And. Here. We. Go…

If you’ve been anywhere near downtown New Bedford during the past few weeks, you know that the apocalypse is upon Union Street.

Not really – I’m being facetious and echoing some of the comments I’ve seen on social media. Because as we all know, right after violent race riots nothing gets some Americans more worked up than something screwing with their ability to drive and park their cars basically anywhere they like.

The ground is being prepared – or rather, the underground – along Union Street for the streetscape improvements that form the backbone of the Purchase-Union Innovation District project. Helping to facilitate that endeavor is James McKeag, the Mass Development TDI Fellow who works from right here out of Groundwork!

We sometimes tease the affable McKeag – whom I call the Jimmy Stewart of urban planning – that all hell will break loose when ‘he’ starts tearing up Union Street. Maybe that’s why he wisely decided to schedule is summer camping vacation this week as the heavy equipment really got down to business.

It’s probably never a good time to tear up a major thoroughfare and doubly so during a busy summer season. Unfortunately, pipes and drains and maybe culverts and all sorts of other good things under the pavement need to be replaced to ensure years of future infrastructure prosperity. Still, this can be hard on businesses on the street.

So, it’s important to remember that this is #notthebigdig – and while you may have to navigate some traffic detours, the sidewalks are still open. And let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t have been parking on Union Street anyway.

Part of the charm of a vibrant downtown is its walkability. So don’t be detoured by a few bulldozers. In fact, Destination Soups owner Devin Byrnes has just the right attitude to help see you through the construction.

He posted the following to Facebook: Looking for a free ‘Touch a truck day’? Have a thing for burly work men? Want to support local business? Well, c’mon down. Don’t be alarmed, scarred up Union street may look like an an out take from the latest ‘Transformers’ movie, but the shop is open (as are the sidewalks). For the past week, the street has been opened up more than the eyes of the enlightened, come gawk for yourselves!”

Destination Soups is located at 149 Union Street right beside the entrance to Wings Court. You can watch the carnage from inside the shop or at some sweet outdoor tables in the Court. Today’s special is a bowl of Tomato Basil Soup with a side serving of organically-grown burly workmen. If burly isn’t your thing, here’s a picture of New Bedford’s answer to an American idol star, front end dude Danny Sallom.

The whole point is that, yes, Union Street is going through some growing pains. But because of that, now is the time to show the groovy local businesses and eateries it’s home to more, not less, love.

And, you get touch a truck.

#newbedfordseafood – off to a good start

Alaskan Salmon, Maine Lobster, and…New Bedford Seafood.

Removing the ellipse is the job of a new branding campaign launched recently with some impressive tools at its disposal to get the job done. The task ahead is a noble and worthwhile effort, for sure. It’s ultimate success will depend on resources, reach and repetition. I’m happy to report that it’s off to a very good start.

www.NewBedfordSeafood.org

A new website has been launched, newbedfordseafood.org, which is clean, concise and functional. In other words, it’s good – and useful. On the homepage, viewers are urged straight off to “Buy Fresh Seafood” from 45+ New Bedford fish houses. That’s an impressive amount of fish houses and makes a point in and of itself.

The website then goes the extra mile by actually listing all those fish house at a click. Along with Facebook pages, websites, addresses and phone numbers. Nice.

Fun facts about New Bedford’s fishing industry – and important facts regarding transportation – are sprinkled throughout the pages. The Harbor Development Commission, with Mayor Jon Mitchell, initiated the campaign so some general information about the Port of New Bedford is also included. All in all, it provides a well-rounded glimpse of the working waterfront.

The New Bedford Seafood logo

And then there’s that vintage-style logo created for the site and everyday use (see above). Press material from the city explain that the “branding initiative includes a logo that features the familiar western rig fishing vessel, the backbone of the Port of New Bedford’s successful commercial fishing industry.” It was designed by Moore & Isherwood Communications.

New Bedford faces some stiff competition from the Gloucester Fisherman – made famous by Gorton’s –  in the logo department. So, I think the designers wisely decided to avoid needless bloodshed and sail in a different direction by emphasizing the infrastructure rather than the romance with this logo. The vintage appeal strikes that note, too and is very appealing.

#hashtag #newbedfordseafood

Social media is full of all the beautiful boats lining New Bedford harbor. From Facebook to Instagram, the use of #newbedfordseafood is simple, effective exposure which fulfills the first rule of advertising: repetition, repetition, repetition.

The branding campaign was launched with this hashtag – a smart and savvy move. The challenge is to keep it in circulation. Readers and supporters of the seafood industry can do just that by using it whenever possible. For example, if you’re shooting by the water, add #newbedfordseafood to your go to #hashtags when posting. And naturally, when you’re taking pictures of your dinner at a favorite local eatery, be sure to credit the source with #newbedfordseafood.

