Mass. Cultural Council Awards AHA! Funds to Expand Cultural Revitalization Efforts
(New Bedford, MA) – AHA! (Art, History, Architecture), New Bedford’s monthly free arts and culture night, will receive $40,000 to expand and pilot new cultural economic development initiatives in 2005, part of nearly $1 million in grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) that will draw on an array of arts and cultural resources to stimulate economic activity in communities across the state.
AHA!, a project of Downtown New Bedford, Inc., is one of 22 projects in Boston, Worcester, Gloucester, Pittsfield, and many other cities and towns that the MCC is supporting as part of The John and Abigail Adams Grant Program. An independent review panel recommended projects for funding and ranked the AHA! proposal 5th out of 32 applicants. Mary Kelley, MCC Executive Director said, “These grants allow us to work in partnership with communities and cultural organizations to create new jobs, attract new businesses, and expand cultural opportunities for the people of Massachusetts.”
In 1999, the MCC and the City of New Bedford worked with local cultural leaders and artists to bring about the first AHA! Night. In a relatively short time, AHA! has established itself as a positive catalyst for New Bedford’s growing downtown cultural marketplace promoting the city’s galleries, museums, organizations, shops and restaurants involved in the partnership project. The new MCC Grant will allow AHA! to further augment the city’s current cultural momentum and extend its work beyond the downtown. Specific grant activities will include:
- Convening cultural stakeholders with the city to further communication and collaboration
- Publishing an online cultural inventory to promote the city’s assets and revival
- Holding New Bedford’s first City-wide Open Studio event
- Expanding AHA!’s cultural economic outreach to North and South End Neighborhoods
- Mounting large-scale art installations downtown on several 2005 AHA! Nights
- Launching an access city arts cable show hosted by AHA!
Besides stimulating economic growth, the MCC’s Adams Arts Program also fosters fruitful partnerships between cultural organizations, businesses, and local governments. And since MCC funding must be matched dollar for dollar, the program generates new public and private investment in communities across the state. AHA! will be working closely with the City and all its project partners on these activities. AHA! is seeking the majority of its matching funding from the federal government and locally based corporations. Margie Butler, AHA! Program Director, points out that “This is our chance to bring everyone to the table and insure that we capitalize on the city’s positive momentum. Already, conversations with the City, current AHA! partners and new collaborators such as Arts New Bedford, and the North and South End Business Associations have demonstrated the time is right to take an important step forward.”
Mayor Kalisz has met with AHA! and the MCC several times during the proposal process. His commitment of in-kind support for this project and direct involvement has been a factor in securing this grant. Mayor Kalisz said, “This project is as much to benefit city residents as it is to attract new audiences that are critical to our urban revival. The common denominator can be the enjoyment of our arts and culture. AHA! has proven continually that they know how to bring people together to celebrate the best our city has to offer.”
Since 1997, the MCC invested in communities such as Holyoke, Roxbury, New Bedford, Worcester, and North Adams where economic challenges were most pronounced. Despite studies demonstrating the program’s success, cuts to MCC’s budget in 2002 forced the agency to suspend grants for this purpose. Last year, however, the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities (MAASH) and its cultural advocates across the state successfully urged the Legislature and the Governor to reinvest in cultural economic development. These Adams grants are the result of that effort.
Most recently, the Adams Arts Program was eliminated from Governor Romney’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget, which was released January 26. The Massachusetts House is expected to release its budget proposal in April.
AHA! views this 2005 grant as an opportunity to pilot new approaches and if necessary will seek alternative funding to continue the successful efforts in years to come. Lasse Antonsen, Director of the UMASS Dartmouth University Gallery and AHA! Co-Chair has pointed out that, “The last five years in New Bedford have seen tremendous cultural and economic growth. Many significant cultural institutions are ready to move forward, by collaborating with each other, with the City, with educational institutions, and with private developers, in order to improve the larger cultural, educational, economic and social infrastructure.” Mr. Antonsen will be working with AHA! staff on the new grant activities and will be leading the public art installation component that has been designed towards the city developing its own high profile creative “happenings” that can help do for New Bedford what WaterFire has done for Providence.
About the Massachusetts Cultural Council
The Massachusetts Cultural Council promotes excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences, in order to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and contribute to the economic vitality of our communities.
MCC is committed to building a central place for the arts, sciences and humanities in the everyday lives of communities across the Commonwealth. The agency pursues this mission through a combination of grant programs, partnerships and services for nonprofit cultural organizations, schools, communities, and individual artists. MCC receives an annual appropriation from the state Legislature and funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources.
