New Bedford arts groups making connections

The New Bedford Historical Society, whose focus is the history of people of color in the South Coast city, appears poised for a takeoff. 

The society is developing a park and a historic district centered around the abolitionist movement in New Bedford and the city’s role in the Underground Railroad. “Between 1790 and the Civil War, New Bedford became known not only as the whaling capital of the world, but also as one of the greatest asylums for fugitive former slaves,” said the proposal for the historic district designation.  

Perhaps the most famous former slave was Frederick Bailey, who came to New Bedford in 1838 and stayed initially with Black merchants Nathan and Polly Johnson at their home on Seventh Street. It was Nathan Johnson who convinced Bailey to change his last name to Douglass; Frederick Douglass went on to become the most prominent abolitionist lecturer in the country, winning acclaim nationally and internationally.

Lee Blake, the president of the historical society, which is located in the former Johnson home, is grappling with how best to promote the city’s rich abolitionist history. “How do we market a five-block district where many of the houses were the houses of abolitionists?” she said on The Codcast. “How do we market that for a contemporary audience? What’s important about that?” 

It’s a question Blake hopes to answer with the help of a $280,000 grant the Barr Foundation awarded to her organization and seven other arts and cultural groups in New Bedford for the purpose of building stronger connections with the local community. The other seven arts organizations are 3rd EyE Youth Empowerment, Buy Black New Bedford, New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!, DATMA (Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute), New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, Cape Verdean Association in New Bedford, and the Co-Creative Center.

Jasmyn Baird, a senior fellow at New Bedford Creative, a city organization established to promote the arts, said the grant will allow the groups to participate in a training program called Creating Connection that is designed to build greater awareness of the arts in the community and stronger links between the arts groups and the people they serve.

The grant is another sign of New Bedford’s aggressive pursuit of art and cultural connections. The city already promotes AHA! (for Art, History, and Architecture), a program started in 1999 that features citywide cultural events on the second Thursday of every month. Mayor Jon Mitchell is also proposing to steer the largest chunk of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds — $18 million of the total $82 million — to arts, culture, hospitality, and tourism. 

“That cultural sector draws a lot of folks in,” Mitchell said recently. “This is a set of sectors that we think could generate a pretty good return on investment.” 

Blake said collaboration between arts groups and city government and among arts groups is key. “We’re a small community,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of corporate money, for instance, so leveraging each other’s skills becomes really important in order to develop what we have here.”  

Planning is in the early stages for the Creating Connection initiative, but Blake sees a few possibilities for arts groups combining forces. “It’s very possible that the symphony will come and do outdoor music concerts in the [abolition] park,” she said. 

She said the New Bedford Art Museum may team up with the city’s library, which over the years has received donated artwork but lacks the space to properly exhibit it. “How do we get the library and the art museum to get together and share their collections?” she asks. “The library doesn’t necessarily have the space to do this, but the art museum does. So right now, they’re looking at different ways of sharing their expertise. The art museum can put together the exhibit and the library can provide the art.”

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Charter school war: A proposal to open a charter school with an “early college” focus serving New Bedford and Fall River sets off a now-familiar struggle between proponents and opponents of charter schools. Opponents see education as a zero-sum game, where new charters only sap students and resources from existing schools and leave them in a weakened condition.

– Strong and vocal pressure from opponents prompted several supporters of the school, including three officials from BayCoast Bank, to jump ship from the school’s board.. New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said he has no problem with opponents of the school picketing the bank. “Welcome to my world,” he says.

– Early college is all the rage right now, as schools offer college-level courses in the last years of high school and give students the opportunity to graduate with a two-year college degree in hand. A decision by state officials on the Fall River-New Bedford charter school proposal could come soon. Read more.

OPINION

Home needed: Author Jim Vrabel is looking for a home for his database of 50,000 entries about Boston history. Read more.

Financial literacy needs to be taught: Sen. Patrick O’Connor from Weymouth pushes legislation requiring the basics of personal finance – how to balance a checkbook, credit card debt – need to be taught in schools. Read more.

Confronting mental health issues: Abigail Salois, grappling with the suicide of her sister, says we cannot use discomfort as an excuse not to talk about mental health with our loved ones. Read more.

Three pathways: Kerry Donahue of the Boston Schools Fund offers three pathways forward for a school system of haves and have-nots. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

All but one other state have a law banning “revenge porn,” but the Massachusetts Legislature has so far resisted calls, including from Gov. Charlie Baker, to enact such a statute. (Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker “disagrees with this vote,” a spokesman said when asked for the governor’s reaction to last week’s vote by the Republican National Committee calling the January 6 attack on the Capitol “legitimate political discourse.” (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston so far has approved less than half of the requests for medical or religious waivers for the city’s vaccine mandate. (WBUR) A lengthy negotiating session late last week between the city and unions failed to reach agreement on how to implement the mandate, which is currently tied up in a court challenge to the city policy. (Boston Herald

When is a sign a sign, subject to city zoning regulations, and when is it a mural? Cap World is fencing with the Zoning Board of Appeals in Saugus over a mural it says it commissioned commemorating the history of Route 1. (Daily Item)

Local governments in Haverhill, Salem, and Lawrence are considering how to spend federal ARPA dollars. (Eagle-Tribune)

Worcester city officials are asking the Board of Health to rescind the city’s emergency mask mandate, now that COVID cases are falling. (Telegram & Gazette)

Worcester proposes new guidelines for dealing with homeless encampments. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The union representing Addison Gilbert Hospital, Beverly Hospital, and Lahey Outpatient Center says the hospitals are experiencing severe nursing shortages. (Eagle-Tribune)

Indigenous tribes on the Cape and islands may get a share of a $590 million settlement with an opioid manufacturer and three distributors. (Cape Cod Times)

About 100 demonstrators gathered outside Brigham and Women’s Hospital to protest its decision to remove a patient from consideration for a heart transplant because he refuses to be vaccinated against COVID. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The National Archives and Record Administration retrieved boxes of documents last month from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate that had been improperly removed from the White House. (Washington Post

ELECTIONS

State auditor candidate Chris Dempsey proposes a sweeping review of the State Police in light of the overtime scandal and other problems. (MassLive)

Quentin Palfrey launched his campaign for attorney general on Friday. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The region’s grid operator supported a move last week that would slow the entry of renewal energy providers into the electricity market, saying it was necessary to ensure against power shortages. (Boston Globe

Massachusetts provides $13 million in grants to install 300 fast-charging electric vehicle stations at 150 locations around the state. (WBUR)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe’s digital circulation keeps on rising, as does the cost of the print edition. (Media Nation)

PASSINGS

Raymond Jordan, Springfield’s first Black state representative and a lifelong community leader, dies at 78. (MassLive

Sid McKeen, who wrote the slice-of-life “Wry & Ginger” column for the Sunday Telegram for 55 years, dies at 94. (Telegram & Gazette)