Launching a successful branding effort takes equal parts work and imagination. The campaign for #newbedfordseafood is off to a good start but will only be successful if it enters general circulation and finds it target audience. The press release announcing the launch states that, “The HDC will work with local restaurants and fish markets to further identify locally-landed fish and seafood for area residents in an effort to highlight some of the underutilized species landed in local waters.”

The future of #newbedfordseafood

That’s all fine and good – but to truly have an impact, #newbedfordseafood will have to think bigger, as some of the marketing pros here at Groundwork! would advise them. In the future, we’d encourage the city and HDC to take advantage of a room full of members who excel in advertising, branding and communications before embarking on a major campaign. Groundwork! is housed a floor below the New Bedford Economic Development Council in the Quest Center at 1213 Purchase Street, after all!

The release also contains this: Outside of our region, not enough people know how important New Bedford and our fishing industry are to providing sustainable, fresh, delicious fish to buyers and consumers everywhere” – a statement attributed to Ed Anthes-Washburn, Port Director. It continues, “The fishing industry and our waterfront are the cultural and economic center of our region. We think it’s important to showcase New Bedford’s seafood at the same level as other brands like Alaskan salmon or Maine lobster.”

But to whom and where? That bit is left out – but will really determine the success of #newbedfordseafood. Along with the resources available to promote the brand beyond our local borders.

Until then, it may be preaching to the choir – but at least it’s a good tune and engendering more civic pride in #newbedfordseafood is a solid beginning .

SUMMER of S.T.E.A.M.

Introducing S.T.E.A.M. the Streets at Groundwork!, May 2017.

Ben Gilbarg is one of Groundwork!’s most prolific members – with an alphabet soup’s worth of acronyms filling out his resume, many of them dedicated to community-empowering pursuits. Ben was a co-founder of 3rd EyE Open and New Bedford YAP; founder of the video company Visionary Communications Consultants, LLC; and now, founder of Big Picture Anthems and its S.T.E.A.M. the Streets project.

Big Picture Anthems produces hip outreach campaigns fueled by music, video, and the passion for impacting youth, states their Facebook page. S.T.E.A.M. the Streets is their latest campaign and it is designed to inspire underrepresented youth to pursue S.T.E.M./S.T.E.A.M. career paths – S.T.E.A.M. being “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.”

Ben kicked off S.T.E.A.M. the Streets with an event held here at Groundwork! Last May, he invited community leaders, members and teens to this co-working facility to learn about the project he had been preparing throughout the Winter – and also see the first video in the campaign.

It was an amazing evening here. The room was full of energy and purpose – and yes, thankfully packed with the very youth who are still too often underrepresented in community gatherings dedicated toward raising the level of play for everybody.

It is Ben Gilbarg’s gift and a reflection of his hard work over many years that when he puts out a call to action, people respond. He’s built a reputation for crafting forward thinking, inclusive initiatives – like 3rd EyE and YAP – that speak up, not down, to young people and inspire them to be their best selves.

The vehicle through which S.T.E.A.M. the Streets seeks to do just that reflect the notion. The videos in the campaign are compelling, professional and enlightening – for everybody, not just their intended audience. They profile S.T.E.A.M. success stories – from people who don’t look like typical Silicon Valley stereotypes but people you might see next to you on the bus.

Here’s the one Ben introduced at Groundwork!, just to give you some flavor:

It’s a terrific video – and for the viewer, especially the young viewer, helps illuminate a path forward. Teens get a lot of mixed messages; this one is unambiguous: You have a seat at this table, too.

Ben has been promoting and producing more S.T.E.A.M. the Streets vids all summer. (Follow them on YouTube here.) As I write this, he’s in New York City with the project. But luckily, New Bedford is always on his radar and he’ll back in time to reconnect with 3rd EyE Open as the hip-hop festival returns to the city on Saturday, Aug. 19. He’ll be lending a hand with the graffiti art part of the day.

Beyond that, Ben writes to me that, “We are starting an innovative program with Carney Academy this fall as part of the (S.T.E.A.M.) campaign. The goal is to boost levels of engagement and attainment in math and science through this pilot program.”

He’s also heavily involved with the recently announced “Hip Story” project (read all about it here). In fact, Ben Gilbarg is one busy guy and one incredible asset to our city – especially our city’s younger citizens.

When I ask him how he keeps inspired and how he keeps finding new ways to expand the boundaries for everybody, he replies:

“Good question. I love being creative for a cause, that’s why my title is creative catalyst.  Maybe it should be creative cause catalyst! I have a strong connection and affinity for youth who have not been given all the opportunities or have not been expected to accomplish much.

“It’s my life’s work to catalyze creative communication and education initiatives that make them more aware of opportunities, social issues, and their full future potential. I really believe that this is a big missing link in our society right now, and if we can utilize multiple techniques and sectors (public, private, social media, music/video) to reach and influence youth to be more aware and achieve greatness, then I have done my job.”

