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10x10 Fest a Mix of Successes, Future Promise
By Joe Durwin, Special to iBerkshires
11:16PM / Sunday, February 26, 2012
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Ten Spot at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts reception.

Top, burlesque at the Ferrin Gallery; left, a promotional banner for 10x10.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As downtown winds down from 10 days of 10-based arts and entertainment, the city's cultural czar says the midwinter contemporary arts festival saw solid event attendance and packed restaurants, and has definite future staying power.

Director of Cultural Development Megan Wilden called the positive response to the new 10x10 on North Street (Feb. 16-26) "beyond our expectations," and said there are already calls from additional arts groups who want to participate in the future.

"We're definitely looking at making this an annual event," Whilden told iBerkshires.

The festival enjoyed attendance by Mayor Daniel  Bianchi, who appeared at the opening of the "Ten Spot" exhibit at the Lichtenstein and took in the showing of 10 plays at Barrington Stage during its open weekend.

"The plays were terrific," said Bianchi. "Some very funny, some very thought provoking. I enjoyed them very much."

The mayor recently indicated the theater company was one of his favorite of the new cultural institutions in the city, during a panel discussion on the arts at the Ferrin Gallery, because of its level of commitment to the community.

The decathon of shorts was perfect post-Valentine's fare, a whirlwind tour of brief glimpses into unconventional relationship structures — sometimes funny, sometimes painful, mostly resonant human entanglements, with nary a traditional romance in the lineup.

Numerous showgoers gushed approval for BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and her team for taking the lead in creating a dynamic off-season happening.

"She really involves a lot the community in a lot of what she does," one patron in a nearby seat summarized succinctly, "It's one thing to put on a season of great plays — but to involve the community in such a way is something else, and that's what she's done here."

Local favorite Billy Keane playing at Mission Bar & Tapas.
The North Street-anchored festival also offered some unique opportunities for local businesses to showcase themselves in new ways and to new bases of people. Crawford Square's Bra & Girl offered 10 tangos that garnered raves, while Massive Graphics opened its design and print shop to 10 artists doing live painting, along with music by DJ Quikmonee in a more urban-flavored cultural mixer.

Ferrin Gallery also was the site of some unusual coupling of venue and performance, with short theater, comedy and burlesque playing out among the hanging works and ceramics of 437 North St.

"We're looking forward to seeing what the new works that were started in the winter, turn into for the summer and the future, including WordXWord," said owner Leslie Ferrin.

Not all participating businesses saw a demonstrative yield from the event series. While packed houses were seen in many downtown eateries, such as Spice Dragon, Baba Louie's, Mission and The Lantern, even on weeknights, the benefits didn't necessarily translate to much of North Street's mostly daytime retail economy.

"10x10 was not the success I had hoped for me or other retailers," said Donna Todd Rivers, owner of Bisque, Beads & Beyond. "10x10 brought people in at night, and all the retailers close at 5:30 or so."

Rivers said that while her business was naturally busier because of school vacation, she saw no particular increase from the art event series.

Other North Street retailers expressed similar sentiments, voicing overall support for the endeavor but indicating that a stronger daytime component might yield more in downtown sales numbers.

A few attendees suggested that organizers might also want to reconsider its North Street-centric name, as many of its events took place on neighboring lanes such as Linden Street, Union Street and Renne Avene. A call from some businesses and residents for a more geographically inclusive view of cultural and economic development in downtown and other neighborhoods has been gaining momentum over the past year.

For venues with ticketed events, such as BSC, Beacon Cinema and New Stage, success could be measured in box-office totals, with sold-out crowds for most shows.

Whilden said she sees definite future potential in the 10x10 concept.

"Not only is it a new event at a time when there is not a lot happening culturally in the Berkshires, it is also not your typical winter festival, with its focus on new art and performance instead of ice carving and sledding — not that we don't love those, too!"
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