Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Amazing and Unpredictable Storefront Artist Project by Peter Dudek

Pittsfield has always been active in supporting the development of local artists. From the legendary days of Bob Boland and Julio Granda at Berkshire Community College to the fresh emergence of a new wave of artists and activists now filling downtown storefronts, a history of producing and attracting area artists is elemental to Pittsfield. Throughout the years many of these artists have taken on the roles of cultural developers and community builders. At the heart of this present day and edifying refinement is the Storefront Artist Project.

Thanks to the Storefront we are finding that empty, raw, commercial spaces, spaces with funky carpeting, worn linoleum, stray pigeons and florescent lighting have taken on an enriching and civilizing patina. Installations, paintings, sculptures, works in progress and an assortment of inscrutable bits and pieces inhabit and flourish in these environs. Temporary and transitory studio/exhibition spaces spring up, show themselves to the public and disappear. Each replaced by another artist, gallery, event or enterprise. Change is the constant. Local and indigenous writers, filmmakers, musicians and visual artists have come together with folks hailing from the outer territories, artists themselves who have been drawn to this inventive mix, resulting in an unprecedented and savory mélange. Here we find the wispy off-shaped canvases of Gail Downey, the elevated sounds of Hector on Stilts, the skillful paper and wood geometries of Eric Drury, the scrap heap accretions of Phylene Amuso, the self-taught figuration of Paul Graubard and the tap dancing dervish Stephanie Weber.

All this and more in Pittsfield, Pittsfield the city located at the geographical midpoint of the Berkshires. Pittsfield, the city that holds claim to and lights up the nighttime sky of the Berkshires. Pittsfield, the city that (according to Douglass Truth) in a bold and stunning move asked the General Electric Company to leave in order to make room for and position itself in the new economy of the 21st Century, an economy that has a multi-faceted artistic/cultural compendium as its cornerstone.

Theatre and cinema are reestablishing themselves along North Street bringing with them other businesses and a wider audience. The Storefront, initially focused on North Street, has spread throughout the arteries of downtown Pittsfield into new neighborhoods and buildings. The ground floor of 124 Fenn Street now accommodates its home base, providing an office area and project space. Invariably at the core of the Storefront is Maggie Mailer, artist, founder, guiding spirit and lightning rod. Possessing the necessary character and chutzpah required to envision and realize this project Maggie has been able to negotiate the codependent relationship of artists and real estate. Through the Storefront she has fashioned a mutually beneficial, symbiotic arrangement in which artists, property owners and the public reap benefits. Art is made, space is used, the downtown more active.

Because of all this the Storefront is positioned to take its place in the “cultural corridor” that is forming between New York City and Bennington, Vermont. The Storefront, matchless in its use of inner city space and publicly accessible art can now be added to a roster that includes Storm King, Dia Beacon, Art Omi, Berkshire Museum, MassMoca, Williams College Museum, Clark Art Institute; along with the Berkshire Artisans and galleries elsewhere, all having played an instinctive role in lengthening, widening and establishing this north/south passageway of the culture trade.