That’s not a bad day at the office.

Mapping New Bedford

Dean Haden, James McKeag and Zachary M. White at Groundwork! with one of the artist’s maps of New Bedford.

One of the great perks of being a member of Groundwork! is meeting new and interesting people all the time as they walk through the doors of 1213 Purchase Street. Some serious serendipity was happening when Zachary M. White came to Groundwork! one afternoon along with his unique maps of New Bedford. He had come to discuss exhibiting them both downtown at BCC with TDI Fellow James McKeag and also in the Groundwork! Gallery with founder Dena Haden.

A third venue for his cartography was quickly arranged after I saw Zach’s work. After all, I was in the planning stages of putting together the annual summer art show at Haskell Public Gardens called…Maps & Legends! Talk about a no-brainer!

I have to add a caveat to this story right here and now. I had actually already met Zachary here at Groundwork!, when he was part of the Spinner Publications crew on hand for the New Bedford Bookfest. He works for the publishing house – but even his colleagues there didn’t know that even as he was busy cataloging and digitizing so many of their beautiful historic photos, he was also busy in his spare time mapping the City of New Bedford – in sometimes surprising ways. Like enumerating every Dunkin’ Donuts in the city.

The archivist and artist may be a bit reticent regarding his work, but that’s okay. I’ve got a big mouth and a blog as well as an art show with which to make all the proper introductions between the public at large and this thoughtful artist’s work.

So, I put a few questions to Zach about how and why he began mapping New Bedford, and exactly what that process entails….

What drew you to map-making?

Senior year of undergrad I did my photo thesis project on Urban Renewal in New Bedford. It involved pairing photos from the 1960s and ‘70s with a photo of the same location now. I always referred to the project as being catalog photography rather than documentary because my goal was just to provide people with the visual information about places they have probably driven by hundreds of times. I intended to present the photographs with a current map overlaid with a map of how the streets appeared in the 1960s, plotting out where each photo is/was. I began tracing old maps and drawing new maps before running out of time, but I saved all the information for it hoping to one day finish it.

Historic photos of New Bedford Zach cataloged for his project: Howdy Burgers and a former Glaser Glass location.

Then when I started back at UMass for my Post-Bac, I was trying to think of some unifying idea or theme to work from. My work around this time was getting more abstract – but I wanted the abstract elements to be based on something real. So, I started incorporating pieces of cemetery maps that I have a lot of (not in a weird or dark way; my dad has been in the monument business for almost 40 years and from time to time you need a map to help you locate a particular section or grave). Finally, by last Fall, I found files I had worked on from the thesis project and decided to just make an actual map.

Do you begin with all hand drawings then graduate on to woodblock for the print-making?

The UMass CVPA router in action…

It depends on what my intentions are with the print, when I want to be able to replicate it or make an edition I like to plan out every layer and color prior to starting. To make the block for the full city map (on display at Haskell Public Gardens through August 17, 2017), I planned and drew it all out in Photoshop and double and triple checked every street to make my map to scale and be as accurate as possible. To maintain the accuracy of my maps, I had the block cut with a CNC router at UMass CVPA. The router uses the computer file of the image to cut it into a substrate which can then be inked up and printed. It’s during the actual printing process that I change things up.  I might print something as intended a couple of times and then I just begin layering and changing colors and end up with 4 or 5 prints that are completely different even though they came from the same block.

How did you come upon the idea of mapping all the Dunkin’ Donuts in the city?

The plate ready for inking…

After making the full map, I wanted to be able to combine it with other elements and layers but I didn’t want to just draw random shapes or overlay different images so I tried to come up with how to create these elements that may appear random but are actually based on real information. During this time my advisor, Marc St. Pierre, and I talked about different ways of accomplishing that and where these elements could come from (like outlines of buildings on specific city blocks or tracing the patterns made by the crack sealer for streets) and this led to using the shapes made by things on a map. I started by coming up with places that there are a lot of in the city; banks, gas stations, fast food, etc. This lead to specific places/stores and Dunkin Donuts seemed like an obvious choice. I then used Google to find all the addresses of the Dunkin Donuts in the city (there were 18 at the time) and then plotted them to make a seemingly random shape I could use in my work.

What’s your favorite donut?

My favorite donut was always a vanilla frosted raised donut from Ma’s Donuts, but now that it’s gone…probably glazed.

Have you ever thought of turning your handiwork into an app?

Inked up and ready to print…

Actually, there is a project in the early stages that I’m working on at Spinner Publications with Al Saulniers (one of the authors of A Picture History of New Bedford Vols. 1 & 2) that’s similar in nature to my photo thesis that I hope make an app for. It wouldn’t involve any of the map prints I have done but, the plan is the app will show the locations of photographs plotted on a map while also being able to direct the user on a self-guided tour with captions and stories to go along with the photographs.