Arts and culture are a key part of the Massachusetts economy. Cultural non-profits alone provide nearly 40,000 jobs, contribute $7.6 million in taxes, and provide a total economic impact of nearly $3.5 billion. But these statistics doesn’t tell the whole story. Thriving museums, galleries, science fairs, and performances bring visitors, and, with them, the demand for restaurants, retail, and many other services.
The 2nd Ha! Ha! for AHA! Comedy Night Benefit will take place on Saturday, January 29, 2005.
The AHA! Project, New Bedford’s free second Thursday night of art and culture, is once again administering a healthy dose of humor to the task of fundraising. Saturday, January 29th, the 2nd Annual Ha! Ha! For AHA! Comedy Night Benefit will take place at Gallery X. The Comedy Night will present a program that ranges from vaudeville-inspired silliness to spoofery with local material and short-form improvisation. AHA! Program Director Margie Butler bills the comedy night as, “one that draws talent from near and far and humor from classic to crazy.” She points out that this fundraiser is certainly for AHA!’s adult audience only and again will incorporate a community component with several cameos from figures in downtown New Bedford. Ms. Butler adds, “The ability to laugh together and even poke fun at ourselves is a huge part of what fueled the first Ha Ha success. And while it is hard to top what the cast achieved last year, our 2005 line-up of talent and skits is up to the task.”
Shannon Gracia, who directed and acted in last year’s Ha Ha production “Martha S. in a Prison Named Desire,” is the creative director for AHA!’s 2005 Comedy Night. Ms. Gracia describes that, “the production involves many shorter, witty pieces that will keep the evening lively and feature some of New Bedford and the region’s most loved talents.” Michael Ventura, who also acted in the first Ha Ha is the event’s emcee. The evening will begin with the skit “A Bridge Too Old” written by Ray Veary. This clever piece toys with how tricky it can be to get across the drawbridge that connects New Bedford and Fairhaven. Have you ever realized that when this drawbridge is physically open, the road signs warn bridge “closed”? Mr. Veary has cast P.J. Carroll, Nancy Leary and Niko Tarini in this skit of local humor that everyone can appreciate.
Ha Ha’s line-up continues with “A History Brief of the Portuguese,” by Cape Cod play-write Allan Moniz. “A History Brief…” theatrically presents a humorous exploration of Portuguese history. Robert Anderson, the playwright who wrote last year’s “Martha S.” psychodrama, this year contributes a skit titled, “CONDO-mania.” Anderson’s piece will have community cameo appearances that include Anne Brengle, Director of The New Bedford Whaling Museum and Karie Vincent, Director of the New Bedford Art Museum as well as other surprise geusts. “CONDO-mania” features the musical talents of Shannon Gracia who takes the downtown’s current wave of development to hilarious proportions.
Representing the playfully crazy side of the evening, will be Liz Rapoza’s contribution of an act from “Pajamazon” her well received comedic radio play complete with commercials. “Pajamazon” which has previously attracted sold out crowds at the New Wave Café, is a superhero comic book story that takes place in New Bedford and is performed in the style of an authentic radio play with sound effects. Annie Hart Cool of West Falmouth, MA, who graces stages from Provincetown to Off-Broadway and that of our own New Bedford’s Your Theatre, will perform an original one-woman comedic skit that she is developing for this event.
The comedy from afar in the Ha Ha line-up is anchored by the New York City group, The Devil’s Dancebelt, which will perform the Harold style of long-form improvisation. As Ben Hauck the Director and Coach of the troupe explains, “The Harold is the seminal form of improv that is widely popular in New York City and starts with a single question or idea from the audience.” Hauck emphasizes that the Devil’s Dancebelt “takes improv to more artistic and dramatic levels.” This group has been together since September 2002 when they produced their first New York show, “Improv Unbound.” AHA! teamed up with this group due to the family connections between Ben Hauck and Chuck Hauck, a Gallery X member and Ha Ha for AHA! organizer.
Gallery X contributions are integral to this event. Margie Butler emphasizes, “the rich, collaborative spirit of Gallery X and the setting of its one-of-a-kind remodeled church really help us to pull off this unique comedy benefit.” Niko Tarini, Ha Ha cast member and President of Gallery X adds that he is “anticipating a smorgasbord of bigger laughs and wittier quips that builds on last year’s Ha Ha hilarity.”
The event will begin with a pre-party at 7 pm and the curtain for the Comedy Show is at 8 pm. Tickets are $18 and all proceeds go to help fund the programming, marketing and planning that is involved with AHA! Nights in downtown New Bedford. 150 tickets will be sold. Interested parties should contact AHA! at 508-264-8859. This event is in addition to AHA!’s monthly second Thursday free nights of art and culture.
