|Pittsfield's StoreFront Artists Project Closing Shop|
|By Joe Durwin, Special to iBerkshires|
10:48AM / Sunday, November 13, 2011
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When rumors of internal strife at Storefront Artist Project, and its possible closing, first surfaced publicly over the summer, leaders of the initiative said they wouldn't fade quiety.
"If we go out, we'll go out with a bang," Maria Mingalone, board chairman, told iBerkshires.
Bang or not, the nonprofit organization, credited by many with starting the cultural revitalization of downtown, will close up shop at its Pittsfield gallery next month, after nearly 10 years bringing of bringing art into the retail face of downtown. The gallery will host its annual "12x12" fundraiser auction for local schools on Dec. 12 as its final act at the 31 South St. location.
The closing was announced in a letter from SAP founder Maggie Mailer:
"Our starting mission was to fill empty storefronts and forge a community of artists, entrepreneurs, businesses, and residents. It's incredible to see all the positive changes in Pittsfield over the last ten years: theatre, galleries, restaurants, pop-up stores, coffee shops, artist run projects, and the list goes on .… A decade later, the board of Storefront Artist Project recognizes the time has come to say goodbye to this endeavor. We have achieved our purpose with flying colors. Downtown is thriving, and we are honored to have helped fill empty storefronts, put Pittsfield on the map, and become a model for the regeneration of other cities."
Sources close to the organization and its recent activities at the South Street location say the news did not come as a surprise. SAP has been without a paid employee since Director Julia Dixon left the position in June, and the gallery has sat empty since Sept. 4. In August, Mingalone confirmed to iBerkshires that the organization would be considering over the fall whether or not to vacate the South Street location.
Insiders in the local art scene say concerns about the organization began last February, when SAP opened in its new South Street gallery, relocating from the Fenn Street location it had maintained since 2006. Storefront, under the direction of the newly appointed Dixon, moved in at 31 South St. to share the new retail space with the Emporium gift shop, which relocated from 441 North St. to join what was to be a co-promotional venture.
Several attendees at the Feb. 6 reopening remarked at the time that SAP's side, which consisted of hanging a small number of paintings by Mailer, appeared "lazy." In the gallery's first five months, only two shows were curated under Dixon's direction, both in May. Another, "Fused" with local glass artist Colin Toomey, was organized by the Emporium.
Mingalone dismissed widespread rumors that the board had quarreled with Dixon over the handling of the gallery.
"That was not my understanding at all," she said, indicating that Dixon had resigned amicably to pursue other job options.
With SAP's gallery empty and its phone turned off for months, most have sensed the writing might be on the wall for some time, but no official confirmation had come prior to Friday's announcement.
Kara Demler, who runs Berkshire Costume Co., which opened this fall in the side of the shared space formerly occupied by Emporium, says she learned a couple of weeks ago from a third party that Storefront was likely to be vacating their side of the storefront. Demler confirmed reports that another area arts organization has expressed an interest in taking over SAP's space, but that the possibility is still in discussion and no official decision has been made.
"If that doesn't work, then yes, I'll be looking for a new space," said Demler, who told iBerkshires she enjoyed a successful Halloween season, and is now seeing the start of seasonal "Santa" business.
The Department of Cultural Development, in a post on Facebook, offered its thanks "to everyone involved in the Storefront Artist Project over the past 10 years who helped spark Pittsfield's creative revitalization."
Local art-scene-insider Timothy Kushi, of Pittsfield, while acknowledging recent problems in the organization's management, also hailed SAP's important role.
"Maggie Mailer should be praised for the concept and very successful early work," he said. "She is a founding father-type for the whole cultural revitalization of the city.
"It fulfilled its goals by 2006, anyway, and that's an accomplishment."
The cryptic end of Mailer’s statement, however, suggests we may not have heard the last from this group.
"Even though we are closing our doors, let's not think of this as the final act for Storefront. We are happy to hand our mantle on to the next generation of artists, knowing something new and pivotal will emerge from this moment of closure."