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By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
Posted: 04/15/2013 12:10:35 AM EDT

Monday April 15, 2013

ADAMS — Unifying Northern Berkshire’s cultural, creative arts and tourism organizations could be the key to the region’s survival and future sustainability, according to local arts and cultural advocates.

Establishing an atmosphere of “collaboration and cross-pollination” among those organizations in North County and creating a collective voice to advocate at the state level were the main topics of a MASSCreative discussion Saturday night that drew some 50 individuals.

“We need to look beyond our own boundaries,” said Bill Kolis, a town native and owner of the Old Fire House at 47 Park St., which hosted the discussion. “We have things here that other communities would die for. Will the arts answer every problem? No. It’s not going to replace Sprague or the other big plants that used to be around here, but what it does do is create a quality of life that makes the area attractive to people who do like the arts. And in the age of the Internet, we can reach across mountains a lot easier.”

He stressed that the region can no longer count on support from the state and federal government to sustain these industries, noting sizable cuts made to the Massachusetts Cultural Council and tourism line items in the recently released state House Ways and Means fiscal 2014 budget.

The budget proposal cuts nearly $1.5 million, or 15 percent, from the MCC, reducing its budget to $8.1 million — less than half the funding it had decade ago.

It also reduces funding to regional tourism councils by 60 percent, from $6 million to $2 million.

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams was part of the panel discussion. She said she and the other representatives from the Berkshire Delegation were among the 98 representatives who had signed on to an amendment to restore that funding.

“We have a new chairwoman for the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, [Rep.] Cory Atkins, [D-Concord], who is a very vocal chairwoman. She took the bull by the horns when she saw this shortfall and sent out a call to people on the tourism committee,” she said. “While I’m no longer on that committee, it in no way means that I’m not going to do everything I can to get that additional funding back and make sure that it stays.”

Cariddi added, “Before I came back here on Friday, I had an appointment with House Speaker Robert DeLeo about several issues, including the MCC funding. He said he would continue to work to get that funding back up. I was very encouraged by the speaker, but at the same time, I won’t be letting my guard down.”

She also encouraged individuals to send personal letters and emails to not only the local representatives, but also to those on the joint committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

“No decisions have been made yet,” Cariddi stressed. “The budget still has to come back before the full House. Our version won’t be finalized until the end of the month.”

Besides coming together as a single community, Kolis stressed the need for the town of Adams to finally embrace the cultural economy, noting the various organizations in the town that were participating in the meeting.

“Adams may be one of the last communities to jump on the creative economy bandwagon, but better late than never. I think we’re a mouse that can roar,” he said.

Other concerns and needs identified during the meeting included a desire for “celebratory signage” to direct tourists to destinations and venues in town and finding ways to involve youth in arts-related activities and programming, along with the idea of needing to embrace to region’s industrial past.

Image: The discussion featured, left to right, Bill Kolls Jr, State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and Phil Sellers as speakers. (Sarah Howard/North Adams Transcript)

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