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North Adams Arts Commission Gets First Public Art Proposal
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:36PM / Wednesday, March 08, 2017
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Griffin Labbance, second from left, makes his pitch to the Public Arts Commission, which met at Bright Ideas Brewing.

The Public Arts Commission's new logo seems to imagine mountains and spires in the abstract.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Arts Commission has received its first submission: A proposal to create art on Montana Street.

Or at least the outline of a submission.

Griffin Labbance, a residence director at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, is hoping to engage college artists in decorating one of the college's entry points and came to the commission seeking guidance.

"A lot more chalk art was showing up [on nearby streets]," he told the commission at its meeting Friday evening at Bright Ideas Brewing. "I got this basic idea of student murals that last longer, talking off of the painting of crosswalks."

Montana is a one-way street owned by the city that runs between the main campus and the Townhouse dormitories. The back of Bowman Hall and the entrance to the Amsler Campus Center were redone a few years ago to create a more attractive entrance and pathways into the quad and more parking was created.

Labbance, also a volunteer coach with the Trailblazers, said Montana Street is the access point for teams arriving at the campus center.

"I spoke with the chief [Police Director Michael Cozzaglio] and his concern was that we don't mimic crosswalks," he said. Rectangles were out in that case so his idea is to create circles that would encapsulate student art down the middle of the street from the south end of the campus center north to the new parking behind Bowman; from there, MCLA's initials would be spelled out along the parking lot.

"I think it's great idea but the challenge with these, before we approve, we want to see what they really are," said Commissioner Nancy Ziter. Even though the city owns the street, the state Department of Transportation also has rules. "And it will have to go through Public Safety or the Traffic Commission."

Commissioner Gail Sellers and her husband, Phil, founder of Art About Town that's been painting crosswalks around downtown for several years, said the semi-permanent road paints only come in four colors that can't be mixed. Phil Sellers said painting is very time consuming and one of the problems his group has run into is the ability to shut down a road or lane long enough to do it.

"I want to disrupt the community as little as possible," said Labbance, which is another reason he was looking at Montana. Painting would only restrict access to cars running through that section. While it would block parking, other points such as the Townhouses, power plant and Hoosac Street could still be reached.

Because of the impermanence of the paint, he didn't want to do it in the fall but rather in the spring. The art might only be up a month or so until the semester ends, but it would be there at graduation and for the events held on campus during the summer, including the use of Hoosac Hall for Solid Sound in June.

Commissioner Julia Dixon was concerned about the timeline in getting approvals and in selecting student artists. It was already March, she noted. "I'd submit a call as soon as possible."

Labbance thought there would be "more desire to paint than we have room for" based on other events. A committee would have to be formed to review submissions to make sure they were appropriate and doable.

"One of the functions of this commission is to make art happen. ... I think it's a great idea," said Commissioner Eric Kerns. What he didn't want is "to send you off and say make it work."

Dixon and Commissioner Erica Manville agreed that the members should be helping smooth the road for Labbance and offered to accompany him to meet with city officials.

The commission was established last year to provide oversight for art installed or created on city property. Commissioners see their role as also being advocates for public art and recently convinced the City Council to give them more authority over soliciting art.

Part of that is developing a directory of possible public art sites and a website to raise awareness of the commission's existence. The board's asking for a $500 budget to help defray costs that have already been in incurred in website hosting, currently being underwritten by Kerns for a site created by intern Katrina Staaf, the creation of a logo and incidentals.

The commission also wants to encourage the development of a "friends of" nonprofit group that would be able to raise money for public arts-related needs, similar to the Friends of the North Adams Public Library and Friends of Windsor Lake.

Commissioners agreed that they needed people interested in the arts but not artists who might come before the commission seeking grants or approvals.

"There are no restrictions on who can be on the Friends, the only thing we have to be concerned about is conflict of interest," Dixon said.

The commission cannot set up the group but did think at least one or two commissioners should be members and others who could provide some expertise, such as a lawyer. Kerns suggested each commissioner contact two people who might be interested in forming a Friends group.  

"There are people that want to see North Adams flourish," said Commissioner Erica Manville.

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