Thanks for your time, Zach. One last question: When can we expect a dive bar map?

If someone wants to compile a list, I’ll make the map!

  • And, you can be sure we’ll share it with readers when Zach completes that project! In the meantime, you can catch his work on display now through Thursday, August 17 at Haskell Public Gardens as part of “Maps & Legends” and also find prints for sale in their gift shop. The park is open 7 days a week, dawn to dusk and the maps and sculpture of Kelly Zelen is on display in the greenhouses at 787 Shawmut Avenue. On Thursday, August 17th, Zach and Kelly will talk about their work during the community picnic fun-raiser at the park hosted by AHA! New Bedford, The Trustees and the Community Foundation. More info here.

FOLLOW UP: Branding Purchase Street takes Wing(s)

Over the course of the past year, several meetings were held to discuss ideas regarding the branding of Purchase Street and surrounding environs downtown, such as Wings Court. Those emerging branding and design ideas will now be put under the public microscope this coming Monday, July 31.

TDI Fellow James McKeag writes in his invitation, “Join us for a public review and discussion of emerging ideas for design and branding ideas for Purchase Street and Wings Court. We love to know what you think! The meeting will be held at the UMass College of Visual and Performing Art at the Star Store campus lecture room in downtown New Bedford, Monday, July 31, from 6-8 pm. Hope to see you there!”

Jim McKeag is shepherding the process along on behalf of MassDevelopment. It’s part of his mandate as a TDI Fellow in New Bedford – and part of the Purchase-Union Innovation District Project. I wrote about it here and you can acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with the background at that link, if you’d like. The entire project will also see Union Street transformed from roughly S. Water Street to Pleasant Street, bringing the successful streetscape project on lower Union further up the hill.

The focus of Monday’s meeting will be design ideas that seek to tie the entire downtown area together visually, from the Elm Street Parking Garage through the National Park historic district up to Purchase Street and beyond.

And, a more consistent and better use of Wings Court is key to providing the correct balance point between the various points of interest downtown.

Wings Court takes center stage

Wings Court right now is somewhat of a bastard space. It’s a pathway; it’s a sometimes retail and market space; it affords space for limited-access, outdoor seating to Pour Farm Tavern, Brick and Destination Soups; and occasionally it’s a venue for music or even outdoor wrestling matches.

But mostly, it suffers from an identity crisis and the most transformative part of the plan you’ll see on Monday, July 31 is criteria to properly establish Wings Court as a functioning urban space in downtown New Bedford.

Jim at Groundwork!

Jim McKeag works from right here out of Groundwork! – so some of us were able to preview the plan as it came together. McKeag has done a great job of assimilating all the input received from various parties and turning it into a blueprint for action items. Other exciting elements of the vision include public art projects and enhanced lighting suggestions.

What I personally liked best about this plan is its incremental nature. It’s doable – not grandiose. It builds on past achievements rather than reinvents wheel. It’s an evolution – not a revolution.

So, you don’t need to bring pitchforks with you on Monday – but your sound judgement and dedication to a downtown and city moving in the right direction riding on the wings of the future.

You can RSVP here.

New Bedford’s Poet Laureate is one helluva broad

Patricia Gomes on Union Street, New Bedford with her latest collection.

When you picture in your mind’s eye something like a Poet Laureate, a staid, stanza-obsessed somewhat stern wordsmith comes to mind. Robert Frost, for instance.

So, when I was first introduced to Patricia Gomes, New Bedford’s Poet Laureate, via a newspaper article in The Standard-Times, a cross between that most New England of poets and a Catholic school nun sprung to mind. After all, she had the intense look and the credentials you’d expect, according to the picture and article in the paper announcing her initial appointment to the post several years ago.

Accordingly, when I finally got the opportunity to go see New Bedford’s Poet Laureate at a reading, I half expected it to be something akin to a visit to the principal’s office at St. Mary’s grammar school.

Uh…let’s just say things didn’t turn out that way, as anyone who’s had the transcendent joy of listening to Patricia Gomes recite her poetry well knows. For New Bedford’s Poet Laureate is nothing less and a whole hell of a lot more than…a broad.

That’s her word for herself, not mine. Far from me to argue with the Poet Laureate of New Bedford. ‘Broad’ is a word Gomes uses a lot when introducing herself. It’s at once her sword as well as her shield. And she wields both with an abundance of passion and technical skill.

The first time you hear Patricia Gomes read her poetry is an invitation into the art form itself. Her work takes all the labels assigned to poetry, chews them up and then spits them back out. Sometimes the words are fierce – but you hear the aching beating heart in all of them.

When Patricia Gomes calls herself a broad, she’s really telling us that she’s lived a life – maybe so we don’t have to, at least to the degree that necessary to produce the art she does. And isn’t that the role of a poet – to see, hear and, most important of all, experience what the rest of us can only glimpse in shy, quiet places within ourselves?

