Easthampton shows off artistic side for state’s cultural chief

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  • Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt talks with Florence artist Amy Dawn Kotel about her show at the Easthampton City Arts gallery in Old Town Hall during his tour of the city on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Arts Coordinator Pasqualina Azzarello speaks to a group of about 30 people in the gallery at Easthampton's Old Town Hall during a tour by Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt on Friday, May 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • CitySpace board president Burns Maxey leads a tour of Easthampton's Old Town Hall for Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt, far right, and others during his visit to the city on Friday, May 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • CitySpace board president Burns Maxey, right, talks about planned renovations for Easthampton's Old Town Hall while leading a tour for Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt, third from left, and others on Friday, May 6, 2022. Standing with Bobbitt is Rep. Dan Carey. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt, right, talks with Easthampton City Planner Jeff Bagg at Easthampton’s Old Town Hall during Bobbitt’s tour of the city on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jean-Pierre Pasche, owner of Big Red Frame, talks about becoming the first tenant at Easthampton's Old Town Hall about 12 years ago during a tour by Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt on Friday, May 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • CitySpace board president Burns Maxey thanks Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt after his presentation about arts and advocacy at Easthampton's Old Town Hall during his tour of the city on Friday, May 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt applauds members of the arts community as they are called out by CitySpace board president Burns Maxey, top, at Easthampton's Old Town Hall during his tour of the city on Friday, May 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Florence artist Amy Dawn Kotel, left, speaks with Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael Bobbitt as he visits her show at the Easthampton City Arts gallery in Old Town Hall during his tour of the city on Friday, May 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/11/2022 8:29:38 PM
Modified: 5/11/2022 8:28:00 PM

EASTHAMPTON — While many individuals in the creative sector across the state did their best to financially hang on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Easthampton City Arts took the pause as an opportunity to re-evaluate and develop its cultural center by building up its arts infrastructure and introducing new programming.

To showcase those strides, Easthampton City Arts and CitySpace teamed up and curated a tour on Friday for Michael J. Bobbitt, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Rather than tell the state’s highest ranking cultural official all that the city has to offer, the two art entities decided to show him, and packed as many highlights that the city could offer into one afternoon, said Pasqualina Azzarello, City Arts coordinator.

“We want to share all of the dynamic work being done throughout downtown Easthampton,” said Azzarello. “We crafted this tour as a way to do that — to bring him to where artists are making, to bring him to where arts organizations are collaborating and integrating.”

The traverse around the city included a tour of Eastworks with visits to MAP Space, Easthampton Clay, Easthampton Media, 50 Arrow Gallery, Spot 142, and the artist studios of Kim Carlino and Malaika Ross. Stops along the way also included “Bloom,” the Easthampton Cultural Council’s mural at Easthampton Feed, painted by Priya Nadkarni Green in 2021, and a tour of the Cottage Street Cultural District, with a performance by Pamela Means at Luthier’s Co-op.

The afternoon kicked off with the musical stylings of expansive multimedia artist Diana Alvarez at CitySpace’s Blue Room at Old Town Hall. Alvarez is the recipient of the Easthampton City Arts artist grant and the inaugural studio resident of CitySpace’s new Pay It Forward pilot program, which kicks off this week.

Pay It Forward is a program for artists who live in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties that provides free venue access to CitySpace’s Blue Room, a performance and incubator space. The program offers artists of all kinds short-term residencies and venue access for public performances and events.

Artists also receive a $500 payment for a public performance/event, and will have access to artist-tailored workshops, peer-learning cohorts, or one-on-one coaching to further develop their craft.

Following Alvarez’s performance, CitySpace President Burns Maxey spoke of the upcoming events in the Old Town Hall building, noting that the space is booked solid until August. She also cited the extensive work done to the first floor of the building and how the defining line of where the new work ends is particularly prominent as the color scheme quickly changes to the building’s former combination of maroon and green.

“We’ve recently entered the first phase of restoring our second floor, which is really exciting because this is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, cultural facilities fund,” said Maxey.

Cultural survey

Before the tour kicked off, Bobbitt, who is an award-winning theater director, choreographer and playwright, provided an update on the goings-on at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, where he began his tenure in February 2021.

“Mass Cultural Council’s charge is to bolster the commonwealth’s cultural sector,” said Bobbit. “You all have the power to reflect and project the world through art, with art. What you are and what you do is so precious, it should be cherished, heralded, and from my perspective, extremely well-funded.”

He also shared data from a survey conducted by the state agency that defined “a cultural sector in an economic crisis,” one year into the pandemic.

The survey is the sixth COVID-19 economic impact survey of the cultural sector that the state agency has conducted since the pandemic forced cancellations across the state in March 2020.

He said that a total of 282 cultural organizations across Massachusetts responded to the sixth impact survey, which sought information on the period between March 1, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022.

According to his data, responders reported approximately $192.6 million in lost revenue during that period, with 90% — $172.5 million — of these losses stemming from earned revenue that never materialized.

“It’s clear that while cultural organizations have reopened, audiences have yet to return in large enough numbers for the hosts to rely upon earned revenue to support their work or achieve revenue goals,” said Bobbitt. “Mass Cultural Council’s grant programs and services offer relief and assistance, but the need is always greater than our available resources.”

The Massachusetts Cultural Council has also been charged with granting $60.1 million in one-time state pandemic recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to artists and cultural organizations.

Draft program guidelines are being fine-tuned to go to the agency’s governing council for approval in May and applications will launch by August, said Bobbitt. Organizations and individuals can submit applications.

The council is putting a particular emphasis on granting to those who have never been recipients before.

“Unrestricted funds. Hopefully we’ll be able to give out as many grants as we possibly can,” said Bobbit. “We want to make sure that we’re spreading the wealth.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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