Mill Town percolates energy in community

If you’ve shared a hot plate of empanadas with a friend at La Fogata, or come across spoken word and music at Kellogg Park … if you’re walking up North Street in the sun and stop to look at the warm colors in a photo mural … if you’re listening to Whiskey Treaty Roadshow playing roots music live at Bousquet’s Mountain Day, then you’re encountering Mill Town.

You may have touched them directly or indirectly in many places, as you move in and around Pittsfield, whether you knew it or not. In the past eight years, Mill Town Capital and the Mill Town Foundation have worked behind the scenes to reinvigorate the city with local partnerships and sustainable growth, says CEO Tim Burke.

A native of Pittsfield, Burke came home from the biotech industry in Cambridge, Mass., to join Mill Town when the company was formed, and he has seen it grow into a hub of capital investment on one side and a nonprofit foundation on the other.

Musician and vocalist Tendai Muparutsa performs outdoors in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Photo by Lee Elliott

Musician and vocalist Tendai Muparutsa performs outdoors in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation

It began in 2016, when Mill Town founder Dave Mixer, a native of Dalton, returned to the Berkshires after 30 years as an entrepreneur and venture capital investor — he was a founding partner of Columbia Capital, a Washington D.C. firm focused on media and internet infrastructure technology.

In the central Berkshires, Mill Town’s focus has broadened, Burke said, from trails on the High Road with Berkshire Natural Resources Council to educational partnerships. They have reached out to encompass entrepreneurship, affordable housing and revitalizing the downtown.

In some cases, they have offered support to groups serving the local community, like the Berkshire Dream Center, Burke said, and they have restored buildings that house community centers, including La Fogata Colombian restaurant and market and the Tyler Street Lab.

A Berkshire vocalist performs at Bousquet Mountain in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Photo by Lee Elliott

A Berkshire vocalist performs at Bousquet Mountain in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation

They have also grown collaborations with arts and creative places. Gesturing across the slope of Bousquet on a sunny spring morning, Burke was looking ahead to a summer of and community events.

The summer opens downtown, said Andy Wrba, program manager for the Mill Town Foundation, on the nonprofit side. Wrba is known across the Berkshires as a jazz bassist and founder of the Berkshire jazz collective, and a Pittsfield native. This summer he is curating live music at Bousquet and through the center of town.

In June, he said, Berkshire artist Huckleberry Elling will work with students at Morningside School, he said, through the Let It Shine initiative which has brought vivid through Pittsfield. Elling, known for her paintings and textile art and colorful knitted masks, will create four large photo murals with the students, to show at the Pittsfield YMCA.

“It’s a great program,” Wrba said, “in that we didn’t just show up and take pictures — she is getting to know these students. She is talking with them about what community means to them, and how it feels to photographs of themselves as part of a public art project.”

With the Pittsfield schools, they will hold a party in Kellogg park with the Mastheads writers residency program, as awardwinning architect and Pittsfield native Tessa Kelly gathers with students and families to celebrate this spring’s Fireside poetry workshops and students read poems they have written. Some writers are turning their words into lyrics, Wrba said, to sing with local vocalists and musicians.

Young dancers have felt their presence too. Mill Town founded the Wandering Dance Society in 2023, Wrba said, to strengthen dance in the community. They supported workshops, classes and performances, leading up to a performance in the fall.

And they will return this summer, as the Wandering Dance Festival and Jacob’s Pillow hold a community dance circle and dance workshops in First Fridays @ Five, the downtown arts festival in Pittsfield on June 7 and July 5.

Fanning that flame, Wrba is preparing now for Common Ground, a new community arts festival in Pittsfield on July 6, a day on the Common with dance and visual arts, performance and music.

Musicians stand on the summit at Bousquet Mountain in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Mill Town Foundation

Musicians stand on the summit at Bousquet Mountain in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation

Mill Town will expand their Tanglewood on the Common program, he said — an annual performance that has brought classical music downtown, outdoors on the big screen. This year he is planning more broadly, in partnership with Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Barrington Stage Company, the Katunemo art collective supporting the Berkshire immigrant community and more.

They hope to bring creative energy into downtown Pittsfield, Wrba said, and give local communities a sense of these places, so they can enjoy the experience — art and performance in the Berkshires can sometimes challenging for people to reach, in a rural place with limited public transportation, among other challenges.

Mill Town Foundation has a commitment to working within the community, Wrba said, and he values the conversations and connections, partnerships and groups he gets to know.

“Everyone is doing their own thing — beautifully,” he said. “We have an ability to bring people together.”

‘Everyone is doing their own thing — beautifully. We have an ability to bring people together.’ — Andy Wrba

At Bousquet, he is highlighting Berkshire musicians in many fields. Mill Town bought the family ski area in 2020, including 115 acres and some 22 trails through open woods and up to the summit of Yokun Ridge.

In a warming world, Burke said, Mill Town hopes to grow an outdoor space year-round, with restaurant, trails, chairlifts to the summit — and live music in the summer.

New Orleans jazz and blues artist Samirah Evans will join saxophonist Charles Neville at Flavours of Malaysia on Oct. 13. Photo courtesy of Pittsfield CityJazz
Samirah Evans

New Orleans jazz and blues artist Samirah Evans will join saxophonist Charles Neville at Flavours of Malaysia on Oct. 13. Photo courtesy of Pittsfield CityJazz

Bousquet summer music series

This year Andy Wrba has curated five major concerts at Bousquet on Saturdays in July and August. Each concert a different theme, he said. The season will open with roots and rock, as Whiskey Treaty Roadshow leads a festival of half a dozen bands for Mountain Day on July 20.

