On a city street at night, in a photograph, a supple figure stands under a street light, head tipped to one side, illuminated in the glow. Outside the gallery a student artist sits on the sidewalk surrounded by drawings. On the corner a tour flocks into a new artist space at the Makers Mill. Higher up Main Street a printing press stamps out images of birds.
Downstreet Art in North Adams, Mass., has reached out to the community this summer. Under the new leadership of Michelle Daly, Visual Artist and Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC) Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the festival has launched new public art programs and focused often on artists close to home.
As the monthly festival returned to North Adams at the end of September, closing out its 2015 season, a group of movers in the local arts community announced a coming transformation. The former Press Gallery beside Gallery 51 has now become ExPress, a collaborative art space for IS183 art school; headquarters for Wind-Up Fest (Oct. 15 to 18), the Williamstown Film Festival re-imagined with performances, podcasts, documentaries and long-form journalism; Press on the Move, a mobile printing press that will keep Press Gallery’s presence on Main Street; and MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resources Council.
IS183 hopes to expand its presence in North County, said executive director Hope Sullivan. As they offer with low-tech classes and workshops here this fall in drawing, painting and writing, the Williamstown History Museum will move into IS183’s former space in the Little Red Schoolhouse at the Five Corners (Route 7 and Route 43).
Press Gallery’s collection of printing presses and metal type are also on the move, said
Melanie Mowinski, associate professor of visual art at MCLA. She opened Press Gallery as a pop-up space five years ago.
“We never imagined it would be here all this time,” she said. “It was supposed to be temporary. We were waiting for free space on the MCLA campus, which is now available.”
Sandra Thomas, managing director of Wind-Up Fest, praised Mowinski for her energy and warm involvement with the community.
“The frenetic activity Melanie has created here over the last five years is the same kind IS183 wants,” Sullivan agreed.
She wants a visible place in the community for people of any age and any level of skill.
Two blocks away the new Makers Mill has gathered printing presses, looms, bookbinding equipment, a fully operational screen printing studio and a record player with a collection of LPs.
Kate Barber, one of the co-founders, a book artist and now an arts fellow at the Makers Mill, said the young organization has had a good first summer. She has seen a steady climb in members since the doors opened in August, and in October Makers Mill will offer screen printing, open studio times when people can see the space, regular figure drawing sessions on Mondays and and a knitting circle on Wednesday nights.
Most of the equipment takes care and practice to use, Barber said, so people new to the studio will need to learn to use it safely (or show that they already know how), but she
welcomes beginners. One of their members has started weaving this summer for the first time.
At the top of Main Street, C Gallery, a pop-up space in the former North Adams Artists Co-op Gallery, held closing receptions for Chung Chak’s photographs of bright urban scenes and Julian Gray’s recent series of images of self portraits.
Gray’s exhibit drew images from three bodies of work. The first, “Loving Julia,” documents her transformation from in the closet to public, she said. The second, “Voyeurisme,” focuses on the body and the realization of its power.
“I can do this too,” she said. “If a 20-year-old woman can model, so can I.”
She took these images over an intense 40 days and nights.
“My creativity comes in cycles,” she said. “When it comes, I go after it.”
The work has become important for her, as a way to tell her own story and beyond that to share her experiences.
“I’m humbled to be in some form a vehicle for change,” she said. “I never thought it would be me, myself. Maybe my photographs, but not me. These two bodies of work are about changing, opening people’s eyes to what exists.”
She describes self as non-binary, she explained, neither male nor female but both — “not two halves — an intricately woven cloth.”
And in the third body of work “Curb Appeal,” she stands confident and elegant in golden light under a street light, on a sidewalk, near a mural or a cafe table. She celebrates her city and her life here, and her images give North Adams the vibrancy and élan of Paris.
She took these self-portraits with an assistant at night.
“Most of the time I got into a car and drove until I found a spot that made sense,” she said. “The creation is visceral, gut-level.”
“It’s the realization of a dream I had as a kid. The biggest thing is — I never dreamed in my whole life I would ever walk in the sun as my true self. Never. Now I live in a town where I’m cherished. How many people have I hugged tonight? The city has opened its arms to me. It’s amazing.”