The call went out for actors who were good at Shakespeare. A white-haired man, dressed in a black overcoat and a low-brimmed hat, quickly replied, “Hasn’t a Jew eyes? pleads Joe Vincent in a hoarse voice. “If you sting us, won’t we bleed?” If you tickle us, don’t we laugh? If you poison us, won’t we die? And if you wrong us, won’t we take revenge? »
It’s hard to imagine a more captivating or authentic Shylock. Even through the jaded lens of YouTube, Vincent stares at your humanity with dark, penetrating eyes. But this call for actors, and many more like it, was not found in an ad in the back pages of this newspaper or tacked on a bulletin board at the Leverett Village Co-op.
Welcome to ArtsHub of Western Mass, a centralized free online portal launched in recent months that seeks to connect artists with those seeking art, a boost for a community emerging from the dark economic hole of COVID-19.
“The arts community has wanted something like this for years,” said Lisa Davol, director of marketing for the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, who, along with her ArtsHub coordinator Dee Boyle-Clapp, director of UMass Arts Extension, has Been all of this together for about five years. With a grant of $186,000 from the Mass Office of Business Development, the project was officially launched in January at the ArtsHub Virtual Summit: “How to Recover and Thrive”.
The crowded summit, with its vast panel of PR gurus, casting directors and experts from all artistic backgrounds, sought to provide creatives with the tools to position their craft for the resurgence to come. There were artists who imagined themselves as businessmen, crucial to the marketing of their work.
According to state figures, one in six jobs in Western Massachusetts is directly tied to the creative economy. “There’s a disproportionately high number of creatives here,” Davol says. “But you can’t be successful if you can’t be found.”
Billed as an ongoing, ever-evolving resource, the site will serve as a one-stop-shop, with leads to jobs, grants, where to send profiles, resumes, video auditions — and people are already reaching out. Actor Jesse Richards talks about being ‘triple vaxxed and going crazy from Covid isolation’ and ‘would love to bring together a talented group of fully vaxxed people to do outdoor projects at Montague Center – Shakespeare, Che Khou, Beckett.”
“COVID has been the worst,” Boyle-Clapp says. “The economic crash of 2007, severe as it was, pales in comparison to COVID. And with the theatre, so many jobs are tied to it – stagehands, ticket takers, rehearsal space for rent. We looked at what we could do to liaise with underserved communities. »
“Hit me up,” posts a music teacher new to the area, who “is looking for community partners in Springfield…to create impactful youth-focused performances around DIY music.”
Another message serves as an invitation to a workshop where actors will “observe the physicality of animals, which express themselves through everything at their disposal.”
Although there are few indications that animals have used the site, Hollywood, which has increasingly favored the Pioneer Valley for exteriors, will certainly tap into it, predicts Davol. “The last season of ‘Dexter’ was partially filmed in Franklin County,” she recalls.
Caldwell’s Truck Stop & Diner in Iron Lake, New York, a key location in the “Dexter” series, is better known as Whately Diner and Truck Refueling. In fact, the show’s most distant fans have been known to show up at Whately to see the spot where everyone’s favorite serial killer pumped gas. “When (producers) need local talent, they can find it here. And tourists are always looking for something to do,” says Davol.
“We want to learn from each other. This is the place to collaborate. I’ve talked to artists before who say, “I never thought of collaborating with him or her,” she says.
“It could be anything. I’m looking for a musician for my niece’s bat mitzvah, for example. Nobody knows where to look, you get emails, I know that person, that person. Unless a feature article appeared in the newspaper, you would never know that many of these artists existed.
“I love the idea,” said Hadley artist and powwow singer Justin Beatty. “Tons of artists say they want it. There hasn’t been a functional space for people to engage in this stuff. Art school didn’t teach you the business side.
“There are so many parts to the art scene. Many more people will benefit from it as it (the ArtsHub) grows. ‘Y’now what would be cool – how about we add that?’ This will give artists a much fuller picture of what they can do.