Sunset Soul on July 27 welcomes Arnold McCuller, Wrba said, a vocalist with Gospel energy who has performed with powerhouses around the globe — James Taylor and Carole King, Phil Collins and Paula Abdul and more — and Matt Cusson, a grammy nominated musician and Berkshire native who tours internationally with the likes of Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Christina Aguilera.

Fire on the Mountain on August 3, brings a Grateful Dead vibe, and Bousquet Folk on August 10 gathers well-known regional acoustic artists like Session Americana, Johnny Irion, Glori Wilder.

And stepping onto Wrba’s home ground, the third annual Bousquet Jazz Festival returns on August 17 with Brubeck Brothers Quartet, New Orleans powerhouse Samirah Evans, now an associate artist in jazz at Williams College, who has shared the stage with James Brown, B.B. King, Dr. John, Aaron and Charles Neville and many others, and the Luke Franco Quartet and more.

They are looking to connect Bousquet with downtown Pittsfield, Burke and Wrba said, and with Lenox — most directly through their trails. As they have preserved open space around the ski area, they have worked with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council to support the outdoors in the Berkshires, bringing groups together from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

Mill Town has quietly encouraged conversations on Pittsfield bike path, Burke added, and partnered with Roots Rising and the teen-led Pittsfield Farmers Market. Roots Rising has a new home now at 923 Barker Road in Pittsfield, land they imagine as a “homebase housing both offices and an education center … a work site for our teens, a community hub, a green oasis and a headquarters to amplify our legacy of food justice work.”

As Roots Rising makes it their mission to empower teens and address food security in the Berkshires, another Mill Town partner, Marty’s Local, is supporting local farms in connecting them with restaurants, giving farmers a market and chefs a steady supply, and the Greenagers, a group engaging teens in food and conservation Great Barrington, has worked with Mill Town to restore trails in Springside Park.

Students and musicians perform in a celebration with the Mastheads writing workshops and the Mill Town Foundation at Kellogg Park. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Mill Town Foundation

Students and musicians perform in a celebration with the Mastheads writing workshops and the Mill Town Foundation at Kellogg Park. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation

At the same time, Mill Town has invested in resources for expanding small businesses. They have fostered generators for local entrepreneurship, including training programs tand mentorship through EforAll and Lever Inc.

Right now they are re-organizing FrameWorks, the downtown office they opened in 2017 as a co-working business space. Covid has shifted that model, Burke said — even though more people are working flexibly in hybrid, virtual and remote setups, more people are also working from home.

Across Pittsfield, he said, he hopes to see Mill Town provide capital, technology and technological knowledge, and support for businesses getting off the ground. Sometimes the largest constraint a new business can face comes from people — an entrepreneur may need help in finding suppliers, business partners, customers. Mill Town can offer networking and connections.

Locals gather on the Pittsfield Common for Tanglewood in the City. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Mill Town Foundation

Locals gather on the Pittsfield Common for Tanglewood in the City. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation

They have also taken a look at housing, he said, often a challenge for local businesses and for employees both. Mill Town owns and has renovated three large buildings downtown, with 12 to 24 apartments in each one, and they are all rented out.

Creating new housing can be an ongoing challenge for Pittsfield, Burke said. Broadly he favors a mixed-income approach, he said, and in parts of town that are already developed, where the infrastructure, roads, lights and all, already exists.

It can be expensive for a city or town in a rural area, he said, to provide services and maintain new infrastructure — he would rather preserve open space as a resource for everyone and create or renovate housing downtown.

‘Can you make the area a better place to live, so people start new businesses here, as they do in Austin or North Carolina?’ — Tim Burke

He would also value the neighborhood feel of walkable communities where people can live and work, open small businesses and offer local employment, he said, and Mill Town sees that kind of growth as a goal in their investment in the Morningside neighborhood along Tyler Street.

They have carried that goal into in their partnerships in education, Wrba said. In May, awardwinning writer Ty Allen Jackson holds an annual entrepreneurial fair with the Pittsfield Public Schools, as some 300 5th-grade students who have come through his financial literacy program present their own ideas for new ventures.

The future of education is closely bound in with the future of the city, Burke agreed. Keeping good quality schools is key to bringing and keeping people in the Berkshires, and it can be a year-to-year challenge for the city.

Bands play live jazz at the Gateways Inn. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Gateways Inn jazz - Photo by Teresa Broadwell

Bands play live jazz at the Gateways Inn. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation

“There’s no continuity,” he said, “and the budget drives everything. It’s tiring for teachers.”

He sees these questions overlapping, transportation, education and employment, how to make the city a compelling place to get around, to learn and teach, to work — and to relax.

“Can you make the area a better place to live?” he said, “so people start new businesses here, as they do in Austin or North Carolina?”

So people move here, so they will explore here, come home as he did and start new ventures, and help to percolate that kind of energy?

A Berkshire vocalist performs at Bousquet Mountain in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation
Photo by Lee Everett

A Berkshire vocalist performs at Bousquet Mountain in a concert series with Mill Town. Press photo courtesy of the Mill Town Foundation


By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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