AHA! and Downtown New Bedford, Inc. Join Forces
AHA! and Downtown New Bedford, Inc. Join Forces In an effort to expand its impact on the cultural and economic development of downtown, New Bedford, AHA! (Art, History & Architecture), New Bedford’s collaborative arts and culture project, has merged with Downtown New Bedford, Incorporated (DNB). DNB had served as the fiscal agent for AHA!, which was formed in 1999 to promote awareness of cultural assets in downtown New Bedford. The organization’s main focus has been the monthly AHA! Night, where on the second Thursday of every month, downtown New Bedford becomes alive with exhibitions, music, theater, film and lectures as well as shopping and dining. The free monthly event draws as many as one thousand visitors to the downtown district. Kevin Pelland, President of the Downtown New Bedford Inc. Board of Directors, said the merger made perfect sense for the two organizations as they work to enhance cultural and economic development in the downtown. “It is a piece of the economic development puzzle that the DNB organization has been missing for years. The galleries, nonprofits and cultural community have grown tremendously over the past number of years and has had a positive impact on this city and will continue to change the face of downtown.” Pelland continued, “We feel strongly that the advent of AHA! into the DNB family, and those that have worked so diligently to make it such a success, will bring both DNB and the AHA! project to a new level, a level that all of New Bedford will benefit by.”
Lee Heald, Chair of the AHA Steering Committee, agrees: “This merger is a way for our two organizations to work more closely on the shared goal of revitalizing the Downtown. By bringing the business know-how of DNB, Inc. together with the creative capabilities of AHA! both organizations will be strengthened and New Bedford will be the better for it.”
As part of the merger, two members of the AHA! Steering Committee will serve on the DNB’s 21-member Board. The mission of Downtown New Bedford, Inc. is to play a vital role in ensuring that the downtown New Bedford district is a vibrant place to live, work and visit. DNB is funded primarily through its memberships and local fundraising efforts with support from the City of New Bedford and the Office of Housing and Community Development. The AHA! nonprofit collaborative project is funded in part by the Island Foundation, the local business community, the City of New Bedford, the Mass Cultural Council, local Cultural Councils and individual donors.
5th Annual Bowl-for-Art Brings Together the Community and Funds for AHA!
Bowling alleys and arts organizations are not usual partners, but AHA!, New Bedford’s monthly 2nd Thursday arts & culture night, tends to do things with a fresh, creative approach. Starting five years ago AHA! began its Bowl-for-Art event where teams representing galleries, museums, businesses and community members bring together pledges for AHA! and hold a fundraiser tournament at New Bedford’s Wonder Bowl. The event is unique and well loved by its participants. Several weeks in advance, AHA! supporters form teams and start collecting pledges. Program Director Margie Butler notes, “We value the $5 pledge as much as the $50 pledge because it all adds up and each pledge shows appreciation for the work AHA! does.” Then, on the actual day, everything comes together with a high-spirited afternoon of bowling, pizza, cake, a silent auction and prizes. Teams go by creative names such as the National Park’s “Rescue Rangers,” Dyan Kieltyka’s “Just Us Girls” and ArtWorks! “Bowler and the Bowlettes,” who sport British bowling caps decorated with marshmallow Peeps! In the end it’s good fun and the event raises upwards of $8,000 which represents roughly 15% of AHA!’s annual budget.
Event organizers were thrilled to highlight the amazing contribution of Bowl-for-Art’s top pledge raiser, New Bedford craftsman/designer George Saulnier who has been involved with AHA! from the start. Each year for the past five years Mr. Saulnier has collected the most pledges overall. This year he single-handedly brought in $1,458 from friends and AHA! supporters. Ms. Butler noted that Mr. Saulnier is obviously, “someone who understands the value of AHA! and goes the distance to help our project and our city.” AHA! thanked their top pledge raiser with a generous gift certificate from Freestone’s City Grille, an AHA! partner and also a Bowl-for-Art team participant. While the Bowl-for-Art tournament is casual, skilled bowlers and novices alike enjoy competing for prizes donated by local businesses such as Cardoza’s, Not Your Average Joe’s, Dorothy Cox Chocolates, Baker Books, The Standard-Times and Blockbuster Video. This year’s high scoring team was “The Zoo Crew” from the Buttonwood Park Zoological Society and the high scoring individual bowler was Mike Laberge also of that team. The 18 and under top score went to 16 year old Dana Robert from one of four Whaling Museum teams. The winning youth team was Nathaniel Fuchs, Walker Fuchs, Casey Magee, and Alison Roney, all 10 years old, and Peter Perkins age 11 representing the Whaling Museum. The high scoring under 13 bowler was Darren Borges, age 10, with the ABC Disposal Service, Inc. team.