If that kind of life demands a tongue you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, Patricia Gomes is the broad for you. And, she’s the Poet Laureate New Bedford not only needs, but also deserves.

This consummate performer fills the role well – with energy, passion, ideas, hard work – and a love of language and writing.

All that will no doubt be on display when Patricia Gomes hosts the GNB Writers Block Live Poetry Contest this Saturday, right here at Groundwork! It’s yet another indication of the human behind the words. GNB Writers Block, which she co-founded in 2010 – three years before becoming New Bedford’s Poet Laureate – is a feral act of love to the community of writers here.

The organization holds frequent writing sessions with an emphasis on performance. This Saturday, the fees are nominal (just $1 to get in the door) but the bar will be set high. Our Poet Laureate is someone you want to please.

Poets will be judged on: 1) Quality of the poem, 2) Performance, and 3) Audience reaction. First place: $25; 2nd place: $15; 3rd place: $10. Come with one poem and make it three minutes, maximum please – and PG-13. The contest starts at 1:00pm and ends at 3:00pm, again, here at Groundwork!, 1213 Purchase Street (but use the side entrance on Maxfield Street). That audience reaction enumerated above comes from…you. It’s free and open to the listening public.

And while I can’t promise you’ll get to hear from Patricia Gomes herself, you will get to see her in her element. It’s a beautiful sight because New Bedford’s Poet Laureate is one helluva broad.

Buzzards Bay Buzz

The Brilliant Simplicity of “Notworking” at the Business Buzz

Business Buzz at Cork

Throwback: The first ever Business Buzz at Cork!

Whether you’re self-employed, entrepreneuring, or just getting your hustle on, networking events are a great way to get your name out there. Networking comes in lots of forms and formats: from the early morning coffee meeting, to the casual cocktail hour, to more formal setups with guest speakers or icebreakers.

While I fully support all such networking events and recognize how useful they can be, I also find that they feel like… work. At the end of a long day, grabbing a stack of business cards and pitching Groundwork! over and over again is frankly the least appealing activity I can imagine.

Business Buzz: Notworking for the Win

Enter the Business Buzz: New Bedford’s premier “notworking” event. What is notworking? It’s the antidote to networking: no business cards, no pitches, no pressure, no work.

The “Buzz,” as it’s affectionately known to regulars, was born a little over two years ago. With Groundwork! still in the early start-up stages, Dena and I met with Shonna Ryan and Kevin Pelissier of Civic Support, a local non-profit that provides digital marketing support to other non-profits. The four of us decided that a casual and low barrier-to-entry social event was missing from New Bedford’s social scene. We envisioned a space where young professionals could meet each other and have “real conversations,” not the shallow and transactional ones that are so often the case at networking events.

Buzzards Bay Buzz

Notworking at Buzzards Bay Brewery in Westport.

The Buzz has grown steadily over the years with a cast of regulars and new folks popping in to check it out. We typically meet in a different bar in New Bedford, but we’ve recently branched to Buzzards Bay Brewery and a couple of locations in Fall River and Dartmouth. A few months back, Shelley Cardoos and Jeremiah Hernandez of EforAll joined the organizing team, so we get lots of local entrepreneurs in the mix. And as our Groundwork! membership has grown, our members count on the Buzz to get to know each other outside of the coworking space.

At our last Buzz we really broke the mold, organizing a BBQ and wacky sailing race with the folks at Community Boating Center. A great time was had by all, and we’re looking forward to more such events in the future, perhaps even a return to CBC in the fall.

CBC Business Buzz

Buzzers getting ready to sail the open seas!

Simple, dependable, and open to all…

This month we return to an old favorite, Slainte Irish Pub on lower Union Street. Slainte has a roof deck that overlooks the harbor, and as long as it’s not crowded with UMass students on a late Thursday night, this spot is truly a hidden gem. (See more info on the July Buzz.)

It’s a simple formula, really: Set aside a couple of hours once a month to chat and connect with friends, and perhaps meet a couple of new faces. Add a cold beer or whatever you prefer to drink, and you get what we like to call “notworking.” All are welcome to the Buzz, so follow its Facebook page to stay in the know of future events.

Business Buzz Slainte

A Buzz favorite: the roof deck at Slainte Irish Pub.

Steven_Haskell_Park

Maps and Legends at Haskell Gardens: A Conversation with Steven Froias

Haskell Gardens

Haskell Gardens is a haven of exotic trees and plants.

Haskell Gardens, a New Bedford hidden gem, will serve as the backdrop for work from local artists starting this Friday. The show is called “Maps & Legends Two: If by sea…” and is curated by our very own  Steven Froias. If you haven’t been to Haskell Gardens yet, it’s a peaceful six-acre oasis located off of Shawmut Ave. Founded over thirty years ago by horticultural legend and New Bedford resident Allen C. Haskell, the garden holds a unique space in New Bedford’s history, making it the perfect spot for a show called “Maps and Legends.”

