street.

Suzanne Beck, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said last week that the cost of repairs was still being assessed. The memorial committee is scheduled to meet this week to discuss how to proceed with the sculpture’s restoration.

Meanwhile, the vandal left an open wound felt by many who surely share Fine’s outrage: “I’m pissed. Where is the joy of destroying art? What was he thinking? There aren’t words to tell you how much it pisses me off.” ​

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Congratulations to the prize-winning student television broadcasters and their adviser at Northampton High School who during the past year reported on local events and rubbed elbows with the national media at a Donald Trump campaign rally in New Hampshire.

The team that produced “The Transcript” was led by just-graduated senior Joe Marks and rising senior Elena Frogameni, and advised by Jeromie Whalen who teaches classes in photography and videography. “To channel something that benefited the community in a real way — that was really important,” says Marks, who will study communications at the University of Texas.

The weekly news coverage and documentaries aired on the high school technology department’s website and Northampton Community Television. The subjects ranged from high school sports to political coverage, including the Trump rally and an interview with Jill Stein.

“The Transcript” was rewarded with a C-SPAN Student Cam Award, New England Scholastic Gold Key and nominations for three regional student production awards. We’re confident that is an incentive for continued high-quality broadcast work by NHS students.

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Gateway Regional is one of a handful of school districts in Massachusetts that have found an effective way to reduce the number of school days lost to snowstorms — “blizzard bags.” The bags carry preplanned assignments for students to work on at home when a snow day is expected.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has issued guidelines for the at-home alternative to make sure it “meets the standard for structured learning time and that the assignments and/or projects are substantial.” Students are given a week to complete the assignments, which count for a day of attendance.

Gateway used the “blizzard bags” five times during the past academic year, which meant only three snow days had to be made up in June. Gateway Superintendent David Hopson says he much prefers that alternative to keeping students in school during the early days of summer. “If you can get this done during the school year, it’s really a decent educational choice for kids.”

We agree and encourage other rural school districts to consider adding “blizzard bags” to their educational toolkits.