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Taking the New Bedford Arts Community to the Next Level

Sometimes, all the planets line up and you’re afforded new opportunities in life to seize upon.

New Bedford’s arts economy is about to be offered one hell of an opportunity. An opportunity that arrives with an appeal to participate in an effort to shape the next decade or so of the city and region’s arts and culture landscape. It begins Tuesday, June 6 at 5:00pm at Groundwork! when the Community Foundation holds the first of several community meetings designed to help clarify a vision of that future.

The Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts

Many readers are probably familiar with the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts. If not, their mission statement is simple: To mobilize philanthropy by matching donors and resources with community needs for the benefit of our region.

John Vasconcellos, formerly of The Trustees of Reservations, became president of the Community Foundation about 10 months ago. He explains to me that as he thought about his new role and how to position the foundation for its own future, he couldn’t help but think about making it more responsive to everything happening in and around New Bedford and its burgeoning arts scene.

We all know New Bedford’s reputation as a home to artists and artisans and as an arts destination has exploded in the last decade or so. But fully integrating that growth into a plan that has tangible, long-term benefits for the community remains elusive. Making that happen is the goal Vasconcellos pondered when he assumed the presidency of the Community Foundation – even as a chance to bring some amazing resources to bear on the task presented itself to him.

The Barr Foundation

The Boston-based Barr Foundation also has a mission. It is this: to invest in human, natural, and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts.” In addition to impressive work in the realms of climate-change and education, their Arts & Creativity programs have their own agenda. It is as follows:

Our overarching goal is to elevate the arts and enable creative expression to engage and inspire a dynamic, thriving Massachusetts. We will pursue this goal through three strategies: advancing the field’s capacity to adapt, take risks, and engage changing audiences in new ways; fostering opportunities to connect the arts to other disciplines and sectors; and activating public support for the arts.

They are achieving this through substantial investment of expertise and financial resources in communities throughout the state – and bringing that to Southeastern Massachusetts through the Community Foundation is what John Vasconcellos seized upon when contemplating a plan of action for the arts.

You’re Invited…

That’s not the end of the story, however. It’s just the prologue. The real story starts…with you. In order to figure out how best to mobilize the resources of the Barr Foundation, the Community Foundation is properly concerned with hearing from the community it serves.

The meeting at Groundwork! (1213 Purchase Street; use Maxfield Street entrance) next Tuesday, June 6 from 5:00-7:00pm is the first of several planned to get the input of artists, artisans, arts consumers, businesses, residents…well, everyone concerned in mapping out the future of our region. The meetings are designed to discover what’s necessary to connect all the dots of the disparate arts community and help bind it together.

It’s important to note here that the alignment of the Community Foundation and the Barr Foundation isn’t simply about finding a new pot of money. It’s about formulating a common purpose for the arts that embraces the entire community. That must certainly reflect greater New Bedford’s amazing diversity; everyone has a seat at the table.

So, invite your neighbors, tell your friends and spread the word. And, be prepared to come to that table with what John Vasconcellos terms a “Clarity of Vision” into a future arts and culture community where are all the planets are lined up in a row.

> You can find the entire line-up of meetings from New Bedford to Fall River here.

> Learn more about the Community Foundation here and the Barr Foundation here.

Steven Froias