We know Steven Froias best as our “Groundworker at Large.” True to his moniker, Steven is a man about town and he’s behind many great initiatives in our city. He created the New Bedford Bookfest, a bi-annual festival featuring local authors and publishers, and he did the logo design for Love the Ave, a movement to promote Acushnet Ave as an international marketplace. Steven is also an artist himself, and his vintage stenciled signs recall a sense of the past with a contemporary, playful twist.

Froias has a keen eye for all the little and unexpected things that make neighborhoods and cities great: from New Bedford’s hardware stores to its corner shops, from rising stars Tim Cole and Jeremiah Hernandez, to noticeable improvements in New Bedford’s architecture and street scene. Froias has elevated the Groundwork! blog to become a chronicle of New Bedford’s past, present, and future, celebrating the quirks, accomplishments, and successes of our city in real time, as the story unfolds.

So it makes sense that Froias’s own description of “Maps and Legends Two: If by sea” reads:

Maps & Legends refers both to the history of New Bedford and its sense of itself in the larger world. Viewers are invited to embark on a voyage of discovery that includes the artwork, the stories and this very special place, Haskell Public Gardens, a Trustees of Reservations property.

I asked Steven to answer a few questions about the upcoming show, his practice as an artist/writer/curator, and what makes him so curious about New Bedford. But before you dive into the questions, take note: Maps and Legends Two: If by sea opens on Friday, July 14th from 5-8PM. At 6PM, New Bedford residents will share their own legends as part of a storytelling hour emceed by Groundwork! member Shelley Cardoos.

Steven_Haskell_Park

Curator Steven Froias on the loose at Haskell.

What inspired you to curate shows at Haskell Gardens?

Well, first of all, it’s a beautiful space. Every cliche you can think of – enchanted garden, hidden gem, urban oasis – applies to Haskell Public Gardens. And, it’s in my neighborhood! Which leads me to another reason to get involved there…it was at a neighborhood Ward 3 meeting that I met the garden’s on-site horticulturist, Kristin McCullin. She came to a freezing winter meeting to introduce the park to people living around it and let them know it would be opening later that year in the fall.

Like you, Sarah, and your partner in co-working crime, Dena Haden, and so many of our friends and co-workers, it seemed here was another person offering New Bedford focus, energy and talent. As we’ve all experienced at Groundwork!, that sense of purpose and commitment from the people around you inspires you! Kristin encouraged area residents to get involved in the park, and I was thrilled to let the gears start turning in my mind as to what I could bring to this very special place.

In your words, the theme “Maps and Legends” refers to New Bedford’s own history and its sense of itself in the larger world. This theme resonates in the topics you write for the Groundwork blog, and also with your own artwork. What drives this curiosity for you as a writer, curator, and artist?

Hmm, I think it all comes back to Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been a fan of the great detective since I was a kid and like to think I bring that same sense of searching for answers to everything I do – whether it’s art or writing or organizing events. I like to dig deep to solve the case and bring to light what’s underneath. With the art, it’s providing a connection to the back-story. With the writing – especially with the posts I’m fortunate enough to get to write for the Groundwork! blog – it’s all about the here and now – and the future. Any city – but New Bedford in particular – is a puzzle of many pieces that constantly needs to be sorted through to solve. It’s an adventure!

Can you talk about the artists who will feature in this year’s show, and why you chose them to show work?

They’re amazing! Kelly Zélen and Zachary M. White are the stars of this show. I believe in seizing serendipity when it rears its head. After first discovering Kelly’s work for myself at Kilburn Mills Studios, and then asking her to appear in last year’s Maps & Legends, I kept hearing people say how impressed they were with her sculpture. Jeremiah Hernandez – who as we know is curating a huge show this week at Groundwork! – spoke about his respect for her work. I have great respect respect for his opinion, so was confident I was on the right track asking her to be one of the two featured artists for this year’s Maps & Legends.

As for Zachary M. White – here’s some more serendipity. As so often happens, though I had met Zach before, I only recently discovered that he’s a maps aficionado and artist. Naturally, I found this out at Groundwork!, which is why I call the place the Center of Gravity in New Bedford.

Zach had brought some of his prints to show TDI fellow Jim McKeag and Dena, and luckily I was there. When you mount a show called Maps & Legends, what more could you ask for than a prolific, talented young artists producing stylized…maps!

This year you are adding an element of live storytelling to the opening exhibition. What kinds of stories can we expect?

Well, as you noted above, I get to tell lots of stories on the Groundwork! blog. I do this by looking and listening everywhere throughout the city – the game’s always afoot and I’m always on the case! I thought it would be nice to let people hear it from the source – directly from some of the people who have caught my eyes and ears and provided me with material.

