2003-03-01 / Community

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance
by Susan Hartenstein

One of four oil on wood paintings by Gwendolyn Marcinek that is in “Vermillion: A Show of Red” at sTudio 6 through Sunday, March 9.One of four oil on wood paintings by Gwendolyn Marcinek that is in “Vermillion: A Show of Red” at sTudio 6 through Sunday, March 9.

People frequently ask me where I get all the ideas for this column, week after week. Sometimes I kid them and say I make most of it up. I don’t – really I don’t. Actually, writing about the arts in New York isn’t very tough. I mean it’s New York, for heaven’s sake. This borough is burgeoning with the arts. And writing about the Rockaway Artists Alliance and the Rockaway Arts Center is very exciting. Without being too hokey, there’s something really extraordinary happening out here. Park (Gateway) partners Rockaway Theatre Company, Rockaway Music and Arts Council and even that new kid on the block down the road – the Little Globe Theater at First Congregational Church. Well, enough of this waxing sentimental. On to the main point of this column. (It’s 3 in the morning and I’m really tired.) So, where do my ideas come from? Sometimes I spend weeks developing a subject. Sometimes a subject will drop from above, like a gift. I was sitting on the sofa trying to come up with something different, and there it was. A program on television about a place called Mass MoCA. What, you may ask, is Mass MoCA? A wonderful arts story that will remind you a bit of a place closer to home.

Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) opened to the public in 1999. It is a 27-building historic mill complex converted into an amazing arts complex in North Adams, Massachusetts in the Berkshires. Indeed, it bills itself as a permanent work in progress with the mission to maintain itself as a premier platform for creating, presenting and distributing the best of the art of our time. Now, the big point of the TV show was that this exciting, growing arts center was actually stimulating economic growth in an economically depressed town. So listen up.

This 12-acre complex was built in 1872 at the confluence of the area’s main river system by an international cloth manufacturer and is on the National Historic Register. Later the site was bought by an electronics company that became highly successful and employed thousands of workers. Manufacturing fell on hard times, the complex closed and thousands lost their jobs. The buildings form an elaborate system of interlocking courtyards and passageways with bridges, viaducts, elevated walkways and red-brick facades all of which are rich in distinct architectural flavor, historical association and sculptural possibility. Old unused buildings in a beautifully artistic setting. Get the picture? Cut to late 1980’s – ideas of local museum officials and city officials form a plan to convert the mill into a mixed-use cultural and commercial complex creating an exciting venue for contemporary art and also fulfilling the needs of a community seeking to develop economic links to its regional cultural strengths. Then cuts to government funding of the arts. But, realizing the practicality and feasibility of this project, government officials bring in the private sector in a big way and provide matching funds. Cut to the chase – Mass MoCA. A multi-disciplinary center for the visual, performing and media arts. The design of the museum retains the historic industrial character while expanding the range of scale, space and light. Plans incorporate decisions made by the artists and users themselves. The complex includes art galleries, performing arts facilities, rehearsal spaces, office spaces, fabrication facilities, live studio space for artists-in-residence, pre- and post-production facilities for audio, video and film, restaurants, cafes and retail shops. New work is created in partnership with high technology and new media companies. The spaces of creativity are open to the public so that the public is privy to the workings of that creativity. Advanced technologies can allow free exchange of ideas and data among Mass MoCA partners and provide opportunities for national and international distribution and marketing for visual and performing arts. Partnership among business, government and the arts providing a place to bring cutting-edge culture and stimulate the economics and spirit of a community. Great idea. I checked out the website, www. massmoca.org. You check it out, too. Listen to some of the wide array of stuff Mass MoCA is presenting. Underwater puppet theater presenting "Symphonie Fantastique," combining puppetry, music, dance and abstract art. Jazz guitar virtuoso John Scofield. A film revealing the fascinating life of Brian Epstein, the Beatles original manager. The Chanecki/Lerner Dance Company, creating emotional images with raw honesty. A Canadian bluegrass ensemble. A spoken word event featuring an African American poet who combines sharp wit, political savvy and bluesy storytelling. "Uncommon Denominator: New Art from Vienna" – Lush paintings, psychologically charged drawings, challenging conceptual works of 15 Viennese artists. Sponsored by Porches Inn, a new local business that gambled on the future of the town and is winning.

Nice story, huh? I didn’t make it up. Really. Well, see you at Mass Mo…I mean, see you at the Fort.

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