Prizes are also given for team spirit and other fun categories including the Gutterball (low score/sportsmanship) and Twinkletoes (original form) awards. These prizes and the people who participate help make Bowl-for-Art a unique, animated event. This year the event attracted many new teams including The Michael McGuire Gallery which will open on William Street this summer, a group of New Bedford City Councilors, a team of “MIS Chiefs” from City Hall, and groups representing the YMCA Teen Center, Nativity Prep Boys School (sponsored by Elaine’s T-Shirts) and a few downtown real estate companies. Linda Morad, Ward One City Councilor noted, “How wonderful it was to be there with teams from across so many groups.” She and her fellow Councilors, including Naomi Carney, Joe DeMedeiros, Paul Koczera, Denis Lawrence, Jr. and Leo Pimental, were a great addition to the event and are already talking about returning next year.
For AHA! it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. Plans include the addition of women’s division prizes and continued outreach to a broad cross section of groups. The future also holds even higher expectations as AHA! thinks big. “This event has been building momentum each year and has the potential, if we fill all the lanes with teams, to raise $20,000!” said Tom Ross, both an AHA! Steering Committee member and a bowler on the “Rescue Rangers” National Park team that raised the second highest total pledges after Mr. Saulnier’s ArtWorks! team. Ms. Butler reflects “When I was in the midst of planning Bowl-for-Art and collecting pledges myself both public television and NPR had pledge drives going. As I listened to their effective appeals about a year of great programming being more than worth five or even ten dollars a month, I couldn’t help but feel the same thing applies to AHA!
Even though AHA! Nights are ‘free’ it does take money to put these evenings together, publicize them and pay performers and staff. Thus people who enjoy AHA! Nights throughout the year who can afford to donate $10, $20 or more to Bowl-for-Art certainly get their money’s worth.”
Next year’s 6thAnnual Bowl-for-Art will take place in late March. Interested participants should watch for event listings in the Coastin’ section and in AHA! communications.
AHA! Project Receives NEA Grant to Increase Community Outreach to Groups in New Bedford and Surrounding Towns
New Bedford’s AHA! (Art, History, Architecture) Project is one of two Massachusetts groups to be awarded a 2004 National Endowment for the Arts “Challenge America: Access to the Arts Fast Track Grant.”
With the $10,000 NEA grant award AHA! staff and partners will have the time and resources to reach out to many community groups that are currently not taking advantage of these free nights of arts & culture programming. As Margie Butler, AHA! Program Director states, “AHA! Nights provide an invaluable service to our community and something we can all take pride in. We are trying hard to make sure as many people as possible share in this experience.”
Through an audience survey conducted this past summer AHA! has become aware of the need to reach out to the underserved communities right here in New Bedford. By working more closely with groups such as the YMCA and YWCA, Nativity Prep and city youth and neighborhood organizations AHA! will seek to spread the word about the second Thursday Night events and create situations where members from these groups can collaborate and participate in AHA! programming. Tracy Furtado, Executive Director of Brick by Brick and AHA! Steering Committee member relates, “I hope this initiative will provide the stepping stone for many individuals and families to experience the excitement, beauty and pleasure of all these nights have to offer, and at the same time give them the chance to feel a little more connected to their own community.”
In addition to underserved New Bedford groups, this NEA grant also enables AHA! to work with arts and culture groups in surrounding towns who can greatly enrich this project and contribute to the sustainability of New Bedford’s downtown. AHA! recognizes that many arts appreciators who live in the Southcoast do not associate downtown New Bedford with a thriving arts & culture scene. Butler offers, “What better way to shift perceptions than to host area arts and culture groups to come experience and join in AHA! Nights?” There is also a historical basis for New Bedford’s role as a cultural hub. Candace Lee Heald, AHA! Steering Committee Chair and New Bedford Whaling Museum Director of Programs reflects, “New Bedford was traditionally the commercial and cultural center for surrounding towns. Our goal is to recapture that feeling as a current-day hub for the arts & culture.”
By providing free, monthly arts and culture nights since July 1998 AHA! has embraced its mission to increase the awareness of New Bedford’s cultural resources and help stimulate economic activity. On second Thursday Nights from 5-9 pm, the AHA! Project attracts anywhere from several hundred to well over 1,000 community members and visitors to the downtown.1
Since its establishment in 1965 the NEA has sought to foster excellence in the arts and bring arts to all Americans. “Challenge America: Access to the Arts” grants are provided to specifically support small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations.
The diversity of the art, music, theater, dance, and lectures provided on AHA! Nights allows the project to think expansively about who might be interested in attending and participating. With the NEA grant AHA! partners can work to capitalize on these strengths and reach many more individuals. Butler recounts, “Collaboration is the key to why AHA! has been a success and this NEA funding will extend that collaborative opportunity to many more people helping our AHA! Nights to be true community events.”
1. UMD Center for Policy Analysis AHA! Economic Impact Studies available online at www.umassd.edu/cfpa