It’s also inspired by the Community Conversations Jacob Miller organized for AHA! New Bedford this past winter – and I’m happy to say Jacob has helped recruit some people to come to the opening and share their stories – their New Bedford Legends – with us all under the skies. Again, Jacob is one of those people who are passionate about doing new things in the city, and I’m always down with collaborating with someone like that.

What do you love most about living in New Bedford?

The fact that the story never ends. Too many people try to pigeonhole the city – and sometimes in very negative ways – but it constantly fights back. It’s a scrappy place and hold its own. It’s still evolving and actually writes its own story. You can try to place it into a context or wrap a narrative around it, but really, it’s a perpetual mystery that challenges you to always reevaluate the evidence and….start again. Catnip for a writer!

New Bedford Heads Outside

Enjoying beer and tacos on the sidewalk outside of Adriana’s Mexican Restaurant on Acushnet Avenue.

I first noticed it on Acushnet Avenue during Day of Portugal weekend in early June. Cafe Portugal, Cafe Europa, and Adriana’s Mexican Restaurant made liberal use of their sidewalks for al fresco dining throughout the street festival. And they did it right – colorful umbrellas, liberal seating, wise use of the expanded streetscape. Patrons loved it.

Downtown, the promise of the streetscape project at the foot of Union Street is being fulfilled as never before. Thanks to the addition of Moby Dick Brewing, a plethora of seats await you along this beautiful block. Slainte – which already boasts a stellar rooftop deck – doubles down with tables outside their window. And across the street, Cultivator Shoals joins the other establishments with a sweet new outdoor area.

In both places across the city, bars and eateries are taking advantage of ambitious streetscape projects that no doubt caused quite a bit of teeth-gnashing during construction. Yet now, the rewards of that pain are being reaped as New Bedford is learning to make like Toronto and wring every bit of summer out of the warmer months – to its benefit.

Moby Dick Brewing has a generous presence on Union Street.

Big Dividends for the City

There are the obvious economic benefits: diners want to eat outside in the glorious sunshine so are more likely to return to a place offering outdoor seating.

It also makes a strong visual: seeing people enjoy themselves burnishes New Bedford’s appeal as a regional destination.

Finally, it refutes the perception that New Bedford streets are unsafe – indeed, more folks and eyes on the streets makes them all the more safer.

Whenever a municipality undertakes a disruptive construction process – as both the lower Union Street improvement and Acushnet Avenue International Marketplace redesign were – there’s plenty of second-guessing during construction. Business suffers, patience wears thin, car and foot traffic get re-routed. Sometimes, the very wisdom of doing anything at all is questioned.

Both on lower Union Street and Acushnet Avenue, though, the groundwork was being laid for a better future. New Bedford isn’t the same city it was 10, five or even three years ago.

It’s experiencing a boom that’s beginning to spread outward from downtown to envelope other parts of the city. And accordingly, small businesses and patrons alike now find themselves in the position to take advantage of the foresight some of these initiatives required.

It’s a useful lesson to ponder – as more such projects are underway or on the way.

Slainte Irish Pub on Union Street boasts both a rooftop and sidewalk seating.

#notthebigdig

Right now, Coggeshall Street is experiencing a long overdue transformation. Road and infrastructure refurbishment have been necessary since the popular Market Basket opened. Soon, more of Union Street past Moby Dick Brewery to just beyond Pleasant Street gets its turn.

The TDI fellow helping to implement that process, James McKeag, works from right here at Groundwork! – and we’ve been teasing him for months but about his predilection to “tear up Union Street!”

Of course, we’re joking with him. The affable McKeag is like the Jimmy Stewart of urban planning. Both his goal and the goal of the Purchase-Union Street Innovation District is to set the stage for more of the growth and streetscape harmony I’ve described above. We know Jim’s going to take some heat when the pavement starts to get ripped up. So we figured we’d help him out by getting out front and hashtagging the project #notthebigdig before too many people lose their minds!

But even better than a hashtag, dinner and a cocktail curbside during this glowing summer would probably serve best to remind everyone that the gain from the pain is indeed worth it.

New Bedford is benefiting everywhere – from Union Street to Acushnet Avenue to Clarks Cove to West Beach – from getting outside. It’s our moment in the sun – grab it.

Sidewalk cafe at Cafe Portugal on Acushnet Avenue.

The Art Show of the Summer

Okay, let’s get one thing straight right from the get-go: It’s me dubbing “Don’t Call it a Comeback,” UGLY Gallery at Groundwork!, the Art Show of the Summer.

Certainly not curator Jeremiah Hernandez, who is too modest by far to blow his own horn. (More on that later.)