Beatty, who has Native American and African American heritage, was a hip hop-fuelled graffiti artist in his youth, but bonded with the sounds and colors of the powwow long before that, as a child. His childhood neighborhood just outside of Queens, Roosevelt, was 85% black, 12% Latino, 3% white “with three Native American families,” he says. Yet his parents, who exposed him to a variety of cultures, found powwows everywhere, “in Queens, Brooklyn, the YMCA in Manhattan, every weekend from March through November.”
To this day, he can’t get enough of it and speaks of its power, its transfer of energy from drum to voice to the individual. A “grass dancer” in his early years, Beatty was in demand as an intertribal powwow singer, finding his voice at the age of 6. “The songs you learn by heart, passed down,” he says. “You don’t do it for the accolades, you do it because your community needs it.”
As a drum keeper, Beatty calls the grandfathers of instruments passed down. “They have a spirit,” he says.
This weekend, Beatty will oversee the 2nd Annual Odenong Pow Wow taking place at Amherst Regional High School. The Native American Intertribal Pow Wow is held to celebrate Native American, Native, and First Nations cultures and peoples, with an emphasis on the Native nations of New England.
Beatty recently collaborated on a video project about the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the resulting Trail of Tears. Beatty uses his art to confront the popular misconception that the Native American experience takes place primarily on reservations: “80% of Native Americans live in cities, places where we came from before anything else don’t be here.
His website, J.Beatty Digital Visuals, features digital paintings of proudly dressed Aboriginal people in urban settings. A woman in fancy dress dances unconsciously as pedestrians with their heads bowed pass in front of her. “Some say she’s in costume,” he laughs. “American jeans and t-shirts are our suits. Our traditional clothes are not costumes.
“Blue Trauma,” her first painting after her near-fatal car crash in 2020, shows a spirit at work, a soul hopeful, but not exactly at peace. The heart surgery associated with the tracheostomy forced Beatty to relearn everything from talking to even sitting up in bed.
“I thought I could never do art again. So you drag the brush that way, you drag the brush that way,” he said, and it all came back slowly, with more freedom attached. “Sometimes with digital coins you’re just layering, playing around with things to see if you can access what you have in mind.”
“I find it very hard not to love art,” he says, and takes great pleasure in the avant-garde murals that adorn the cul-de-sacs of old paper mill buildings along the Holyoke Canal.
Twenty minutes from Hadley in downtown Springfield is the Ethnic Study Cowork Café and Bookstore, a haven for marginalized people, a safe place to relax, paint, learn, whose owners are also encouraged by the potential of the Arts Hub.
“Artists are starting to meet,” said Simbrit Paskins, co-owner with partner Stephany Marryshow.
Every square inch of The Ethnic Study’s walls is covered with works by local artists. “It’s a budding connection,” Paskins said of the ArtsHub launch.
Behind their “413 Stay Woke, Stay Active” movement, Marryshow and Paskins mobilized 8,000 people via social media in the summer of 2020 and led 15 Black Lives Matter protest marches, including those in Ludlow, Southampton and Easthampton. Marryhow said she felt safe on 90% of the steps. “But on three of our marches, people were driving around shouting obscenities. But people were paying attention to you,” she said. A kind of vibe at The Ethnic Study itself, with its fully engaged network of unpaid volunteers.
“It’s a radical idea for two black queer women to open a place like this, rooted in activism,” says Marryshow. “But when the march ends, how do you keep up that 413 Stay Woke momentum?”
Coffee is one such medium, as is partnering in projects like ArtsHub. Paskins says, “A big part of our mission is to help elevate BIPOC artists and their work so that, if desired, creating art can become a sustainable career and we believe that the ArtsHub, if it focuses on inclusion and equity in their work, will be a huge support to this goal.
Adds Beatty, who serves as ArtsHub’s community liaison: “And being able to have that 24-hour access… so many parts of the arts scene — being in touch with gallery owners, program directors, suppliers — it’s a great way to support each other as artists.