And certainly not because I’m dissing any of the other great art shows happening in the city this season. They all boast impressive talent – such as the one I’m curating myself, Maps & Legends Two: If by sea… at Haskell Public Gardens (opening Fri. July 14); The S & G Project Gallery’s exhibition of Kimberly Gatesman’s work (also opening Fri. July 14); the annual Judith Klein Art Gallery’s ongoing summer exhibition; and anything at Colo Colo Gallery, for example.

But, as a writer and chronicler of all things New Bedford, I call ‘em like I see ‘em – and I see “Don’t Call it a Comeback,” which opens Thursday, July 13 at 6:00pm at Groundwork!, as THE Art Show of the Summer in these parts. 

And yes, it has a lot to do with the self-effacing Mr. Hernandez, pictured above on the streets of New Bedford during this year’s Cape Verdean Recognition Parade, as well as the amazing talent he’s assembled for this show.

“Don’t Call it a Comeback”

UGLY Gallery at Groundwork!, “Don’t Call it a Comeback,” will feature the work of D. Lupe, Rene Gagnon, Boston Maki, Tom Bob, Tom Deninger, Alexander Jardin, Rep1, Percy Fortini Wright, MCA and Monty, Indy 184, plus surprise guests during the show’s run.

Simply put, this is one stunning line-up of kinetic talent. As such, “Don’t Call it a Comeback” is less a traditional gallery show then an era-defining manifestation of the creative impulse that’s been fermenting throughout New Bedford and our region. It’s our version of Miami’s Art Basel and New York’s Whitney Biennial rolled into one.

Many but not all readers may know that, before joining E for All Southcoast, operating from right here out of Groundwork!, Jeremiah was the co-founder and co-owner of the progressive UGLY art gallery on Union Street for years.

In that role, Hernandez brought his keen critical eye to the space and its selection of artists. He also brought the sense that art is an adventure into the space  and accordingly, UGLY openings were energetic affairs. You could feel the electricity in the air on AHA! New Bedford nights, when UGLY typically debuted a show. Though he would probably dislike the idea, they came closer than any other gallery to establishing a ‘scene’ downtown for artists and eclectic arts patrons.

Jeremiah eschews any such talk of nonsense like that and resists all labels. But that only reinforces my point and my conviction about the show he’s about to unleash on New Bedford.

He – and it – are the real deal. “Don’t Call it a Comeback” is the sort of art show that defines a city’s aesthetic – for the future. That aesthetic is all New Bedford even though all the artists may not live within city limits. However, they are all alumni of past UGLY gallery shows and have been brought together for this explosion of art. Over 60 pieces will adorn the Groundwork! walls and fill it’s common areas by show’s end.

(And here, I need to give a shout-out to the fabulous Dena Haden – Groundwork! co-founder and creator of the Groundwork! gallery. Her vision for art at the co-working facility has been unwavering and resolute since the gallery launched in Jan. 2016 – and that’s brought distinction to the space and the City of New Bedford.)

New Bedford Days, Miami Nights, Brooklyn Jaunts

Jeremiah loves art and artists and the act of creation. And, he’s damn amazing at curating it. In addition to lots of practice at UGLY, he’s the type of connoisseur who will jump on a plane to Miami to attend Art Basel during his vacations from E for All. Or, jump in a car and head to Brooklyn for a weekend when an artist catches his well-known eye.  

The art that Jeremiah loves is alive and breathing. It’s of the here and now and tomorrow, too. It’s full of passion and talent and mad, innovative skill. Some call it urban art. Some call it street art. It’s all powerful art and resists easy labeling. It’s art created by people who live like Jeremiah Hernandez. But it’s for everybody.

Like myself and many others, Jeremiah knows that New Bedford possesses a wealth of artistic talent that rivals any city’s – big or small. In conversation with him, he rattles off the incidents of art espionage that have been perpetrated on practitioners in and from our city.

This well-known national artist began doing this – after artist X from New Bedford made it a hallmark first. Another ‘borrowed’ that – after artist Z shared the idea.

If you do know it as street art then you also probably know that it’s more often up for grabs than up for sale. Jeremiah understood this before most people. He saw that the age of the art gallery was passing and the more free-wheeling art fairs were taking their place.

So, he made the painful decision to close UGLY gallery a few years back – leaving a huge void in New Bedford. Yet, this show at Groundwork! truly isn’t a comeback, as the name commands.

It’s an evolution within a revolution. And Jeremiah Hernandez is its guerrilla commander-in-chief.

Come take back the streets on Thursday, July 13 at Groundwork! “Don’t Call it a Comeback” opening party runs from 6:00 – 9:00pm – but never really ends. Two art movie nights have been programmed at Groundwork! as part of the proceedings. Monday  July 17- Don’t Call it a Comeback Movie Series #1 Collect; and Monday, July 31 Series #2 Destroy. (Follow the event page on Facebook for details as they are posted.)